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The Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-1 this afternoon, and it's ALWAYS nice to beat St. Louis (their first loss of the season), but that wasn't the story of this afternoon at the ballpark.

The story was, of course, the opening of the brand-spanking-new bleachers, and consistent with the sneak preview we all got last night, the consensus is that the Cubs did pretty much everything right.

First, we season ticket holders now have a dedicated entrance just for us -- gate "L", which doesn't have an official sign yet; it's in the left-field corner, and we enter there along with the people who go to the batter's eye suite (I saw a ticket to the suite; it's a standard-issue ticket with "Bleacher Suite" printed on it). Before we all went in, I said the usual "Happy New Year" to everyone, was recognized by two BCB readers I'd never met, and then we all ran (since the LF corner entrance was a lot farther from our new perch) to the location we'd chosen last night.

Here's where I tell you that there may be a major change for our little band, beginning tomorrow. We're going to check out a more intimate little alcove in left field during tomorrow's game.

Yes, I know that's a big deal, seeing that all of us have been in right field for twenty or more years. No, I'm not going to tell you -- yet -- where this is. Jeff & I walked over and looked at it before the game, and discussed it with Dave, Howard, Jon, and Phil, and we all agreed that there are a few problems with the area, aisle 313, that we chose. It's more congested than our old area -- that's supposed to change when they put a railing around twenty feet behind the bench, which will become the new standing-room area. But also, we are used to sitting on a short bench, only a handful of seats. This doesn't exist any more in right field -- so on the twenty-seat or so bench we chose, people are always getting up and down.

Yeah, I know, tough life. We're going to see how we feel tomorrow. The bottom line is, for us it's more important to be among people we've sat with for years, all us season ticket holders together, and with the "concrete" being new, this may be the time to begin a new tradition.

As with any maiden voyage, the Cubs are going to have to work out some minor issues that several of us noticed during the game. Howard and I had to use the men's room in the fourth inning. There was a huge bottleneck next to the new concession stand (photo below, taken pre-game, so you can see how a crowd could have gathered), which made it difficult to pass through the lower-level new concourse. As a result, we missed Ronny Cedeno's double, the groundout, and the squeeze attempt that just went foul. The same sort of lines crowded around the new beer stands in the behind-CF patio area, making it difficult to move around even before the game (you can see one of those beer stands below, before it got really crowded).

But they'll work these things out. I have seen mixed reviews of the batter's eye suite, but to my eye, it, along with the rest of the bleachers, look like they've always been there. That's a great credit to the architects, who designed a renovation that not only blended in well with what was already there, but made it look like it could have been built back in the 1930's -- only with modern amenities. Props to them.

We are now also permitted to go from the bleachers to the other side of the ballpark; you take your ticket and have it and your hand stamped "BB" ("Bleacher Bum"?? No one's sure what that means), and you can pass through. Non-bleacher ticket holders can't enter the bleachers, though -- I'm sure you can see why. That could cause a serious overcrowding problem. So, before the game, I wandered through the "other side"; photos of the bleachers from there are below.

Thankfully, it didn't rain after mid-morning; game-time temperature was listed in the boxscore as 40 (it felt a little warmer than that, but not much), and dropped steadily. There was a howling wind blowing in from the north, straight in over the new LF structure -- but the larger and higher new construction didn't stop the wind from blowing a couple of sure HR back onto the field, including one off the bat of Jim Edmonds that Matt Murton made a nice grab on, and then doubled Juan Encarnacion off first. Murton, who's not the world's most graceful outfielder, looked pretty good out there today.

Cedeno had a good day at the plate with a line-drive triple over Encarnacion's head (man, either Encarnacion is a terrible outfielder or he was just lost in the wind today -- he misplayed Cedeno's ball and lost a Jacque Jones ball for an error, though Jones stupidly tried to take second and was easily thrown out), and the aforementioned double. He wasn't so slick in the field in the early innings, throwing one ball away (hit by Encarnacion) that was generously scored a hit, and another that Derrek Lee saved. Dave said Cedeno should have had two errors, and he was right. But after that, he settled down and started to realize he didn't have to measure and rush every throw. If Cedeno can do that, he'll be just fine.

I can't say enough about Greg Maddux today -- his 87-pitch effort, marred only by an Edmonds homer, was vintage about 10 years ago for Maddux, and he must have been gassed when Larry Rothschild came out in the 7th, because normally Larry doesn't make pitching changes. Bob Howry threw a nice inning-plus, striking out the side in the 8th, and Ryan Dempster finished with a flourish, striking out Edmonds, bringing back memories of a Joe Borowski game-ending K of Edmonds during that heart-pounding September 2003 series.

Neifi started today. Neifi had three hits. This does NOT mean Neifi will be in the lineup tomorrow. Dusty started the right guy against the right pitcher. See the quote at the top of this blog for what we HOPE will be Baker's new thinking.

So, the Cubs are home, to begin another home season. We are home in our new bleacher home, perhaps to be moved elsewhere tomorrow. And just so the Old Bleachers shall never be forgotten, Mike has penned (in color for the first time!) a paean to days past:

Finally, I took another set of photos today, the first day in the new bleachers. Along with last night's, I'll add these to the timeline, and that will complete the sequence, which began with the set of photos taken October 4, 2005, six months and a couple of days ago, the day they began to move things out.

Today, we moved back in. It's home, christened with wind and chilly temperatures -- and a win, the most important thing of all.

Finally, I have learned that Jim Hendry's contract extension, to be announced tomorrow, will be for at least two years... and that an extension for Dusty Baker may be announced at the same time.

Top: self-explanatory -- found these two in the section next to ours (yes, that's a TV monitor behind them, for people standing on the walkway); view of LF about 30 minutes after gate opening; the old beer shack, now a souvenir hut, located in right-center field; lower-level concession stand (it got very crowded at this stand during the game)

Middle: squeezed the camera in between a couple of posts to snap this shot of some Cardinals in the batting cage beneath RF; view of LF bleachers from the grandstand; view of RF bleachers from the grandstand; food & beer stand in the patio area (this also got really crowded later on)

Bottom: entry gate at CF; players line the baselines before the game; LF bleachers at game time, filled to capacity; new TV camera house

Photos by Al