While the rest of you were watching Carlos Zambrano's outstanding pitching performance, leading the Cubs to a 7-1 win over the Brewers, their third win in a row which extended their NL Central lead to three games, I was at Wrigley Field among a crowd of 32,103, watching the Peoria Chiefs take on the Kane County Cougars in a game that, with one out in the last of the ninth, tied 6-6 and with the winning run in scoring position, was suspended due to a blinding thunderstorm. The game will be completed in Peoria tonight before the Chiefs' regularly scheduled game vs. the Cougars.
It was both familiar and strange. In my regular spot in the LF corner, we watched the Cougars take BP at the time that the home team, the Cubs, would usually hit (I heard later that the Chiefs had hit before the gates opened). You could tell that the Cougars players, probably 98% of whom will never play in the majors, were savoring every moment on the field. After BP was over, Chiefs players took to the concourse to sign autographs for kids -- and there were a tremendous number of kids in attendance, families obviously attracted by the inexpensive tickets. Except for the premium seats (dugout and bullpen boxes and the CBOE seats), priced at $25, nothing in the ballpark cost more than $15, and bleachers were $10.
The Chiefs brought their PA announcer and various other employees, who did T-shirt tosses and dance routines between innings. It strikes me that the PA guy must be used to talking very loudly over a substandard system, because his fast-paced PA style made virtually every announcement impossible to understand. No lineups were announced and no programs were sold; neither team has names on the back of its uniforms, making identifying players difficult. I was surprised that neither the Cubs nor the Chiefs saw the sales potential of a program or T-shirt or some other souvenir of this event; I would have bought one. National City Bank, the sponsor, was giving away shirts if you signed up for their credit card -- no thank you, got enough of those already.
As is the case in many minor league games, the game was secondary to the entertainment -- there were a number of silly mascot-type performers, one of whom made a show of throwing Kane County 3B Justin Frash's glove into the LF bleachers (obviously, it was a setup glove; he recovered his real one after). But because of the size of Wrigley Field, far larger than minor league parks, the entertainment was sort of lost in the shuffle -- far from the bleachers, even the oversized mascots were difficult to see.
Kane County scored first on a HR by Greg Smith, but the Chiefs took the lead back when BCB minor league recap favorite Rebel Ridling smacked a two-run shot into the RF bleachers. The next hitter, LF Brandon Guyer, hit a HR about four rows beneath us into the LF seats, giving Peoria a 3-1 lead. Guyer was the most impressive player in the game and probably the best prospect I saw last night. He played a good left field and also tripled deep into the right-center field gap.
The Cougars scored five runs off Chiefs relievers Chris Siegfried and Craig Muschko in the sixth on a walk and five straight hits. They might have had more if not for a nice throw by CF Jonathan Wyatt, nailing a runner at the plate to end the inning. The game was tied up in the last of the 7th after Guyer's triple; he scored on a sacrifice fly. That's where it stood in the bottom of the 9th; with one out Guyer singled and stole second, and the next hitter, Cliff Andersen, walked -- and then the rain came and washed the rest of the game into suspension and likely disappointed several hundred kids who had lined up to run the bases after the game. I left as soon as the rain came, so I didn't see whether or not the Cubs let them do that, but I'd have to assume the answer is "no", given how hard it was raining.
For the Cubs and Chiefs, it was a good promotional tool. The attendance of 32,103 more than doubled the previous Midwest League record (sort of a given, because Wrigley Field is so much larger than any MWL park), and was larger than eight major league games played last night (it outdrew games in Toronto, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cleveland, Florida, Texas, Oakland, and San Diego, more than doubling the 12,182 in Oakland). This, obviously, is a testament to Wrigley Field's drawing power. Most of the fans in attendance were wearing Cub paraphernalia, but I also saw people in Cougars gear, given that they play only about 55 miles west of Chicago. I'm sure the Cubs consider this a great success, and I imagine they'll do it again.
As for the Cub game, we listened by low-tech device (a "radio"), though they had the game on monitors behind the bleacher seats and many people just stood there and watched it, missing the action on the field in front of them. Z probably threw his best game of the year and the fact that the Cubs scored seven runs on 15 hits without a single HR is a good sign that the offense is coming out of their recent slump; I was especially gratified to see Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome have good games, because those two have been in perhaps the worst funks of anyone. For his part, Fukudome had a bit of luck when Ryan Braun's dive just missed his sinking liner and it went to the wall for a triple... but sometimes you need a bit of luck to get going.
I'll be in Milwaukee tonight and tomorrow afternoon, looking forward to being among many Cub fans who have already made the first two games of this series feel like home games. I'm sure the players hear it and feed off that energy.
Here are the photos from last night's game:
Click on photos to open a larger version in a new browser window. All photos by David Sameshima