By JOHN FINERAN
There is perhaps no more famous sports venue address in the world.
1060 West Addison Street.
Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
Check that – Wrigley Field, home of the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.
Yes, after 108 years, those loveable losers have finally become loveable winners. Depending where you were for Game Seven of the 2016 World Series between the Cubs and Cleveland Indians, Cubs Nation’s long national nightmare finally ended when third baseman Kris Bryant fielded a groundball to the left of the pitcher’s mound at Cleveland’s Progressive Field and slipped on the wet turf while making a high throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who caught the ball, put it in his back pocket and then started the celebration that still continues.
Officially, the Cubs’ 8-7 victory in 10 innings ended at 12:47 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Nov. 3 in Cleveland, and a crowd of 38,104, many of them Cubs fans, watched with glee.
Meanwhile, back in Sweet Home Chicago, it was 11:47 p.m. Central Daylight Time Nov. 2 and the huge crowd milling around Wrigley Field and the neighborhood bars went nuts.
“There was a sea of blue everywhere you looked – there must have been at least 300,000 people in the neighborhood,” said Wrigleyville resident Louie, who works at one of the sports bars, The Irish Oak, on Clark Street.
Louie does a little bit of everything at The Irish Oak – he’s the bar’s version of Cubs super utility man Ben Zobrist right down to their reddish beards. And, by the way, wewholeheartedly recommend the shepherd’s pie and onion soup before or after a game during the season and off it when Notre Dame and the Denver Broncos are playing football.
“That night was insane,” Christopher continued. “But what I really remember is how orderly that crowd was. There were only a couple of broken windows here and there, and someone did steal the Taco Bell sign. But, for the most part, the crowd was well behaved.”
That night, the marquee on Wrigley Field blinked “CUBS WIN!” and “WORLD CHAMPS” to their delight. The crowd that attended the victory parade from Wrigley Field and celebration in Grant Park was estimated to be 5 million, the largest non-political, non-religious gathering in all of mankind.
We use the word estimated because crowds, like votes, are sometimes way overinflated in Chicago, as Richard Nixon certainly can attest from his 1960 Presidential loss to John F. Kennedy. It is rumored that many of the stiffs who voted for JFK in Chicago were indeed stiffs, i.e. corpses. When the late Richard Daley was running things in Chicago, the Democrats knew how to get out the vote and where to find it.
The ballpark opened on April 23, 1914 as Weeghman Park, nearly 31 months after the birth of Boston’s Fenway Park, it became Wrigley Field in 1926 after gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. acquired the club and perhaps bit off more than he could chew.
Under Wrigley, the Cubs mostly lost but the fans came anyway because, quite frankly, there is no better place to spend a beautiful afternoon than in “The Friendly Confines,” as the late Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub” as he is better known, called the home office.
On a summer day between innings, if you are seated in the upper deck, your eyes will wander to the packed bleachers behind the ivy-covered outfield wall where fans go to party, work on their suntans and cheer for their Cubbies. And beyond them, past Sheffield Avenue and the neighboring high rises to the east, if it is clear enough, you might see a multitude of sailboats on the blue, cool waters of Lake Michigan.
It is breathtaking, and the party atmosphere went up several more notches when the Wrigley family sold the club to the Tribune Co. (the publishers of several newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune) and lights were installed for night games. It is only fitting that the baseball gods protested the first evening game played, crazingly enough, on 8-8-88 (Aug. 8, 1988 if you are so inclined) and washed out the game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cubs after just 3½ innings.
This season, the Cubs are scheduled for 43 afternoon delights and 35 evening affairs with three home dates still to be determined.
Love is indeed in the air, and Wrigley was particularly dazzling last Monday night when Rizzo led his teammates into the centerfield bleachers in front of the majestic, hand-turned scoreboard to raise the Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship banner. The Ricketts family, the current owners, also raised banners for the Cubs’ first National League pennant since 1945 and also World Series banners for the teams that won in 1907 and 1908 even though they played at West Side Park.
Those flags and the others celebrating the franchise’s favorite years and retired sons were blowing in toward home plate Friday afternoon when the Cubs began a three-game series with their National League Central Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The east winds off Lake Michigan kept temperatures in the high 50s but few among the announced crowd of 40,430 cared.
After all, when you can eat an $8 Vienna Beef Polish sausage, mix in a $4.25 bag of peanuts, wash them down with two 12-ounce cold Budweisers that set you back $9.25 each, when you can boo second-base umpire “Country” Joe West and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch with the Chicago Bears’ latest rent-a-quarterback Mike Glennon, did it really matter how cold it was?
Is this a great country or what? Well, the Ricketts promised a winner and they, club president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and field manager Joe Maddon delivered, so those increased ticket prices, some as much as 30 percent, haven’t kept fans – of greater Chicagoland, downstate Illinois, the surrounding Midwest states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, the rest of the United States, Canada and the rest of the world – from walking through the metal detectors at the gates.
A young lady from Manchester, England, was eager to show her female friend Wrigley’s zany denizens. “It’s just like going to see Manchester United,” she told her friend.
Near them were several Notre Dame students, who took advantage of the Easter break to spend Good Friday in baseball’s best cathedral and holiest shrine.
“It helps us forget football for awhile,” said one who couldn’t wait to further drown out last season’s 4-8 gridiron underachievement in South Bend.
Two Lawrence University graduates, Mike and Chris, still shiver when reminded of the Great Collapse of 1969, when Leo Durocher’s Cubs blew a nine-game lead to the New York Mets in the final two months of the regular season.
They often wondered if they would see their beloved team win a World Series before they died.
I was at a back in Lincoln Park when they won,” Mike recalled. “I went crazy and then I shed a few tears.”
So did Chris, who now wonders how much longer he has on Mother Earth.
“As I train into Chicago for my first Cubs game of the season,” he wrote Friday morning on his Facebook account, “(I am) trying to recall if I prayed to God last year to let me live long enough to experience a Cubs World Series Championship.”
The wait was worth it, as all diehard Cubs fans know. And if they need a reminder, all they will have to do is look at their credit-card statements in the next months after a visit to the new Cubs Shop at the mezzanine level behind home plate.
Want an authentic jersey with gold numbers like those the Cubs wore last Monday night? It will cost you $225.00. A replica? $195.00. A fitted cap with a World Series logo? $45. An adjustable World Series Champions hat with the World Series Trophy on the side? $34.47.
Then again, there’s the enjoyment of spending $2 to get a pencil and scorecard to record the game. Long-time Cubs fan Bill said it cost $2 last year to do the same.
“And that’s not bad, really,” he said. “When I first started going, I think it was 10 or 15 cents for both.”
Bill’s first Wrigley visit was with his father – on June 9, 1960 when the Cubs played the Pirates and lost, 11-3, despite a two-run home run by Ernie Banks off winning pitcher Bob Friend. Father and son were among 7,442 in Wrigley that day. The Cubs’ second baseman was Don Zimmer, who managed the Cubs to the 1989 Division title and later became a managing mentor for current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. The Pirates’ second baseman was Bill Mazeroski, who in October hit the dramatic, walk-off homer in Game Seven to beat the Yankees 10-9 to bring a World Series title to Pittsburgh.
Bill comes back annually and has visited Wrigley with his own children and his children’s children. Last year, he travelled to Cleveland for Game Six with his son Tom, and they shared tears over the phone when the Cubs finally ended the longest drought in professional sports history.
“Everything else the Cubs do now is gravy,” said Bill, who honored his old hero by wearing a Cubs sweatshirt with BANKS and his No. 14 underneath it. “I’m just glad I was able to
live long enough to see it happen. It has been a long, long time coming. Now I can come here satisfied that the long curse is gone.”
So Cubs’ 4-2 loss Friday wasn’t so disheartening to Bill. Nor was it disheartening to others who stopped to have their pictures taken while petting the Billy Goat of one enterprising merchant. Price? $5.
Such is life now around 1060 West Addison Street.
Wrigley Field, home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs.
“The Friendlier Confines.”
Veteran sportswriter John Fineran has visited baseball parks all over these great United States, but his favorite will forever be Wrigley Field, the home of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. HOLY COW!! Or, Holy Goat!