Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Cubs fans unleash generations of pent-up emotions as World Series returns to Wrigley

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CHICAGO — If only the ivy could tell.

None of the current Cubs, no matter how smart and thoughtful and aware they are, can properly grasp what tonight will look and sound and feel like, and what it will mean for their fans — the kids and parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents who haven't seen it in their lives — when the first World Series game in 71 years is played at Wrigley Field.

"Not lost on me whatsoever," manager Joe Maddon said Thursday. "I know that people that have been waiting for this for a long time are going to savor it."

In part, because it has been so long, since 1945, when the Cubs played in a World Series. And in part, because of how torturous the wait has been.

"Those moments are really special and impossible to replicate, and part of the reason they're special is it represents so many generations waiting for this to happen at Wrigley Field," baseball operations president Theo Epstein said.

"For our fans, it's all the losing, all the waiting, all the patience, all the support, all the emotions that they've given us, this is their chance to be rewarded. So you feel all that when you see 'World Series' (painted) on the field."

Overwhelmed by the incredible celebration of and emotional reaction to Saturday's pennant clinching, Cubs players talked on the flight back from Cleveland after Wednesday's Series-evening win about what tonight could be like.

"The moments we've been able to experience all year, we understand they've continued to grow and just when you think it can't get any more exciting or there can be any more energy in the ballpark, they do," catcher David Ross said.

"We're all excited about coming to work (today) and coming out of the tunnel and having our names called out. … I don't know how to put it into words. I don't think I could do it justice if I tried."

•••

There was plenty of activity Thursday on streets that surround the old ballyard — Addison, Clark, Sheffield and Waveland.

Shops and stands were selling merchandise with Cubs and World Series adjacent. Bars — after some, sacrilegiously, ran out of beer on Saturday — were stocking up. Fans took selfies in front of the famous marquee and photos of their sleeping babies to show them years later.

One group of fans sang the victory song, Go, Cubs, Go. Another sat in chairs lined up across the street, the first arriving moments after Wednesday night's game ended, waiting for the box office to open at 8 this morning for a day-of-game sale. "I've got the first 20 spots," said George Muzquiz, a 22-year-old entrepreneur. "I'll go to the game, but I'll sell some of them. Made seven grand last weekend."

•••

Barely half a mile up Clark Street from Wrigley, the scene is appropriately more serene, on the grounds of the Graceland Cemetery, founded in 1860, and now home to perhaps the most famous Cub of all, Ernie Banks

Since word spread recently that Banks, who died in January 2015 at age 83, was buried there, a steady stream of visitors, many in Cubs gear, have walked or driven through in homage, or to make a connection with the man who played more games (2,528) than anyone without appearing in the playoffs.

The handful who came through midday Thursday saw a relatively simple headstone, a temporary marker with a baseball diamond and Banks' No. 14 that the Cubs reportedly arranged for as a battle over his will plays out. Roses rested on one side, a towel with the W that flies after each Cubs win on the other.

The Hall of Famer is one of several personalities from the Cubs past who will be missing tonight, along with Ron Santo, Harry Caray, Don Zimmer and many others.

•••

Don't expect Steve Bartman to be anywhere near Wrigley Field tonight.

Since his infamous moment of reaching from the leftfield stands for a foul ball during the 2003 NLCS, theoretically keeping the Cubs from ending their pennant drought 13 years earlier, Bartman has been a recluse, declining several approaches from the team.

There has been chatter of absolution by having him throw out a first pitch, an idea furthered by a kid who grew up on the same suburban street and went to the same school, who happened to grow up and now plays second base for the Indians, Jason Kipnis.

"He didn't deserve all of that," Kipnis said. "If he threw out a first pitch, I think everyone would go nuts."

•••

The Cubs' return to the Series has focused attention on that 1945 experience, a seven-game loss to the Tigers. And it has produced a further slight of their crosstown rivals.

There has been considerable talk — and several reports, even by ESPN — that this is the first time in 71 years a Series game will be played in Chicago, which omits two games the White Sox played in 2005 in a sweep of the Astros to end their 88-year drought.

•••

The one constant at Wrigley is the ivy, featuring some rarely seen late October tints of red, which has been on the outfield walls since 1937, maintained by a grounds crew that include Dan Kiermaier, whose younger brother Kevin does some tidying work of his own for the Rays.

"We work 81 games a year and however many postseason games, this is going to be new to everyone," Kiermaier said. "Is there a living a person that has been to a Cubs World Series game? (Actually yes, some of whom will be here tonight). It's kind of unchartered territory."

If only the ivy could talk.

"That," Kiermaier said, "might be the only way."

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