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It is a cold, miserable day in Des Moines. The steady rain may change to snow by the time the Iowa Cubs are scheduled to open their home season at 7:05 tonight versus the Memphis Redbirds, the team that caught them at the tape last Labor Day and squeezed past into the PCL playoffs. Ironically, that change in the form of precipitation might increase the chances of the game being played. Just in case the game tonight gets called I had a couple of hot dogs for lunch.


The I-Cubs beat the Isotopes on getaway day yesterday in Albuquerque, 10-6, behind five RBI from holdover Bobby Scales to split their season-opening road swing through Texas and New Mexico at 4-4. At the plate Tony Campana, Lou Montanez and Scales are off to hot starts. Fernando Perez has drawn eight walks and swiped three bases and Bryan LaHair has already knocked in nine runs. There hasn't yet been much pitching to which any of those responsible would sign their names. Chris Carpenter has fanned eight and walked but two so far in five innings spread over three appearances.


Here's alink to a new feature at the I-Cub website this year that's a nice one-stop daily clearinghouse for media reports: http://iowa.cubs.milb.com/news/page.jsp?ymd=20110317&content_id=16994120&vkey=news_t451&fext=.jsp&sid=t451


No doubt there are better days ahead weather-wise and this club deserves some breaks in that department. Last year the team was 4th out of 16 in the PCL in attendance despite that Des Moines is 14th in the league in population.


Weather relenting, J.R. Mathes starts for Iowa tonight. It feels like he's been here as long as Wakefield's been in Boston, maybe longer if you asked him.

logoThe season hasn’t even started and the door is already revolving.


The weather today in Des Moines is passable but the Iowa Cubs are opening the 2011 season on the road at Round Rock, TX. Thomas Diamond is supposed to oppose Express southpaw Michael Kirkman, the #6 prospect in the Ranger system who takes the mound tonight with these creds: 2010 PCL Pitcher of the Year [13-3 with a 3.09 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 131 innings for Oklahoma City]. He also won two PCL Pitcher of the Week awards and led the PCL with an .813 winning percentage. Kirkman made his Major League debut on Aug. 24, 2010, against the Baltimore Orioles, striking out the first three hitters he faced and was named the 2010 Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year.


carlos y carlosLast year I traveled to Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend to see the Cubs and Cardinals do battle. My companion was a neighbor friend who also happens to be a Redbird fan.

I discovered too far out of town to turn back that I’d forgotten the tickets for the Friday afternoon game. Luckily we overcame that absentmindedness at the Wrigley Field ticket window when I was able to verify that I had indeed purchased the seats in question and duplicate tickets were issued. But that snafu on top of the clogged vehicular traffic in downtown Chicago and the really clogged human traffic on the CTA Red Line left us barely enough time to scramble into position down in the right field corner ahead of the first pitch.

Wrigley vacanciesOn day five of single game ticket sales yesterday it was still possible to buy four seats together for Opening Day.


I suspect the Ricketts gang has taken notice of the fact that spit and polished pee troughs are trumped by a 5th place team and 9% unemployment when folks sit down in February to calculate whether or not they can afford $72 bleacher tickets come summertime.


There are other causes for concern as the bean counters contemplate the 2011 schedule and project the team's prospects at the turnstiles.


The two months with the highest number of home games are April and May with 15 and 17, respectively. Not only is the weather at its poorest then, but the early returns on advance ticket sales indicate that fans are taking a wait and see approach on this year’s edition rather than banking that Mike Quade’s 24-13 audition last year was an accurate forecast of the 2011 winning percentage.


The Yankee series is the only one at home over a weekend in June.


Attendance at the first two exhibition games was spotty. Unseasonable weather may be an early factor there, but even subpar Arizona weather is likely to far surpass whatever awaits in Chicago in April and May before Wrigley has a chance to put her face on.


Has the Cub/Wrigley Field brand peaked? It appears right now that the baseball business headquartered at Clark & Addison is in danger of having its streak of three million-plus attendance seasons snapped at seven.


If that happens will the storm sewers outside the Addison Red Line station be able to handle the flood of scalpers’ tears?

Mr. BojanglesToday is Ron Santo’s birthday. Seems like a good day to open the ticket windows. Before it’s through I expect to have a couple for August 10, the date for the unveiling of Santo’s statue. The radio broadcasts will take some getting used to, but I’ll manage. Keith Moreland will do a good job, a better one in important ways than his predecessor ever claimed to. But Santo’s absence will be felt on other levels by those of us old enough to have listened in when he was playing.


One of the first long pauses in life is when your favorite ballplayers start retiring. Another is when you realize that you’re older than the stars du jour. And when your boyhood heroes start biting the dust you know you’re into the late innings [not to get too maudlin, but my own birthday was yesterday].


When you’re a Cub fan folklore has to tide you over in the absence of league pennants and World Series appearances. And Santo was literally buried in it. His funeral as the occasion for bringing a prodigal pitcher back home is the sort of stuff I’ve learned to get by on.


Younger generations are more acronymic than mere AVG, ERA and RBI. But those old standards in combination with memorabilia like Santo’s black cat and Dawson’s blank check are the only baseball measuring sticks I know how to use. Hell, I can’t even remember a particular signature play of Santo’s. I remember when a busted jaw interrupted his 20+ game hitting streak. Somehow that figures. He was broken but unsinkable, a Cub fan in a nutshell. His number 10 reminds me of when I was 10. There are fewer such reminders all the time so I’m glad one of them still flutters above the statuary park formerly known as Wrigley Field.


No more flaming toupees. No more sweater & tuna smack. No more Acapulco taco pie - and a lot less amusement.


I hope the team picks him up.


 

book cover


The only thing Jane Leavy didn’t share about Mickey Mantle in her fine new book The Last Boy is where and when he made his deal with the devil; the one whereby he became the best-looking [white] ballplayer in America during the decade spanning the mid 50’s & 60’s, both on and off the field; the one that eventually cost him his dignity and family, plus tax. Or maybe the deal was struck by Mickey’s father deep inside an Oklahoma zinc mine and maybe Mutt didn’t drive a hard enough bargain.  Speaking of Mickey’s first coach, there is much more Oedipal fodder in this account of Mantle’s improbable life than just the hackneyed anecdote about the confrontation between father and son in a Kansas City hotel room when a demotion to the minors could have become a demotion to those Oklahoma mines.


I opened the book with a pre-existing fascination about Mantle. His stardom paralleled my boyhood and his agonizing demise at the end of life revealed some things about him that I related to. This is not to make a case for or against him versus any other ballplayer from any era. I am not a Mantle apologist. Nor did the book disillusion me, despite that it’s built around the author’s own disillusioning encounter with her childhood hero when she was assigned to interview him for the Washington Post in 1983. I’m too old for disillusionment. Instead my fascination was deepened. His extraordinary athletic prowess both obscured and excused what an otherwise uncoordinated person he was.


Laid bare are the childhood, career and afterlife of the man whose legacy runs a long, wide gamut from the tape measure home run to organ donation. Mantle is painted here as equal parts humble and boorish; a real, live Zeus who was saved from financial ruin but not himself by a nascent memorabilia craze that followed, not coincidentally, his folklorian playing days. He capitalized on celebrity despite that it confused him. He was always a ballplayer, even after he stopped playing ball, never having learned how to be anything else that could profit him.


Leavy earned commendation for the extraordinary depths of her research into, for instance, the mammoth and legendary home run at Griffith Stadium and a later one that rattled the pigeons’ perches at Yankee Stadium. So diligent and thorough was her excavation of Mantle’s ruins that I’m almost surprised she didn’t find her way to me for an account of how I got him to sign my ticket at a pro-am golf event in Iowa City in 1974. For a sportswriter Leavy is an accomplished archaeologist.


The title of the book is just right. Still, it occurred to me that Mickey Mantle would have fit as comfortably in the ranks of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys as he did in the juvenile sanctuary of the clubhouse. Only in dying did he ever grow up.


The Mick who emerges in Leavy’s portrait is someone who was to be pitied and then perhaps briefly admired, but rarely envied. His soul was as tortured as his once remarkable but finally dilapidated body.


When he was young and still enjoyed it himself I imagine Mantle would have been a choice drinking companion. In lieu of ever having that opportunity I’ll hoist this book, poured neat, as a toast to his tragicomic memory.


 

Man, when you see that Augie Ojeda is 36 you know it’s getting late.


Last night my son was megabussing home from college when he e-mailed me the news about Augie inking a minor league deal with the Cubs. A decade ago Augie was our favorite player in Des Moines. Eventually he would hit three homers playing for the Chicagoans. We saw one of them in a game at Wrigley the only other aspect of which I can recall is that the Cubs lost. The rest of the details aren’t important enough to go looking for. Later Augie came back to annoy if not exactly haunt the Cubs when he hit .444 for the Diamondbacks while they were sweeping us out of the 2007 playoffs. Ojeda’s real first name is Octavio. His initials have more potential than he ever did.


Todd Wellemeyer is a yawn. But Augie Ojeda is like magic words that reopen a closed passageway.


His playing days are numbered. Mine are long gone. The kid’s just hitting his stride. Hard to believe we were all part of the same ballclub in 2001. And now we are again.

For your consideration...


STUBS: A Father's Tickets to the Greatest Shows on Earth [Outskirts Press] will be formally released on Friday, December 3 at Beaverdale Books here in Des Moines. The book is already showing as "in-stock" online at both Amazon and B&N. The cover synopsis and author bio are below. I've also included a link to the preliminary Amazon listing. I think if you order more than one copy you'll trigger the magic words: FREE SHIPPING!



A boxful of old ticket stubs is the framework for this account of a father’s evolution. While his children grow his horizons expand, changing the way he sees the world. STUBS makes a case for holstering the camcorder, and the dot-to-dot of episodes intertwines with reflections on parenthood from the perspective of a man reborn by the births of his children. The venues range from Raccoon Valley Little League to Carnegie Hall; the occasions from Opening Day at Wrigley Field to Mozart’s 250th birthday party in Salzburg. The result is an album filled with illustrations of how much kids have to teach.


Michael Wellman is the author of Far From the Trees: The Troubled Sons of an American Neighborhood [Outskirts Press], a finalist in the 2009 Indie Book Awards. He is a regular contributor to the Des Moines Register whose work has also appeared in The Iowan and on Iowa Public Radio. During the summer he blogs for The Cub Reporter. He was born, raised and lives it up in Des Moines, Iowa, a place he can’t seem to get enough of. Contact him at [email protected].

As the holidays draw near it's time to start making lists. Even in the wake of seasons as lackluster as 2010 there are things to be grateful for. Take, for instance, the following:


1. The Cubs still don't have a mascot.


2. Most of the seats at Wrigley Field are still unobstructed.


3. Most of the events staged there are still baseball games.


4. Ron Santo still works there.


5. The scoreboard is still [literally] alive.


6. The Triple A team still plays where I live.


7. We're out from under Rothschild's contract & burdensome last name.


8. All of the other contracts are a year older.


9. Cubs are undefeated & unbeatable for another four-plus months.


10. Sunshine is a known cure for Ricketts.


Enough with Thanksgiving. What about a Christmas list?


1. A .648 winning % [aka, 24 -13].


2. A bullpen made up of one year contracts.


3. An honest year's work out of Zambrano.


4. A decent year's work out of Soriano.


5. Above average grades for the sophomore C's.


6. Another home[y] for Fukodome?


7. Hi-ho Silva! Away?


8. A pulse for Len; a muzzle for Bob.


9. A new sweater for Pat; a clue for Ron.


10. A once-in-a-lifetime season for all of us!

My god, it’s nearly 70 today in the Midwest, a great day for a ballgame. But there won’t be one for several more months. Still, the weather gets an old guy’s mind on baseball…

So it’s official. Ryne Sandberg won’t be back in Des Moines next year to reprise his role as the skipper of the Iowa Cubs. One and done. No matter; no surprise. Baseball fans in minor league outposts have been used to the transience of ballplayers since way before free agency came to the big leagues.

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