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10/01/08 7:08 PM ET

Cubs fans' spirits high before Game 1

Lifelong devotees believe 2008 is the year curse ends for good

CHICAGO -- Matt Cid attended the 2007 National League Division Series. His friend, John Venables, was on hand for the 2003 playoffs. Both witnessed Cubs heartbreak. Both were back for Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS against the Dodgers with high hopes.

"I had a hard time going to bed last night," said Venables, who arrived at the park five hours before first pitch, hoping to be one of the first fans through the home-plate gate on a chilly Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field.

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In a near consensus, Cubs followers seem to believe this year is different, that the World Series drought will be snapped at 100 years. The hitters are better, the pitchers are better and the manager, Lou Piniella, is better. God might even be on their side. Before the game, TBS broadcast a priest blessing the area around the Cubs' dugout with holy water, perhaps the latest attempt to break the 100-year curse.

"The team knows it should be here," Venables said. "Before this, there was uncertainty [in previous playoff teams]. It's the first time they've been meeting expectations from beginning to end."

Former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, a star on the 1984 playoff team, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Cubs closer Kerry Wood. Chicago native and actor Jim Belushi was scheduled to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.

The Cubs didn't have any different measures in place to handle playoff crowds. With a season-attendance record of more than 3.3 million, the fans have been ready.

"Luckily, we've been playing in front of capacity crowds all year," said Jason Carr, the Cubs' assistant director of media relations.

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.