I’ve been a Cubs’ fan for just over twenty years – a little unusual considering I’m in my mid-forties, but then baseball wasn’t really a thing where I grew up. These days, I live in the Netherlands, where although baseball is relatively widely played, the dearth of Dutch players in the Major Leagues* shows only too well that the standard of the game here isn’t really cutting it, globally speaking. So, I make periodic trips to the States to watch proper baseball. My first trip was in ’99, to New York, deliberately coordinated with the Cubs’ road trip to the Vet in Philly where I saw both Sammy and Gracie homer in my first ever Cubs’ game. My first visit to Wrigley was some years later in 2004, where I saw Greg Maddux beat the Pirates and Sammy, Moises and even Neifi (!) homered. Since then I’ve been back to Chicago several times, including once with my wife STonk and my two Tonklets (all of whom are Cubs fans too now), and I even managed to be in Chicago on a *ahem* “business trip” in November 2016. Generally, I try to save my time in the Midwest for when the Cubs are at least reasonably good – when they’re not, watching them on mlb.tv is far cheaper and easier to switch off – but when the Cubs are absolute toilet for years on end, eventually the craving for a Portillo’s combo or Ricobene’s sammich becomes too great and I have to fly back into town anyway.
…which is how I ended up staying in Chicago for a week in May 2011, and attending… yeesh, I don’t know how many games but it was definitely at least three. To anybody who doesn’t immediately remember the 2011 Cubs I’d say “good for you, close this page and go about your life”, but those of you who do remember those Cubs, you’ll recall that even though they weren’t just quite as catastrophically bad as the 101-loss 2012 Cubs**, they were nevertheless really, REALLY shitty.
My first couple of days in town were, if I’m honest, something of a blur. Jet lag is a bitch and so, it turns out, is a Malört-sponsored open bar session at Galway Bay within hours of touching down at O’Hare. The Saturday game against the Pirates was taken in not at Wrigley, but rather with a bunch of Chicago’s very finest idiots (some of whom write in these very pages) on an all-day bender through various pubs, bars and clubs, at the end of which I found myself in possession of some free tickets in Section 242 for the upcoming Memorial day game against the also-shitty Astros. I also found myself with a couple two-three friends – Oleg, Fork and LFork – with absolutely nothing better to do than spend an afternoon at Wrigley with me. I think it’s important to mention at this point that the game-time temperature was 90 degrees (having been just 50 degrees on the day of my arrival), and it’s also important to mention that I am Scottish, and as such am used to seeing the sun for around fifteen minutes a year. And Section 242’s seats are, for day games in May, very, very much in the sunshine. Good Lord, it was hot as balls – just thinking about it is making me clammy – and I was also hungover and dehydrated. What I’m trying to say is that my recollections of what followed may not be entirely accurate, or very charitable.
The first thing to note, I think, was that the game featured a couple of Cubs’ debuts, albeit two guys at very different stages of their careers. Rodrigo Lopez was making his 200th career start having been traded the previous week by the Braves who couldn’t find a spot for him. The Cubs gave up… anybody remember? Anybody? If you do get this I’ll be seriously impressed because I had to look it up and even then it didn’t ring any bells, but it was Ryan Buchter apparently, who has actually gone on to be a decent bullpen arm in the AL. This was very much the arse-end of Lopez’ career, though – he pitched 2011 and a couple of games in 2012 for the Cubs, only to be DFA’d for a guy who holds a share of the record for the most wild pitches in an inning. Oof. In any event, I think it’s fair to say that we weren’t expecting much out of Señor Lopez at this point.
The other debutant, called up that very day from Tennessee, was none other than DJ LeMahieu. Now, I’m not going to lie: LeMahieu really, really pisses me off. He pisses me off because other than a 50-game spell in AA (immediately preceding his call-up, in fact), he never did anything in his Cubs career, especially not in the major leagues, to suggest that he was going to be a 4 WAR player (13.9 fWAR, 17.1 bWAR over the last four years). Did anybody shed a tear for LeMahieu when the Cubs traded him? I did not, and neither did you. I mean, the Cubs gave him away for Ian Fucken Stewart, one of the biggest arseholes ever to pull on blue pinstripes, and I still didn’t care. That was one of Epstein’s very first trades and in hindsight, we should have seen the writing on the wall even at that early stage. EPSTINK IS TERRIBLE MY FRENTS.
Anyway, enough scene-setting: on to the game.
Lopez’ debut for the Cubs went exactly as well as you’d think it would go: without wishing to spoil anything, he gave up 10 hits and 6 runs in less than five innings. On the first pitch of the game, Michael Bourn singled, and then after a Clint Barmes K, Hunter Pence doubled to drive Bourn in comfortably from 1st. Bourn could motor, couldn’t he? It was just as well, because he couldn’t hit a lick – I can only assume that the 2010 and 2012 All-Star appearances were down to the whole “Well we have to have someone from the [Astros/Braves], it says so right here” thing, but I’m certainly not interested enough to want to look it up.
Undeterred, Lopez – by that stage the ninth (!) SP that the Cubs had used in just 52 games*** – continued throwing his trademark 89mph fastballs and 80mph sliders over the heart of the plate. Jeff Keppinger squirted a little blooper into shallow center field and Mr. Hustle, Tony Campana bravely laid out for it – only for the ball to land a foot in front of his glove. Pence, by this stage standing on third, scored easily and Keppinger ended up on second. The “hit” was so shallow that if Campana had played the ball standing up even his noodle arm might have had a chance of a play at the plate but once he left his feet Pence was scoring regardless of whether he caught it or not. This prompted me to loudly call Campana a “wanker”, according to Fork’s memory of that day, and I must admit it does sound like something I would say. There are few things that wind me up more than players trying to make up for any discernable talent with GRIT, MOXIE, HUSTLE AND VETERAN LEADERSHIP MY FRENTS – all to the detriment of the team. It’s like taking that idea about focusing on the process rather than the results and twisting it until it actually becomes, you know… a bad thing.
Campana then pissed me off even more (if you can imagine that) with a bunch more process/outcome stuff in the bottom of the inning: he slapped (as was his wont) a ball straight to 2B but through sheer FEARLESSNESS and SPUNK, beat out a weak-arse Keppinger throw to first for an infield single. He stood there on first looking like a twelve-year-old wearing his sixteen-year-old brother’s uniform before setting off with FORTITUDE and TENACITY for second on the first pitch of Soto’s AB. The throw from Astros’ catcher Towles was in time… but too high, and Campana snuck in underneath. Campana then scored from second whilst trying to steal third, as Towles got too clever and in trying to catch Fukudome edging off first, threw the ball away into RF. Had the Astros had one decent arm in the infield, Campana would have made all three Cubs’ outs in that first inning, but instead there he was, back in the dugout with a run against his name. This is the shit that the meatballs lap up but gives me heartburn. SPEED DOES NOT SLUMP MY FRENTS.
The Cubs’ luck continued: Gold glover Michael Bourn ran straight past a Barney double turning it into a triple; Castro drove in Barney and then also stole second off Towles, who by this point must have been tempted to have a mid-game change of career; Carlos “rent-a-dinger” Peña deposited the first pitch he saw juuuuuust into the basket in right to give the Cubs a one-run lead at the end of the first, and then, to cap off a fantastic inning, Soriano hurt himself running down to first and was replaced by DeWitt. I was completely fine with this, but Oleg, I have to tell you, was not. Emphatically not.
Oleg hates Blake Dewitt so much, and hates him SO HARD that I can only assume that Blake Dewitt once keyed Oleg’s car, stole Oleg’s girl and gobbed in Oleg’s lunch, all in the same day. In addition to Oleg’s car, girl and lunch, this now also had consequences for Oleg’s voice as he spent the following eight innings screaming “YOU SUCK DEWITT” at Dewitt. Dewitt promptly rubbed Oleg’s nose in it by lacing a deep fly ball that hit the wall about a foot underneath the basket in RF. Bourn declined to jump into the bricks to catch it (DAT CAMPANO GUY WOULDA RAN INTADA WALL FOR DAT MY FRENT) and so Dewitt sprinted round the bases for a triple, chased every step of the way by Oleg’s screams (“YOU STILL SUCK DEWITT”).
Barney, not wanting to be outdone by the Braves’ CF in the “taking none for the team” stakes, subsequently allowed Bourn to swipe second base in the top of the third when, rather than risk a collision at the bag, he completely shat it and bailed out of trying to catch Soto’s throw down to second. Bourn then took third on the same play, as Tony sodding Campana decided to chase the ball around CF for a while rather than just throw it back in. What a shitshow. Cub KillerTM Carlos Lee then drove in the Astros’ third run with a pop-up that landed about twenty feet from where Barney had been standing when the pitch was thrown. A decent defender would have had it but Barney turned himself round three times en route and then dived and whiffed completely. Yeesh.
Talking of Carlos Lee, he was involved in another clusterfuck later in the game: Brett Wallace got on top of a John Grabow change and dinked it along the ground directly at Castro who, distracted by the not-inconsiderable mass of Lee thundering down the basepath to third in front of him, waved the ball through into shallow left field where it eventually reached Blake Dewitt (FOR IT IS HE). Dewitt, having realised that Lee was still chugging around third, “threw” a looping two-hopper to the plate which still got his man by about fifteen minutes (“YOU WERE LUCKY DEWITT THAT THROW SUCKED”). Dewitt 2, Oleg 0. Fortunately, though, Dewitt restored the Universal order (and Oleg’s festering rage) in the very next at-bat, when Chris Johnson hit a routine liner to short left and in fielding it, Dewitt not only fell over but literally booted the ball a full forty yards away from himself into the LF corner (see gif below). By this stage Oleg was in severe danger of an aneurysm but I have to admit, I was kind of enjoying myself in a “this is going to feel great when it stops” kind of a way. Also, if Oleg had keeled over, I’d have got to finish his beer.
Ach, do you know what? I was going to recap the whole game but I’m losing my will to watch it for a second time and honestly, by this stage you should have got the gist of it. The Cubs lost 12-7 including giving up three in the ninth, and their roster included Doug Davis, Luis Montanez (barely eleven years after Hendry drafted him in the first round!), Darwin Barney, Tyler Colvin, Blake Dewitt (who sucked, apparently), Brad Snyder, Koyie “Three-Finger” Hill, Jeff Samardzija in relief and something called a Scott Maine which gave up more than a run an inning that year. The Astros lost 106 games that year and yet THEY STILL SWEPT THE CUBS AT WRIGLEY.
On the other hand, it was a sunny day, I was in the greatest city in the World, I’d already got a Paddy Long’s bacon bomb and some Pork Shoppe pork belly pastrami under my poor, long-suffering belt, and I had trips to Kuma’s, Big Star and Flub-a-Dub-Chubs planned for the rest of my visit. So, you know, you win some, you lose some. Even when the Cubs are shitty, Chicago is still a fantastic place to be.
Unless you’re Blake Dewitt.
* Most “Dutch” players are actually from the Dutch Antilles – Aruba, Bonair, Curaçao – which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but not the, er… Mothership Netherlands. The only two players of any note actually born here are Bert Blyleven (which means “Happy Life” in Dutch, by the way) and Didi Gregorius, and even then Blyleven was raised in California and Gregorius in Curaçao…
** Who, for some reason, I also made the trip to Chicago to see. I literally have no idea why I would have done this. I have blocked the whole thing out.
*** Matt Garza being the only one who was any good. Dempster and Big Z were both shitty, and the rest weren’t even that good. Casey Coleman, anybody?