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Cubs Lift the Lumber in Wild Home Opener

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The loyal crazies who call themselves Chicago Cubs fans may have gone 100 years without a World Series title, but they will always show up in full force for the much vaunted home opener at Wrigley Field.

Often the weather has been, shall we say, inhospitable. Sometimes the seats are covered with snow. Often a cold, sleety rain is falling. Spring usually is not kind to Chicago. However, this year spring started early and has stayed (with one one brief exception) true to the season. So, even with a brisk breeze off the lake, the bleacher bums were ready to take off their shirts for some serious BASE-ball as the boys in blue faced the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley.

The Cubs needed a win badly for this initial home outing. Their new owners, the Ricketts family, who recently purchased the team from the financially ailing Chicago Tribune Co., were in attendance, and also sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" at the seventh-inning stretch. Previously, they had to endure a miserable start in Atlanta when pitcher Carlos Zambrano melted down. Then it was roller coaster time as the Cubs shot up and down. Each time they won on their road trip, it looked as if they were trying to lose. Pitcher Ted Lilly injured his back (although not horribly so), Alfonso Soriano had lifted his batting average only slightly above .000, and the players returned to Chicago as if looking for the Promised Land.

So when Ryan Dempster climbed the mound, all goodness and a chorus of angels flew from the heavens, or so it would seem from the jubilant mood of the crowd. Dempster was in his groove. The lanky redhead pitched his usual strange combination of fastballs and breakers, disguising them all with the twisting motion of his left glove. Dempster drives opponents crazy with this eccentricity, but Cubs fans love it. He was good for 120 pitches and got a standing ovation. Although critics chattered about the bullpen throughout the away games, they held up nicely. In Chicago's 9-5 win, Milwaukee had eight hits and Chicago 13. Of the eight Brew Crew hits, five were off Dempster and the only home run, by Ryan Braun, was charged to him as well. (Milwaukee's Doug Davis was the losing pitcher.)

Amaris RamirezProbably the most delightful personality who is beginning to shine in the Cubs lineup is Marlon Byrd, already being dubbed as the "anti-Milton Bradley." Also playing center field, Byrd is cheerful to the fans, makes spectacular catches — and also the man can hit. Nice change. Big scorers of the day were Jeff Baker and Aramis Ramirez (pictured) with two-run home runs, and Xavier Nady with a solo homer.

Out came the "W" flags. Everyone broke into song: "Go, Cubs, Go!" Kind of made your eyes water. But don't get too cocky. The ivy hasn't even turned green yet at Wrigley Field, and manager Lou Piniella has a lot of tinkering to do with his team. He has the raw talent. What to do with Soriano? Certainly the booing crowds aren't helping. Some of the new-found talent needs to be nurtured along before being subjected to tough teams.

And most of all, pitchers need to be treated like gold. Look at what happened to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. So, Piniella and the Ricketts family have their work cut out. But at least the fans liked what they saw at the party, uh, opening game Monday.

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About Lynn Voedisch