October 2, 2003

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Two weeks in a row and Iím talking about baseball. Whatís that tell you? (Besides the fact that Iíve been too busy to golf, fish or hunt.) Something else really special has happened. Many years ago I came out of the closet. Living in Cardinal country it was difficult for me to admit that I am a Cubs fan. Sitting at the Cardinals game last week with St. Louisí #1 fan Terry Rush, the subject oddly never came up. Of course I was rooting for the Cardinals, and that was okay, because they were playing the Astros, who at the time led the Cubs by a game in the National League Central pennant race with just a handful of contests left to play. So my enthusiasm was genuine when Albert Puljos homered to win the game in extra innings.

Of course nothing could compare to my excitement on Saturday as I watched the Cubs sweep a double header from Pittsburgh at the same time Houston lost to Milwaukee. That clinched the first division title for the Cubs since back in 1989, my freshman year in college (you know youíre getting old when you date yourself by Cubs playoff appearances). I still remember sitting in the dorm room watching my Cubs get handled by the hot hitting Will Clark and the San Francisco Giants.

This year the Cubbies will face off against Atlanta as they try to get back to the World Series for the first time in most of our lifetimes. Only time will tell how far they will make it, but they do have some outstanding young pitching on their side. If you ask any baseball expert theyíll tell you that simply was the key difference between the 2003 Cubs and the rest of the division, particularly the Cardinals. I listened to a ton of St. Louis games on KMEM this year (by the way thanks to all the folks that make that wonderful service available year in and year out) and basically the only thing that prevented one of the more high-powered offenses in the league from bypassing the Cubs was an equally unimpressive pitching staff. Outside of Woody Williams and Matt Morris (each of which struggled themselves at times) St. Louis really didnít know what to expect on the mound.

The Cubs on the other hand have four of the brightest young hurlers in the major leagues. Mark Prior, just two years removed from college, has to be considered the teamís ace. Thatís saying a lot considering that makes fireballer Kerry Wood a number two, when he easily would be the ace of the majority of big league starting staffs. Add in another stellar youngster in Carlos Zambrano along with the elder veteran of the staff, 29-year-old Matt Clement and itís easy to see why the Cubs future is bright, not only for the playoffs this year, but for years to come.

The only question will be whether or not Sammy Sosa and the rest of the Cubs bats can score enough to take advantage of the opportunity. You have to give the teamís management credit as they plugged in some pieces to the puzzle via the trade market, which truly made the difference. The Cubs GM filled centerfield with Kenny Lofton after the devastating loss of young superstar Corey Patterson to a knee injury (I was ready to write off the year when they lost basically their best hitter at the time). In that same trade they filled the third base problem, which any Cub fan knows has been the Achilles heel of the team for decades, with Aramis Ramirez, who put on a homerun show after moving to Chicago.

Well, I guess Iíve bragged enough about my team, but if you see me wearing Blue instead of camouflage this week now youíll know why.

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