Witnessing History at Wrigley Field
When you’ve been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan for your entire life, there are certain questions you’ve been asked over and over again. And I mean questions beyond “Why?”
People always ask me if I think the Cubs will win the World Series, nay, even play in the World Series in my lifetime. My answer: Yes. People always ask me how I would react if the Cubs made it to the World Series. My answer: I would be incredibly happy. People always ask me if I would try to get playoff tickets. My answer: Of course I would try, but I probably wouldn’t be able to.
And so as these magnificent Cubbies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and began their postseason march to the Playoff Promised Land, I daydreamed about being a part of the action in person at the hallowed grounds of 1060 West Addison. It was somehow the first time that the Cubs and Cardinals were meeting in the postseason, and the Cubs were actually poised to do well. I listened on the radio as they dropped game one. I watched in my Cardinals’ fan brother-in-law’s living room as they picked up game two. I watched the home run-heavy victory of game three at a restaurant near my house. Game four would be back in Chicago, where fans were slowly working themselves into a frenzy of unbridled excitement, necessary trepidation, potentially unwarranted confidence and economic nonchalance as ticket prices skyrocketed.
Having attended an ill-fated Cubs playoff game in 2007 (with standing room only tickets), I had tasted the intensity of a playoff game at Wrigley, even though that was the final game of a pathetic sweeping of the Cubs by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even so, it was the most electric sporting event I had ever attended. This game would be a completely different level though: a victory over our all-time greatest rivals and a victory that would truly be historic as the first Cubs postseason series win in Wrigley Field history.
Thanks to the greed of cable television, this historic game would be televised at 3:30 p.m., smack in the middle of a busy workday afternoon that descended into one of the evenings on which I teach at Northwestern. I would be lucky to see or hear any of this unprecedented moment in Cubs history. Disappointment is too weak a word.
Then I went to work on Tuesday. Through several miraculous and incredibly generous happenings, I was offered a ticket to the game and able to get a substitute for my class that night. The stars had suddenly aligned for me to be a witness to history — and the Cubs did their part to ensure that I was!
In celebration of the Cubs win the night before, I had made the last-minute and uncharacteristic decision to wear a Cubs hoodie and baseball hat to work on Tuesday, which made me prophetically dressed for my new afternoon itinerary. I attended the game with my boss, a coworker and a Catholic priest, and Wrigley was already packed by the time we arrived. As they had for the previous game, the powers-that-be at Wrigley handed out “W” flag rally towels to everyone in attendance, making for an immediate spectacle of waving white above a sea of Cubbie blue whenever the crowd lent its support to the game. And, boy, did the crowd lend its support.
We stood up to support (numerous) Cubs pitchers on every strike two count. We stood up to support Cubs batters on every 3–2 count or 3–0 count or 0–2 count. We stood up joyfully to react to home runs that brought us up from behind, put us ahead and padded our lead. We did a lot of standing. It felt more like a college football game in the student section than a leisurely baseball game at the Friendly Confines. My hands were red and swollen from clapping. My throat was dry and scratchy from screaming.
You can consult the box score for the cardiac details of the game, but suffice to say that it was no walk in the park and the Cubs earned every bit of their eventual victory. The difficulty of the win made the win all the sweeter and all the more surreal. As Cubs pitcher Hector Rondon delivered the final strike of the game, I held my phone above my head to record the ensuing madness. As I watched the batter swing and miss, reality set in for the 42,000+ in attendance: we just watched history being made at Wrigley…and it was the rare, good kind of history that gives you chills and makes every hair of your playoff beard stand on end. The deafening cheers that followed the final Cardinals swing-and-a-miss are still echoing in my ears.
The old ballpark quaked to the strains of Steve Goodman’s joyful “Go Cubs Go,” seemingly left on repeat by the public address crew and apparently audible for miles away from Wrigley. My seatmates soon decided to attempt a getaway through the massive crowd in the stadium and out to the throngs of humanity that had surrounded the ballpark to join the festive fray. But I couldn’t tear myself away.
The Cubs players had all assembled in a mosh pit of happiness on the pitcher’s mound and were now donning the new “Chicago Wants It More” playoff t-shirts. (Side note: Why are there no shirts commemorating our NLDS victory? That’s the shirt I want. I can’t stand this generic “postseason” and “Take October” gear. I want a shirt celebrating each step of our climb to the World Series!)
Suddenly alone, I realized that I might as well try to get closer to the field, as the players descended into the clubhouse for some champagne shenanigans. I sneaked past an usher and found my way three rows behind the visitor’s dugout. Even when it’s covered in media personnel waiting to interview Cubs players drenched in booze, Wrigley Field at night is a beautiful sight to behold. With “Go Cubs Go” and “Sweet Home Chicago” continuing to alternate as the background soundtrack, I just took it all in. I looked around the stands and noticed lots of other fans taking it in, too. After the requisite selfies and shots of the video board message congratulating the team, it was time to just let it soak in.
I looked to my right and noticed that I wasn’t the only one taking it all in. A balding older man in a tan sport coat was admiring the view as well. It was Cubs legend Randy Hundley! I asked if I could get a photo with him and he acquiesced. That’s one more for my Six Degrees of Separation from Ron Santo Bingo.
I imagined what it was like for him to witness Cubs history when he had previously been an active part of trying to make Cubs history on the field as a player. I’m sure part of him wished he was down on the field swapping man hugs with Anthony Rizzo, but I’m sure another part of him was just happy to see the Boys in Blue enjoying the success that had eluded him and his teammates.
At this point, the game had been over for a while and I was feeling a strong desire to share these moments with someone. My phone was also nearing death, and I knew I needed it to arrange a way home. I was about to leave the park when I heard someone call my last name. I turned around and saw my friend and fellow die-hard Dave barreling down the aisle toward me! This was the final miraculous occurrence of the magical day, as we had no clue that we were both at the game, and I just happened to make my way down near the area where his family has had season tickets for the past 30 years.
The Cubs players had returned to the field at this point and were mobbing the area over the home dugout, dousing the crowd with champagne. Several of them made their way over to our side as well, and we got to cheer Anthony Rizzo, Joe Madden and Jake Arrieta, as well as give a high five to the Cubs very own Incredible Hulk mixed with Babe Ruth — Kyle Schwarber.
Eventually our growling stomachs got the better of us, so Dave and I made our way out of Wrigley and into a less-than-crazy crowd outside the park. We hung out for the rest of the night, reliving the glory of all that we had seen and discussing our hopes for the next few weeks.
Now we know that the Cubs will continue their historic playoff run against perhaps our second-greatest historical rivals — the New York Mets. This news prompted the word “exorcise” to practically be trending on my Facebook newsfeed, as all Cubs fans immediately saw the significance of this meeting and an opportunity to avenge the beloved 1969 team. In the same year as Ernie Banks’ death, this would be particularly poetic.
I’m not sure I’ll get to another playoff game this season or even ever again in my lifetime, but I will never forget the experience of Tuesday night’s game, which now ranks as one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Strange as it might sound, the Chicago Cubs have become a crucial part of my identity, a fun common bond for my family and friends, a glorious (or frustrating) distraction and an essential component of my wardrobe. No matter what happens to the 2015 Chicago Cubs from here on out, I will cherish the memories of this season forever.
Bring on the Mets!