Aisle 231, Row 9, Seat 12

By Chris Rewers on Friday, July 16, 2010

It had been some time - May 25th - since our previous visit to Wrigley Field.

So much remained the same at the Friendly Confines on Thursday night.

* Ivy adorned the outfield walls.

* The scoreboard was hand-operated.

* Rookie James Russell served as the catcher for the ceremonial first pitch, second pitch, third pitch . . . I lost count of how many ceremonial first pitches there were.

* Ryan Dempster was the Cubs' starting pitcher.

* We were seated in our "Dave" seats, which provided us with a terrific view of the action and the added bonus of getting to watch the game with Dave and the other friendly and familiar faces in that seating area. And once again there were open seats on our right and left. Go us!

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But so much had changed.

* The Cubs were just five games out of first on May 25th.

* Carlos Zambrano was on the Cubs' active roster and was not listed on the Wrigley Field scorecard.

* Gary Pressy's organ music was the accompaniment as Cubs batters were introduced by public address announcer Paul Friedman instead of the recorded music (chosen by the batters) that is now the standard. The hip-hop that is preferred by Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd seems out of place at Wrigley.

* A red Toyota sign rises high above the left-field bleachers.

"There must be something nice we can say about that sign," my wife, Denise, said shortly before the Cubs took the field. "It makes a nice marker. 'Hi. We're sitting in the bleachers. We're waving at you. We're sitting under the Toyota sign!'"

I loved Friedman's tribute to late Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard ("The Voice of God") as Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins led off the top of the first.

"The shortstop. No. 11. Jimmy Rollins. (Pause) No. 11."

The glare from our seats was terrible in the top of the first as the low sun hovered just above the upper deck and to the left of the southernmost light standard on the third-base side. I had to pull the bill of my cap low in order to clearly see Dempster pitch to the game's first four batters. The sun did not become obstructed by the upper deck until the Phillies' No. 5 hitter, Jayson Werth, stepped to the plate. It briefly made another disruptive appearance through the upper-deck windows in the top of the second.

"The sign makes a great marker!" Denise continued with words dripping of sarcasm. "'Where should we meet after the game before we go to the bars? Let's meet on Waveland under the Toyota sign!'"

As the game progressed, I very much enjoyed Dave's stories about "Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day" at the ballpark on July 8th. It was obviously a thrilling experience for him. I enjoy seeing a grown man get as excited about being able to do something as my 2-year-old son gets when we take him to a swimming pool.

Dave said he was able to stand in the press box, the Cubs locker room, and - best of all - the field.

"It's bigger out there than it appears from up here. I guess I'm used to Little League fields. Ninety feet is a long way," Dave said with a smile. "And I found a weed in the outfield. I told Ricketts about that."

Maybe they could make it an annual event, I said.

"I hope so!" Dave said.

Thursday's game included 10 pitching changes - many during the middle of innings - so at times my mind tended to wander.

"Oh my gosh!" Denise groaned as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel replaced Jose Contreras with Danys Baez in the seventh inning. "There should be a limit!"

During one pitching change, I found myself gazing at the flags that are displayed atop the upper deck. They commemorate the Cubs' 10 World Series appearances and their six other trips to the postseason. Individuals like Philip K. Wrigley, Andre Dawson, and Hack Wilson are also honored.

I've been doing a great deal of reading about Chicago's powerhouse teams of the 19th century (they weren't known as the Cubs yet) that won six pennants in the National League's first 11 seasons. The Cubs are the only franchise that has played in every NL season in the same city and I wondered why those pioneer teams aren't recognized anywhere inside Wrigley Field. Cap Anson's achievements on the field are also worthy of recognition. He was the most popular major league player of his era, played 22 seasons with the franchise, managed the team to five of its championships, and was the first player to accumulate 3,000 hits.

Just wondering.

Bob Howry couldn't get the last out and Denise couldn't stop talking about what many consider to be a desecration.

"During a day game, the Toyota sign could make a great reference point," Denise said. "You could say, 'I should have worn sunscreen. I'm as red as the Toyota sign.'"

As Ryan Theriot put the squeeze on the Cubs' 40th win of the season, I reflected on how well-behaved the crowd was. It was quite a contrast to our experience on the South Side for a Cubs-Sox game on June 26.Thursday's visit to Wrigley was an enjoyable experience on a pleasant Chicago summer night.

"And isn't it great to see the white 'W' flag?" Denise asked as we descended down to the concourse.

It certainly is, dear.

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