March 31, 2008
Rarely have I seen playoff intensity during the season’s home opener, and yet, there it was vibrating through the grandstands in the form of a chant: “Fuku-dome! Fuku-dome!” Intermittent showers interrupted the game, forcing head groundskeeper Roger Baird and his men to pull the tarp on a number of occassions.
Further puzzling, was the temperature, which was a near-balmy 60 degrees. As improbable as the chant and intensity of Opening Day was, the climate was nowhere near the tundra temperatures usually facing the Wrigley faithful most Opening Days.
Respective staff aces Carlos Zambrano and Ben Sheets dueled inning after inning, giving way to hard-throwing relievers Carlos Marmol, Guillermo Mota, Solomon Torres and Dave Riske. It wasn’t until the guys who were supposed to close down the place lit it afire.
Kerry Wood was tagged for three runs in the top of the ninth, clearly having problems controlling his breaking ball. He started off the inning by hitting Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks in the left leg. Some in the stands thought it was in retaliation of Torres hitting Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa, but I questioned the sanity of such a move. To put the leadoff man on in the 9th just to prove a point? It seemed counterproductive and immature. But it was the right guy and the ball clearly did not slip or wander. It was straight and came to eat, biting down on Weeks’ leg. Weeks rewarded Wood with a sneer and slow walk to first base. I get the feeling a bitter rivalry is brewing already, excuse the pun.
To be sure, Kosuke Fukudome did not have a strong spring. He hit in the low-.200’s and almost seemed timid at the plate. However, the happiest men in Wrigley Field had to have been general manager Jim Hendry, assistant GM Randy Bush and special assistant Gary Hughes, as they watched the man they pursued for three years prove them right by going 3-for-3 and nearly hitting for the cycle in his first major-league game.
Indeed, Fukudome showed a flair for the dramatic as he hit a three-run homer off of Brewers closer Eric Gagne to tie the game 3-3. The Cubs managed six hits, and Fukudome had three of them. “Fuku-dome! Fuku-dome!” rumbled the grandstands. Grown men sat with Rising Sun bandanas–like those used by Kamikaze fighter pilots in World War II.” Fukudome quickly has developed a following, as evidenced by the standing ovation he received after taking the field in the 10th.
Strangely, the man sitting behind me had predicted with uncanny accuracy that not only would Fukudome hit a game-tying homer, but that it would land in the right-centerfield bleachers! Of course, it didn’t take a soothsayer to predict what was going to happen after the Brewers’ Craig Counsell laced a double to right-center. He would eventually score.
Regardless, I admit Fukudome’s success resounded within me more than even victory might have. As an Asian-American, there seldom have been Asian baseball heroes for whom I could root or to whom I could relate. I’m not talking about some skewed loyalty to being Asian, but rather, I was just like any kid of any race who just for once wanted to see a similar face playing the game he loves.
Similar to how many black young men looked up to Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks–whose statue was unveiled today–as a kid, I wanted to see more than just Lenn Sakata. Today, witnessing the arrival of Asian players like Chien-Ming Wang, Ichiro Suzuki and Fukudome makes me feel proud. Even though the Cubs lost the game, Fukudome’s impact was felt–at least it was to me.