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These Old Bleachers

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In the bleachers, before yesterday's game

Mike, me, Howard, Jake & Jeff, in a foreign country, left field

All the bleacher regulars, with our shirts
(Photos by David Sameshima)

(as always, click on photos to view full-size in new browser window; if you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image.)

This one's going to be pretty sentimental, and I think I'm entitled, after nearly seventeen hundred games attended in the Wrigley Field bleachers.

The Pirates beat the Cubs 5-3 last night, ending Greg Maddux' streak of 15-win seasons at seventeen -- and unless he wins on Sunday, a seventeen-season streak of non-losing seasons (his last losing year was his rookie year, 1987) will also end.

And another thing (to coin a phrase) that's ending, is the configuration of the Wrigley Field bleachers as they have been for the last sixty-eight-plus seasons, as noted in the above photo.

The bleachers as you now know them were built during the 1937 season. After this season ends -- the joke circulating among regulars is that the bulldozers will start right after the last out today, but in reality it'll be a few weeks -- the Cubs are doing a major expansion and reconstruction of the bleachers, adding somewhere around 1,800 seats, new bathrooms (no more troughs in the men's rooms, since city ordinances no longer permit any new construction to have such things, though you can keep old ones that are still functional), a restaurant in the batter's eye in CF (I'm still having a bit of trouble seeing how this is going to work, but they insist that it is), and other "amenities".

Frankly, in a perfect world, those of us who are out there every day could do without those things. In a perfect world, the Cubs would still be playing all day games, too.

But time and progress march on, and the Cubs are a business and they don't ask the customers how to run it, no matter how much we'd like to have the conceit that anything we do or say will make a difference in how they do things.

It is with all that in mind that over 100 of us who comprise longtime regulars and season-ticket holders in the bleachers made last night "These Old Bleachers" night, all sitting in left field, as seen in the photos above. More on this in a moment.

If you were watching on TV, you may have seen us, all wearing blue T-shirts with a "These Old Bleachers" logo on the front, and "Right Field", Center Field" or "Left Field" on the back, based on our usual location -- designed by Mike, incidentally, and he actually put his on, over his other shirt; that's the first time I have ever seen him wear a T-shirt of ANY kind. In fact, Nomar's two-run homer in the third came directly at us -- right at Jeff. Mo, one of the longtime ballhawks, standing right behind Jeff, and wearing his glove (something none of us except Mike remembered to bring), caught it.

In addition to Mike, Howard, Jeff & Jake, we were joined last night by CBA member James Crockett of Just North of Wrigley Field, named after where he used to live; he's since moved, but told us, "I can't believe I moved away!"

It felt very odd to sit in left field; we decided to keep our usual back-row spot, which in the LF corner section is row 7 rather than the RF row 12 where our normal perch is; it feels even closer to the field than that, and it's my sense that the RF bleachers are actually steeper than the LF side. There's no back railing on the LF seats, either. And sitting on my "opposite" side made me make scorekeeping errors at least twice -- I wrote "E4" for an error on Pirates SS Jack Wilson, and on one fly ball to RF I wrote "7" -- a fly ball to the opposite field from where I'm sitting, of course, is usually to left field!

I've sat in LF exactly three times before last night, in all my years in the bleachers: August 20, 1974, when a friend of mine and I arrived late, hurried in to get any seat we could find, and were almost hit on the head by the first of Davey Lopes' three homers that day; Game 2 of the 1984 NLCS, in the days before season tickets and when we took whatever reserved seat we could get our hands on; and the 1990 All-Star game, one of those days where the skies opened up and it rained in Biblical proportions. Until this year, when Greg Maddux' 3000th-strikeout game ended at 1:16 am, that was the latest-ending game in Wrigley Field history, ending just after midnight.

Which brings me back to Maddux. He had a shaky first inning, but managed to get out of it allowing only one run, and then retired ten straight, which gave the Cubs the chance to take a 3-1 lead on a Corey Patterson (!) single and Nomar's home run.

But the HR bug, which has bitten Maddux hard in the last couple of years, got him again. Jason Bay hit a three-run job after two singles -- and I'll bet you Maddux is much more upset about allowing the single to Pirates pitcher Zach Duke, than about the home run to a guy who's hit thirty-two of them this year.

Maddux soldiered on, and must have asked to finish the game, because he wound up throwing 113 pitches, far more than his usual personal limit of 85-90. He came out to pitch the 9th to a rousing standing ovation, but the Cubs couldn't do anything further with Duke, or Salomon Torres, who recorded only his second save of the year.

Derrek Lee's double was his fiftieth of the year. In reaching that mark he became only the fourth Cub to do so -- Kiki Cuyler, Billy Herman and Mark Grace are the other three.

And, it was his ninety-eighth extra-base hit. Mike has kindly looked up the list of all major leaguers who have had 100 XBH, and it's a short one.

1922 Rogers Hornsby 102
1930 Chuck Klein 107
1932 Chuck Klein 103
1948 Stan Musial 103
2000 Todd Helton 103
2001 Barry Bonds 107
2001 Todd Helton 105
2001 Sammy Sosa 103
2001 Luis Gonzalez 100

Only six times in the AL: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig twice, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Albert Belle.
So no matter what you think of individual feats -- and yes, wins are what matter in this game -- it is a fact that baseball is a more individual sport than other professional sports, and a big part of its attraction and meaning to many of us, is its statistical history and lore.

So yes, I hope D-Lee gets two XBH today to get to that 100 mark.

We'll be back in our regular perch today, for the final time -- the reconstruction is likely going to move our little group, though not very far -- and to say our goodbyes to this disappointment of a season.