19 September 2007

A Thousand Napkins a Day Keeps the Brewers Away

I went to the Cubs-Reds game Monday night, tickets I got after the Sunday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals were rained out in August.  Meaningful baseball in September-not something I am particularly used to around here.  It was probably my last trip to Wrigley Field this season.  If it was, I picked a great game to end with.

The Reds are the last team I want to see playing the Cubs towards the conclusion of the pennant race, because they seem to play well come September.  They killed the Cubs Wild Card hopes in 2004, and almost knocked them out in 1998 as well.  Monday was the start of six games in two weeks between the Reds and the Cubs, and going into Monday, the Cubs held a one game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Milwaukee, playing in Houston, were crushing the Astros early and by the second inning we knew that to stay in first, the Cubs would have to win.

We were sitting in the upper deck boxes, all the way down the right field line, fourth row.  There was a strong wind, blowing from the south/southeast; the breeze blew in from right beside us, through the opening between the bleachers and the right field line.  Every once in a while we'd see a load of smoke from the bbq's on the Sheffield rooftops wander into the park.

The crowd around us was pretty rowdy and by the third inning, when the Reds scored the first run of the game, the guys in front of us were looking for ways to turn the tide.  I'm not sure how it came about, but one of them decided that if he could drop a napkin off the upper deck and get it to blow onto the field, it would be a good omen.  He crouched down at the rail and dropped a napkin.  We watched it float down and up, being carried by the breeze, before it made it over the red brick wall and ended up a few feet in fair territory in right field, just as the Reds were making the last out of the third.

In the bottom of the third, the Cubs scored three runs to take the lead.  After the end of that inning, a security guard walked out onto the field and picked the napkin up.  The Reds re-took the lead.  More napkins were dropped, but none made it onto the field.

With the score 6-4 Reds in the bottom of the eighth, I left to go to the bathroom, and on my way out of the men's room, I noticed a hot dog stand off to the side of the pedestrian ramp, closed for the night, a dispenser of napkins visible in the corner.  I grabbed as many as I could and shoved them in my pocket.  And then I really got busy.

I walked over to the concession area underneath the press box, but all the napkin dispensers were empty.  I headed down to the patio that looks west with a lot of individual vending stands and found the same-no napkins.  Finally, I managed to spot two that still had napkins, all the way over to the right, where the park overlooks the players' parking lot.  I took as many as I could fit into my pockets.

When I got back to my seat, everyone roared as I took hundreds of napkins out and gave them to the designated dropper.  By this time it was the top of the ninth, Cubs still trailing by two.  He held all the napkins in his hands in front of me and said "Pick a napkin, any napkin."  I chose one from the middle of the pack.  He had all of us rub it, and then he dropped it over the side.  We watched as it fell, and about ten feet before it would have landed in the stands it turned up, caught by a breeze, and danced for about thirty seconds, before it slipped over the wall and landed in right field, about ten feet from the corner and only a foot or so in front of the warning track.

The Reds made the final out of the ninth at about the same time.  The bottom of the ninth went like this: Theriot leads off with a walk; Lee singles him to second; Ramirez hits a gapper to right-center that Reds center fielder Nick Hopper just missed making a great diving catch on (would have been a double play at least-earlier he had gone into the vines to take a hit away from Ramirez, going in so hard he left an impression of himself on the vines), the ball going to the wall and tying the game-he ended up with a triple; after an intentional walk to Ward, the Reds brought in Hopper from center to be a fifth infielder, but it didn't matter, DeRosa singled and the game was over.  Cubs win 7-6, and stay in first place for at least one more day.

We hung around for a few minutes and celebrated before all of us in 438 went our separate ways.  Just before we started down the ramp to leave the upper deck, I turned back.  The napkin was still on the field.

Fear the magic that is the napkin.  Do not taunt the napkin.

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