Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.
Hope is the most powerful word in sports. It’s the glue that brings fan bases back together year after year in the belief that some time in the future their loyalty and perseverance will pay off in the experience of a championship. These moments are few and far between for most fan bases, but for the Cubs fan base hope was boiling over on Saturday after generations and generations of being absent from the World Series. Everyone wondered what it would be like to see the day that the Cubs capture the National League pennant for the first time since 1945. I can sum it up in one word from first hand experience from walking through Wrigleyville before the game and from the top row of section 514 during and after the victory– Glorious.
We heard that Wrigleyville was sold out by early afternoon. Not Wrigley Field, all of Wrigleyville was sold out–the bars and restaurants were filled to capacity. With so many establishments in the neighborhood it defied logic that they had no room to get a beer within a mile of the stadium six hours before the game. However, given the gravity of what may transpire that night everything about the day was about to defy logic.
Since anywhere near Wrigleyville was a no-go we decided to get off at Belmont and enjoy a pregame meal at Cheesie’s Pub and Grill. The place was packed, but luckily we somehow got a table. After having a quick bite and pint we began our walk towards the Friendly Confines, not knowing exactly what lied ahead for us that night given the two distinct possibilities. One, the Cubs win and sets off a party that would make New Year’s Eve seem quaint or, two, the Cubs lose and panic sets in with a Game 7 lurking the next night.
As we turned the corner on Sheffield the evidence of hope personified permeated throughout the streets. The sidewalks were flooded with Cubs jerseys, sweatshirts, and hats. W flags hung from the balconies of the apartments along the streets. An inkling of how enormous this event was appeared when we were approaching Sheffield’s Wine and Beer Garden where both inside the bar and outside in the garden were filled wall-to-wall with fans who looked like they have been waiting since morning for the game to start. As we passed the bar we saw a line out the door and a block down on School Street of more people just waiting for a chance to get into the place.
The further we walked up Sheffield the more crowded it became and the longer the lines were to get into bars. Most of these people had no chance to get in because they were completely filled. But, still, here they were trying to be as close to their brethren as possible to potentially bask in a religious awakening.
Once we made it to the cross streets of Sheffield, Newport, and Clark, the scene reached new heights. Clark Street was shut down with police barricades and a sea of people as far as we could see occupied the streets. Forget about getting into a bar as there were lines stretched all the way down the side walks. In the middle of the street fans were drinking and dancing with a nervous energy while vendors littered among the people sold Cubs shirts to capitalize on the moment.
We made it to Addison and looked back in amazement of all the people behind us. Here, behind us was a congregation of hopeful believers. All coming to bare witness what some would argue a miracle. When we turned back around we stood in front of Wrigley Field. This despite its charm and nostalgia had only experienced a handful of pennants but never a championship. However, today there was an overwhelming sense that this time it’s different. Yes, there was apprehension in the air, but with the way this team was built and performed all season something new and refreshing was happening. The time was now for the Cubs to advance to the next stage.
With nowhere to go we made our way inside Wrigley almost two hours before the game. Walking up to the upper deck there was excitement from us, the fans passing buy, and the workers all around. As soon as we got out on the upper deck the field and ivy of green came into view against the back drop of a blue sky, a cityscape, and hints of Lake Michigan peaking through. The Dodgers were taking practice and the stadium was mostly empty, which gave off a feel of a typical July game rather than a playoff clinching game. Still, this was different and senses were heightened. The greens of the field and ivy looked more vibrant and the blue of the sky appeared deeper and more soulful. The appearance of just another game dissipated to the overwhelming energy that fans were giving off as one-by-one entered the field, the main stage of a Shakespearean drama to play out.
Admittedly, at first, the seats on the top row of section 514 seemed a little bit tighter and less leg room than the previous seats we have sat in; however, the thought was only fleeting as the view of the entire field was a sight to behold. We had the luxury in the last row to watch the stands gradually fill up throughout the next hour. Moreover, we also got to see through the fence down behind us the slow build of fans gathering along Addison. By thirty minutes before the game the stadium was filled to capacity in an audacious sea of blue and white. The anticipation for the game to start was growing every second. The fans were not only ready to see the game played, but desperate to see how it will play out in the end. They wanted to know will there be another day added to 71 years of heartache or mass jubilation unlike any that the North Side had experienced.
The player introductions were over and an impressive and uplifting National Anthem sung, and all that was left was for the boys to take the field. The crowds could not take it as the seconds seemed like hours for the on-field Fox producers to give the team the go ahead that they were ready to start. The music was pulsing throughout the stadium speakers and there was a slight nervousness going on like as if you are approaching the initial climb of a roller coaster. Everyone was releasing a collective noise somewhere between a cheer and a tribal call–Game 6 of the NLCS one win from the World Series was really going to happen whether anyone was ready or not. Then all of a sudden the stadium cameras caught a glimpse of players in the dugout looking out towards the field and what may come, but in the background the crowd caught an out of focus Javy Baez smiling, smacking on some gum, and mugging for the camera. He raised his arm and starting pulling it up and down like a long haul trucker on the horn. The crowd welcomed the sight of their young star in the making embrace the moment as a gift. One could hear a huge sigh of relief all the way down to Belmont. If Javy is cool, we’re cool. History is history, this is now. The team was ready and the fans were sure ready. At that moment you got an overwhelming sense that they were going to actually pull this off.
When the team finally took the field the roar was unlike anything I have heard before. This was it. The moment of truth. The crowd refused to sit when Kyle Hendricks delivered the first pitch. Everyone’s feet needed to be firmly planted on the ground to take in the moment. Yet, on the first pitch lead-off hitter Andrew Toles delivered a single. A grown quietly traveled throughout the stands. However, just as quickly on the very next pitch Hendricks got Corey Seager to hit a ground ball right to Baez for a quick 4-6-3 double play that sent all of Wrigleyville into a wild celebration. Only two outs in and all of the North Side could feel a momentum swing into the game.
A seismic shift happened two batters into the bottom of the inning after Dexter Fowler doubled and Kris Bryant flipped a pitch to shallow right field for an RBI single. When Fowler’s foot touched home plate it caused a deafening noise that rattled all of Wrigley Field and sustained through Anthony Rizzo’s at-bat. The thunderous noise and the intensity of the moment could explain the reason why Toles was unable to secure Rizzo’s subsequent liner in left-center and watched it glance off his glove for a two-base error. With Bryant standing on third and Rizzo standing on second with no outs and up a run the crowd turned the sound up another decibel. Bryant was able to make it home on a Ben Zobrist sacrifice fly to push the score to 2-0 after one. Although there was no sense of relief despite a two-run cushion the Cubs fans started to get a warm feeling that maybe this time was different.
Every single person who who watched that game expected some modicum of drama. However, Hendricks was having none of that as he picked apart the Dodgers hitters with his off-speed pitches and an occasional fastball. Little did everyone know, but not much of a surprise with the way he was dealing, that the Dodgers would not get another hit until one out in the eighth inning. Batter after batter Hendricks kept the Dodgers off-balance. Sitting them down with a strike out here and a weak fly ball there.
Hendricks kept the game moving and allowed the offense the ability to relax and not feel pressure to get more runs. Still, they got more. Fowler’s RBI single in the second and homers by Willson Contreras and Rizzo in the fourth and fifth inning respectively grew the lead to 5-0. By then it felt like only a matter of time. Yes, 2003 was in the back of everyone’s mind, but this time felt different. This time it felt like it was all under control, from Hendricks on the mound to Bryant and Rizzo in the field to Joe Maddon in the dugout, there was a trust that they were going to finish this thing. The crowd roared and bolstered with every play save for when Hendricks gave up that second hit in the eighth inning and Maddon went out to get him and replace with Aroldis Chapman. The fans actually met Maddon with a boisterous series of boos before giving way to a standing ovation to Hendricks for what he just accomplished– 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 6 Ks.
Chapman came in and did what he was brought in to do–dominant. Chapman erased the runner on first in the eighth thanks to another brilliant play by Baez to let a soft liner fall and start an inning ending double. Back out for the ninth was an electric moment. It was happening and no one could contain themselves. After allowing a one out walk Chapman got Yusiel Puig to ground into a bang-bang game-winning and series-clinching double play, which finally gave the Cubs, fans, and the entire North Side what they so desperately, so passionately, so patiently waited for 71 years in the making. People everywhere were hugging and slapping hands while singing “Go Cubs Go” at the tops of their lungs.
As we witnessed the celebrations on the field we looked back down through the fence behind and saw masses and masses of people flood Addison. Sounds of joy rang from every which way. It was one of those moments in sports that transcends sports. It was a cultural phenomenon a piece of not just American sports history, but American history. The Cubs were finally going back to the World Series.
We stayed and soaked all the postgame festivities. Although no one had much of a choice since all of Clark and Addison and Waveland and Sheffield were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with fans in sharing one big delirious moment in ecstasy. The Cubs piled on each other on the pitcher’s mound as the crew was building the stage for the trophy presentation. When the stage was finally built and the players were told to circle around they defiantly ran around the outfield greeting fans in the bleachers. Carl Edwards draped himself in a W flag, the size of which swallowed him whole, and used it as if it were a cape on his back. The fans cheered with great excitement and fervor for every player who eventually took the stage. Jon Lester and Baez were introduced as co-MVPs and the fans responded with a loud chant of “Javy, Javy” which brought a broad smile to Baez’s face. Bryant was welcomed with loud chants of “MVP, MVP.” And arguably the loudest cheer was for David Ross who took the stage last. There had never been a celebration quite like that inside Wrigley Field and even when the postgame festivities were over fans stayed in their seats not interested in going home or wanting the night to end.
We finally started making our way down from the upper deck while listening to the gospel sound of the Blues Brothers “Sweet Home Chicago.” As we made our way down the ramp we looked out over Addison and saw nothing but people. It was a sight to behold. It took sometime to move through the concourse and through the gates. The joy in the air was palpable. Being in a small place with so many people can cause some anxiety, especially when some of those people are climbing the traffic signs and performing stage dives into the crowd. However, all-in-all everyone was celebrating in a peaceful manner. Once we made it through the intersection of Sheffield and Addison we decided to bypass the long lines of the Red Line and make our way into the Chicago night by foot. Before we did, we stopped one last time and turned around to soak in what we just experienced. Wrigley Field was glowing under its bright lights against the October as fans in the foreground swayed together. The sounds of horns and loud music were heard from all angles. It was sensory overload at its best. Still, we both stopped at that moment and said how grateful we were to witness such an event–the Cubs are going to the World Series.