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Opening night at Wrigley Field: all wet

By MIKE TULLY, UPI National Baseball Writer

CHICAGO -- No one has yet invented a switch that can turn off the rain.

If someone had, the first night game at Wrigley Field might have proceeded without flaw. Instead, a storm came from the northwest Monday night, halting the game game between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies after 3 innings and reflecting anew nature's concern for tradition.

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Fifty-three years ago, when the Cincinnati Reds tried to stage the first major-league night game, rain intervened for a day. On Monday night, lightning struck in the same situation, though Cubs General Manager Jim Frey rejected any thought of intervention from a higher power.

'I don't know anything about that,' he said.

The $5 million light system was working, the Cubs were leading the Phillies 3-1, and Chicago pitcher Rick Sutcliffe had recovered from the shock of allowing a homer to Phil Bradley, Philadelphia's first hitter.

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Then, at 8:15 CDT, home plate umpire Eric Gregg yielded to the lightning and rain. Purists might enjoy reading that turmoil and near-anarchy ensued. Several fans charged the field and belly-flopped on the soaked tarpaulin. Even Cubs players Greg Maddux, Al Nipper, Jody Davis and Les Lancaster joined in.

Their horseplay symbolized the event. Seldom has a game produced so much irony while meaning so little in the standings. The Cubs entered play fourth in the National League's eastern division, the Phils one slot behind. Neither club owns more than a theoretical chance of winning the pennant.

Yet the game attracted, in no particular order, Gov. James Thompson, Mayor Eugene Sawyer, a crowd of 39,008, Kissing Bandit Morganna, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 556 media representatives, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Some fans arrived by limosine. Peter Miles drove 168 miles from Davenport, Iowa. Others waited hours in line for a shot at bleacher tickets.

A 91-year-old fan named Harry Grossman flipped the light switch, just as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did 53 years ago in Cincinnati's Crosley Field.

The fans inside the 'Friendly Confines' tried to outlast the rain. Over and over they chanted 'Play ball!' Periodically a spectator bolted for the tarp, challenging the dexterity of ballpark security forces.

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Wrigley's out-of-town scoreboard, which gives inning-by-inning reports on games in progress in both the National and the American leagues, was now reporting on night games for the first time. Eventually fans were treated to developments on West Coast night games. That's how late it got at Wrigley.

The umpires sent the crowd home at 10:16 p.m. An hour later, a voice in a bullhorn was still urging fans to leave.

The whole evening had an ecclesiastical undertone. The multitude chanted 'Let there be light!' One fan regaled columnists with the 'Ten Cub-Mandments of Bleacher Fans,' or something like that.

Sutcliffe even hinted that the rain may have come from the Lord. 'He's telling us he'll determine when the first night game is,' the Chicago pitcher said.

At least one of many neighbors opposed to night baseball at Wrigley for fear of nocturnal trouble agreed. 'I think God is on our side,' a rain-drenched Patty Graber declared in triumph outside the ballpark.

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