The way things have been going for the Chicago Cubs, it is not surprising that the baseball strike interrupted the team's most successful stretch -- three consecutive victories and five successes in the last six games.
And with the almost-as-hapless San Diego Padres due in Wrigley Field for a weekend series, one could almost detect smiles on the faces of several Cubs -- until this morning when the scheduled afternoon game between the teams became the major leagues' first casualty of the strike.
By 11 a.m. most of the Cubs had cleaned out their locker stalls and gone home. Second baseman Steve Dilliard was one of the last players to leave.
"I guess this is a rough time for our club to go on strike," he said. "We had just won five of six and swept the Giants. We were hitting the ball better, playing aggressive, and things were just beginning to turn our way. But . . . this is certainly no time to be selfish. There are more important things ahead.
"We didn't have a team meeting this morning. But a couple of guys called the players association and they said, 'It's on. Strike.' So we did."
So Dillard and his 3-year-old son, Jeff, left the locker room.
Club manager Joe Amalfitano declined to talk about the strike but was obviously miffed at its timing.
Thursday, Billy Williams, the Cubs' batting instructor, had carefully watched some of his charges taking batting practice and remarked, "These kids are just starting to swing the bats, and now we'll have to go on strike. It's a shame for the team, isn't it?"
The Padres never even left their downtown hotel today, even though their equipment was in the visiting locker room.
But at 11:30, organ music filled Wrigley Field, surprising the security officers, ushers and reporters still in the park.The Cubs do some ridiculous things. Just today they traded Rick Reuschel, who had won more than one-fourth of their games this year, to the New York Yankees. But would they make the organist play?
"That was a tape you heard," organist John Henzel said. "I came down to pick up some sheet music for the weekend and I decided to put the tape to hear myself play. Can't stand the quiet around here either.
Henzl had an audience of one. Richard Falk, a 10-year-old from the neighborhood, had talked his way through the gates by appealing to a softhearted security guard.
"I'll stay here until they make me leave," Falk said. "I don't know what to do if there ain't no baseball this summer. I've been to every home game this season. Every day in the spring I leave school and come here to see the last few innings.
"I just came today to get autographs on my mitt. See, I've got 14 Cubs now because Jim Tracey signed it today on his way out."
Falk wiped some mustard from the side of his mouth, slicked back his sandy hair and told everybody he won't be happy until the "Cubbies" are playing baseball again.
Few teams have as much impact on a community as the Cubs. Many of the businesses beneath the "L" tracks in the neighborhood of Clark and Addison streets are geared to Cubs baseball.
Steve Smith, manager of the All-Sports store, said his business can't survive a long strike.
"All of our merchandise is geared to baseball," said Smith, who Thursday wsa frantically tending to more than 500 customers 10 minutes after the Cubs beat the Giants.
"So if the strike goes on too long, we're going to have a two-for-one sale on almost everything we have. On a good day, a packed house against the Dodgers for example, we get at least 1,500 people in here. Now look at it." He motioned toward six customers, three of whom were reporters.
"Any of you guys need a Cub jacket?"
Even more disappointed were the proprietors of the Sports Corner Restaurant and Saloon across the street from the visiting team's clubhouse. Last Sunday, Los Angeles pitcher Fernando Valenzuela greeted a crowd of nearly 500 in the door of the Sports Corner. This afternoon it was nearly empty.
"It's so packed in here usually by this time," said Pete Kantas, who, after recovering from a heart attack, was hired to work on game days only. "I can't work again until the strike is over," he said angrily. "I'll have to look for a part-time job somewhere, I guess.