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Mac O'Dea is not the reason Chicago is called the Windy City—it only seems like that from the back of his cab. The garrulous hack, in mid-filibuster, rolls his taxi to a stop at Clark and Addison. Wrigley Field awaits outside, waging an early-season battle against winter temperatures and common sense for the hearts of Cub fans. O'Dea, for one, loves baseball in April. "That's why they make whiskey," he says.
Any kind of fortification would have helped last week in frigid Wrigley, which was temporarily devoid of its ivy and its charm as the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates opened a three-game series with wind-chills in the teens. "This is two different ballparks," acknowledged Chicago manager Don Zimmer. "One when the wind is blowing in and another when the wind is blowing out." Last Friday and Saturday arctic winds blew in, and neither of the National League East cofavorites could put the chill on the other. The teams swapped wins, the Pirates taking the first game 3-1 and the Cubs the second 7-3.
Then, with rain forecast for Sunday, the sun inexplicably came out, the winds inexplicably blew out, and Cub fans, likewise, exhaled. Chicago's 6-4 win gave the Cubs two victories to the Pirates' one in the series. "Tell me about it," said Zimmer late Sunday afternoon. "We've already won half as many games as we won against them all last year." What's more, Chicago won Game 3 with its $30 million men: Danny Jackson pitched, George Bell hit and Dave Smith saved a game that actually resembled baseball.
Even the first frozen days of the series offered abundant reminders that baseball is back, accompanied by all of its glorious sights and sounds. There was, for instance, the reverent whisper of a fastball pitcher talking about the old heater. "I try to stay away from the heater," Pirate lefthander John Smiley said on Friday. "I just wear my jacket in the dugout. I think if you sit right next to the heater, you'll feel twice as cold when you have to go back out on the mound."
The teams also giddily anticipated the roar of the crowd. "I'll go out to the bullpen," Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Miller predicted, "and there will be one guy in the bleachers, wearing a tank top, bombed out of his mind—and calling me an idiot."
There was the crack of the bat. Or was that a wristbone? "You take one off the end of the bat [in this weather]," said Cub first baseman Mark Grace, "and you're on the DL."
There was the pop of the mitt: Unsheltered Pirate relievers, wearing forearm-length oven mitts, constantly clapped their hands together for warmth.
And what would baseball be without the smell of the freshly mown...what? "Frozen tundra," Miller said while surveying the field before Friday's game. "Tundra. I learned that one in the crossword puzzle."
Try this one, then: What's a seven-letter word that means "loved one" in Hawaiian? Kealoha. Chicago started righthander Shawn Kealoha Boskie against Smiley in the series opener, a contest that came with considerable advance billing—as these April affairs go, anyway. It was not merely the season's first matchup between the alleged two best teams in the division; the game would also provide a glimpse of two teams that, like their nicknames, Cub and Buc, appear to be going in opposite directions.
The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune as well as the monster-market, nationally cabled Cubs, spent that $30 million on the three aforementioned free agents in the off-season. Rest assured, the Tribune Co. is still in no danger of becoming the answer to the question, What's black and white and in the red all over?