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Cubs too cold, sun too hot, fans evaporating

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The Cubs aren't just losing on the field; they're losing their most precious commodity—their fans. This was brought home for me recently by two older ladies and a gentleman of a similar age who boarded the Red Line train I was on. Cubs closer Carlos Marmol had just blown a save once again, and while the Cubs were trying to rally in the bottom of the ninth, the three had given up in disgust, in time to get the last three seats in the car. The two ladies shared how badly Marmol had pitched with everyone around them, but the gent was intent on the transistor radio he was holding to his ear. He recounted each out until the loss was final. Then he turned off the radio, took out the batteries, and packed them away in a plastic bag. He rubbed a hand across his face and said, "We gotta question our sanity—especially considering what we pay for these." He brandished his ticket stub like a mark of shame.

The Cubs are in a sorry state, on pace to pull up just short of 100 losses for the season. Fans stayed away early on, and cold weather was blamed, but now they're staying away thanks to plain bad baseball. Manager Mike Quade, trying to stay upbeat (and finding it increasingly difficult), has seized on bad calls by umpires as an excuse, but then last week he threw rookie infielders Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney under the bus for letting a pop fly drop in the first inning on the hottest day of the year to that point. (The temperature was 97 at the 1:20 game time.) The miscue kept starting pitcher Ryan Dempster on the mound a little longer that inning, and Quade seemed to think this robbed him of precious bodily fluids, sending him into the death spiral that resulted in the Cubs' 9-1 loss.

I was more struck by another incident. The bull-pen catcher threw a warm-up toss between innings over the head of left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who turned and watched it roll to the center-field warning track. He wasn't going to chase it. Kosuke Fukudome, in right field, noticed the ball lying there and trotted across to get it. Center fielder Marlon Byrd nobly, if belatedly, waved him off and tossed the ball to the bleachers, but it was dropped back on the field. Byrd returned to the wall, threw the ball up again, and finally went back to his position to start the inning.

I felt like I was watching a bunch of bedraggled Little Leaguers anxious for their moms to pick them up and get them out of the sun.

Many fans seemed to have felt the same. The announced gate was 37,864, but vast pockets of the sun-soaked grandstand were empty, as was most of the center-field bleachers. Only a few thousand fans stayed to the last out.

I used to like the afternoons at the start and close of seasons 30 years ago, when only a smattering of fans were in the seats. Now those days are in the middle of the season as well. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun; Cubs fans, not so much anymore. —Ted Cox

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