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I haven’t read too much John Updike. And I never saw Ted Williams play ball live, even on television. But honest to God, Updike’s famous essay on Williams’ last game [“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”] is on my list of favorite things. I already have a recorded version on CD which I listen to occasionally just as I re-watch “Hoosiers” every now and again as an antidote for creeping cynicism. And now, thanks to the Library of America, I have it bound in hardback too. I regard it instantly as a prized possession, a piece of me the heirs shall have to fight over in my aftermath. Why do I value it so? Because it marries a couple that were meant for each other and each of whom mean a lot to me - baseball and writing.

Updike was no baseball fan. But he saw the essence of the game’s appeal more clearly than just about all of the game’s most ardent followers are able to and articulated it. His insights are there for the taking in his reflections on the very last at bat in the career of the enigmatic Teddy Ballgame.

Whenever the Iowa Cubs finally win a game they will be the last team in the Paciifc Coast League to do so in 2010.

This afternoon they dropped their 4th straight to Nashville, 4-2, on a sunny blustery day in Des Moines. The team managed only eight runs while being swept by the Brewer wannabes.

Not as balmy as last year, but better than average Opening Day weather here last night as Des Moines tiptoes toward the Summer of Sandberg. For the record, the Iowa Cubs dropped Ryno’s Triple A managerial debut by a score of 6-3 to the Nashville branch of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Andre Dawson was born the same year I was - 1954. His birthday is the same as my eldest child’s - July 10. But neither of those trivial bits have anything at all to do with his candidacy for election to baseball’s hall of fame.

There’s a strong numerical case to be made on behalf of The Hawk. I’ll leave it to others to keep making it. But once it’s been laid out I’d add a couple of intangible, immeasurable flourishes as finishing touches.

I remember a game that I want to say, but can’t prove, happened during Dawson’s MVP season of 1987 when everything he did seemed spectacular. Whoever was the starting pitcher for the Cubs on this particular day didn’t have it and was getting cuffed around in the top of the 1st. The first two outs of the game were accomplished by Dawson throwing runners out at the plate, prompting an admiring Harry Caray to remark, “Dawson’s pitching a better game than [fill in the blank]!”

A more generic endorsement of his worthiness, in my book, is the trouble he went to on a daily basis just to take the field. Dawson was known for spending a couple of hours both before and after games icing his fragile knees so he could stay in the lineup and off the DL. He not only insisted on playing, he managed to do it at a consistently high level. People always talk about athletes as role models for kids. The hell with that. What about serving as role models for their peers? I always thought Dawson must have been a tremendous example in the clubhouse of how a true professional should approach his craft.

And then on a related note, of course, there’s the quasi-legendary blank contract that Dawson accepted to play for the Cubs in the first place, confident that his production would be fairly compensated after the fact instead of on the come.

Milton Bradley and, his prodigious power numbers notwithstanding, Sammy Sosa may have been highly paid for their time in right field at Wrigley, but you can combine the two at their respective bests and still have nothing more than a cheap imitation of Andre Dawson.

He was truly menacing both in the field and at the plate in ways that only the very best ever are. If you insist on numbers, Dawson compiled those too. But mostly he stacked up exclamations like, “Holy Cow!”

Here’s hoping he gets in this time around and holds the door open for Santo next year

John Updike was as fine a writer as Ted Williams was a hitter. Updike won two Pulitzers, Williams a pair of MVP’s.

When the former died in January of this year I marked his passing by listening to a recording of Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. It’s a classic essay he wrote for The New Yorker in the aftermath of Williams’ last game at Boston’s Fenway Park in 1960; a day when The Kid famously and fittingly homered in the final at-bat of a career that was both tempestuous and illustrious.

It’s beautiful; something that could turn non-believers into baseball fans the way Handel’s Messiah might call pagans to church.

It could not have been an accident that Updike was there to observe the event and later share his thoughts with whomever they concerned, although a preface to the recorded essay makes it sound as though it was just that. His first purpose for being in Boston that day was adulterous but, finding his paramour not at home, he went to the ballpark instead.

When Williams died in 2002 the poignancy of his death was overridden by the announcement that his head was to be frozen for future reference. His son, John Henry, who I recall accompanied his father on an autographing expedition to Des Moines in the mid-90's to raise funds for the Bob Feller museum not far from here, was having Ted posthumously decapitated and iced on the basis of a signed cocktail napkin that came with no certificate of authenticity. How at once cryonic and ironic.

For the Iowa Cubs the final tally is six dozen up, six dozen down. For Jeff Samardzija it's half a dozen of each after today's season finale at Principal Park in Des Moines.

The team finished with an even split of their gross of games in 2009 after their struggling pitching prospect lost to Albuquerque this afternoon to even his personal slate in what's been an up and down season in more ways than the win/loss ledger.

The last game of the year was clipping along at the ultimate getaway day pace through four innings. The 1st frame required only seven minutes. Both teams scored little league runs in the 4th. Albuquerque broke through in the top when Samardzija bounced a wild pitch that ended up on the concourse behind the box seats. Iowa tied it in the bottom when Matt Camp drew a walk, stole his 18th base in 21 tries and came all the way around on wild throws to both 2nd and 3rd.

In the top of the 5th Samardzija labored [lower case] and finally broke down in the face of the Isotopes' daunting lineup. The Dodgers' top affiliate parades a statistical juggernaut to the plate one through six in the persons of Tony Abreu, Xavier Paul, Blake DeWitt, Mitch Jones, Hector Luna and Dee Brown. Iowa's depleted squad looked like a high school team taking on professional athletes. 

A two-run double by Paul and a two-run homer by Jones finished Samardzija's day and season after he got in trouble with a walk and a squibber between the plate and the mound that he threw away down the right field line. I watched him trudge dejectedly from the dugout to the showers after the bottom of the 5th before I left too. He may as well have walked backwards because that's the direction his career seemed to go in 2009.

Both the organization and Samardzija himself must be wondering what exactly is in store for him in 2010 and beyond. Can he be a big league pitcher or not and, if so, is he a starter or short reliever?

The big question for me personally is whether or not his next manager might be Ryne Sandberg. As a Des Moinesian I'm banking on Ryno climbing the farm system ladder to Triple A after taking Tennessee to the Double A playoffs this year. Next year he'll replace Bobby Dickerson here before returning to Wrigley Field in 2011.

As of this afternoon his chances look better than Samardzija's.

Was it worth all the trouble?

The Iowa Cubs had a 5:00 A.M. wakeup call after Saturday's game in Des Moines. The team's traveling party chartered to Midway and bussed to Wrigley for the ultimate matinee following a night game.

As for your intrepid correspondent, my trip began a week ago today when we piled the family into two cars instead of one so I could leave them a day early and triangulate my way home from our lake vacation in Minnesota via a stopover at yesterday's "Road to Wrigley" contest in Chicago.

Epifanio [Sandy] Guerrero has a new nickname. It’s Derby, courtesy of the apprentice ballplayers he‘s been working with this season.

That, a ring and a late dinner are his rewards for being what I guess you’d have to call the winning pitcher in MLB’s slugging orgy in St. Louis on Monday night.

Guerrero was Home Run Derby champ Prince Fielder’s hand-picked soft-server. His regular gig is hitting coach for the Nashville Sounds, Triple A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Last night I talked with him while the Sounds prepared to face the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.

Paul Sullivan had a piece in the Tribune on the Fourth of July that noted the heavy lifting being done in Chicago by players who started the season in Iowa. It got me to thinking...

Pending any roster impact that Geovany Soto's obliqueness might have, over half of the Cubs' current 25 man roster came to the NL Central via the PCL American North. Granted, not all of the baker's dozen were original signees of the organization, but each of the 13 have logged significant time in Des Moines on their ways up.

Collectively, you'd have to say that they've contributed more than their fair share to this point of a teeter-totter season. Put another way, the Cubs are getting more than their money's worth from this bunch. If the same could be said for the rest of the bloated payroll, well...

Please stand when I call your name. Hold your applause until the whole group has been recognized:

The Iowa Cubs haven't scored since practically before Sam Fuld got married and that was over a week ago here in Des Moines. While Fuld's big league honeymoon continues his ex-mates have been one-upping the C-Cubs in offensive futility.

Last night the team dropped its second straight 1-0 tilt, and this one went 14 innings. Post-game fireworks displays scheduled for the next two nights may have to wake up the expected large crowds if the silly between innings sideshows can't keep them alert.

Josh Hamilton's in town but the Okey City Redhawks didn't take batting practice last night [glad I got to the park early for that]. Neither did the home team. Hey, after more than two dozen zeroes were hung on the scoreboard, I can see why neither team felt the need to do some pregame hitting.

Hamilton went 1-7 as the leadoff DH. Tonight he'll play CF. I wonder what the Cubs did with the 50k they got for doing the Reds the courtesy of snatching Hamilton in the '06 Rule V and routing him to Cincy. The guy's been out for a couple months with a torn stomach muscle and still matches up pretty well with our man from the Pacific Rim in HR's & RBI's, though The Fuker does a much better pirouette coming out of the box. 

Freshly demoted Jose Ascanio started last night as the organization's majors/minors/rotation/bullpen cha-cha featuring he and Samardzija [Little Z?] plays on. If he was angry at all he took it out on the Redhawks. In the first three innings Ascanio fanned seven, four of 'em looking. Apparently the plate ump was the only one who could see the ball since the pitcher was in the sun and the batters in the shadows for the first few frames. Plus, Ascanio was repeatedly registering 97 on the scoreboard radar screen, the highest number I can remember seeing posted there. It's usually thought to be 2-3 mph slow.

In the 4th he tired visibly so I finally got a chance to see Darwin Barney and his touted glove go to work. First impressions were mixed. He just did get a fleet runner on his first chance, a routine grounder to short. The next batter bounced one over the mound which Barney scooped up and then threw wide of the bag. The play was scored an infield hit but wasn't particularly impressive for someone whose glove is supposed to be their calling card. Later in the inning he made a nice dig and just late tag on a steal of second before nearly sneaking in behind the runner and picking him off of the base he'd just swiped. Suddenly Barney was getting almost as much action as the catcher.

At the plate he went 1-5 in his Triple A debut. He gets bonus points because the song they play when he bats is "Gimme Some Lovin."

In contrast to Ascanio's dart and flame throwing display were the two perfect innings of work turned in by none other than El Duque. The left leg kick isn't quite as high these days but it's still fun to watch the guy pitch. He tossed everything but the kitchen sink up there, none of it faster than 85. One especially lethargic offering finally reached the hitting area putt-putting along @ 53 mph. It was taken for a strike.

Let me just tell you that last night was a beautiful one here with temps in the 70's and a northwest breeze perfuming the whole ballpark with aromas wafting from the grills on the main concourse. The sausages went very well with the goose eggs.

Finally, remember Mitch Atkins? He took Tuesday's 1-0 loss, going the route. The start before that he took a no-hitter into the 8th. For the year he still carries a 5-8 log with a 6.14 ERA. But over his last five starts he's thrown 34 innings, allowing only 23 hits while walking four and fanning 26 to the tune of a 2.38 ERA. Guess he's back from wherever he was all spring.

Oh yeah, Neal Cotts was disabled with elbow trouble and Guzman's supposed to toss the first two innings tomorrow night...MW

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