John Baker has become a face for this punch-drunk season of Cubbie baseball as the lead guitarist/backup catcher/emergency pitcher/quote machine.
A white towel covering his head, Baker strummed his acoustic guitar as the rain delay stretched from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, jamming with first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout.
The San Francisco Giants left town after Thursday night’s 5-3 victory over the Cubs. The Giants split the game-and-a-half doubleheader, losing the suspended game after making history as the first team in 28 years to win a protest.
All that waiting around — Rizzo compared it to watching paint dry — left both teams back where this series started. The Giants (67-59) are one game up in the race for the second wild card while the Cubs (55-72) are still stuck in last place with an image problem.
While TarpGate went viral and made national headlines for the wrong reasons, Cubs players and executives backed their grounds crew, even before the Chicago Sun-Times exposed some of the organizational staffing issues that might have put less-experienced workers on the field during a flash storm, compounding the problems with the rollout.
“My heart goes out to the grounds crew more than anybody else,” Baker said, “because those guys have done a great job all year. We haven’t exactly had the best weather here in the Midwest this year. It’s been tough. Hot. Cold. Raining. Not raining. Up and down, on and off. Put the tarp on, take the tarp off.
“It gets really windy, and it is called the Windy City. I felt bad for those guys.”
It’s also easy to second-guess umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, the crew chief who could have called for the tarp earlier on Tuesday night. Then again, the radar didn’t show a downpour coming.
The White Sox stayed dry on the South Side that night — almost 10 miles from Clark and Addison — while losing to the Baltimore Orioles. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said it didn’t rain near his Lincoln Park home located about 12 blocks from Wrigley Field.
“Listen, those guys do an incredible job,” Hoyer said. “Our grounds crew’s fantastic. In Chicago, there are so many different storms. They pull it so often that it’s a rare thing when that happens. It was a bad confluence of events.”
Baker compared Wrigley Field’s drainage system — billed as a state-of-the-art investment installed before Opening Day 2008 — to his experience in South Florida.
“I’ve seen a lot of rain delays in my time playing for the Marlins,” Baker said. “There’s no way anybody was going to be able to fix that field. The dirt is thicker here. The grass is thicker here. There are rocks on the warning track. It just seems like it’s going to take longer.
“In the Marlins’ old stadium — there was so many different names when I was there, Land Shark, whatever you want to call it, Sun Life — it would rain and it would rain hard for an hour-and-a-half and that field would be ready 25 minutes after the tarp was off. It was dry.”
This is Chicago.
“In this city, with the wind and the lake being four blocks away, it’s not the easiest thing to predict,” Rizzo said. “The grounds crew, I give them a lot of credit because they do a really good job here dealing with all the variables.”