As a Cub fan, what is ONE thing that every fan dreams of at least one point in their life? Come on, I know you all have wanted to know what it feels like to have the soft grass of Wrigley Field under your shoes, right? Well, I have a story for you, then… and more! Never EVER in my wild, creative imagination could I have EVER thought of what happened to me, my dad, and son on April 1, 2011. Ever.Before I get to what happened that day, let me give you a little background first: Every year for my dad’s birthday, I get us tickets to Opening Day. We’ve been doing this since, well, since the first year we got Soriano, and we still thought it was an awesome signing! We were there when Fukudome was introduced as a SuperStar, and hit a game tying home run in the 9th inning of his debut, in which I was pretty sure the upper deck was going to come down on our heads as the building literally rocked with the crowd! We were there the day Pinella was announced as the Cubs manager for the first time and he was given a standing ovation, and the “LOOOOOOUUUUU’s” were not the “BOOOOOOOO’s” we heard at the end of his tenure last year. We have endured horribly cold Opening Days… long rain delays…and even once some pretty horrible seats (since then, I’ve been pretty picky as to where I pick our seats when I get the tickets). But, the excitement of Opening Day…the official end of the Offseason Blues, it brings us back every year.
In 2011, Opening Day actually landed during Spring Break, so I figured it would be a good time to introduce my 11 year old son to the tradition. Still, I was a bit apprehensive because I know just how cold Opening Day can be…and the Chicago weather is so unpredictable, but he was game, so it was a go.
We packed up this morning, loaded up with blankets, umbrellas, hand warmers, gloves, earmuffs, hats, winter coats and layers upon layers upon layers of clothes and socks. On our way up there, we were listening into the live broadcast from ESPN 1000, who was on the air from Wrigleyville. One of the news stories they gave was how the Rickett’s family was planning on finding a family of four to throw out the first pitch, along with Robert Redford. I joked with my son that we were going to have to find some stranger to walk in with us so they would think we were a family of four and ask us to go throw out the first pitch! (Creepy, right? Oh, wait… it gets better!)
Normally, we take I-80 to i-55 and park at Midway Airport and just take the el into the city, which the Red Line drops us off right at Wrigley. No city traffic that way… and a lot cheaper to park! This morning, we took a different route, we parked at Moody Bible College, where my sister went to school, and planned on just walking a few blocks to the el and jumping on the Red Line to Wrigley. We got a couple of blocks and decided we were just going to hail a cab. Yep, got my first Cab ride, and the driver, of course, was a Sox fan who threw his pokes in all the way to Wrigley, but he was pretty cool. He dropped us off right outside the el station, and we were on our way.
It was about 10:30am, or so, and Wrigleyville was already alive… and for the most part, drunk. We started to make our way around Wrigley. I always like to take a lap around Wrigley to take it all in before we head in. We stopped by the new Billy Williams statue, got a couple of pictures… we continued to walk down toward the Marquee. In front of the Marquee, I stopped to take a few pictures, and my dad stepped away to call my mom and let her know we made it okay. I looked down to see my son was very close to the curb. We are from a small town that doesn’t even have a stoplight, so he didn’t quite understand that in Chicago, the cars there won’t move for you, and as I went to pull him forward, a couple “Cubs Ambassadors” were standing there, and were also reaching for him to pull him away from the curb. They started to talk to us, which I didn’t think was anything out of the ordinary. I knew the Rickett’s family had hired these Ambassadors to go out among the crowd and talk with fans, make sure that our experience is pleasant… so I figured they were just doing their jobs by being nice. Betsy was one of the Ambassadors. She asked us where we were from, if this was our first time at Wrigley, and after explaining that we get the tickets for my dad for his birthday every year, but this was my son’s first Opening Day, they were all about it being 3 generations of Cub fans! She asked my son lots of questions, one of which who his favorite player was, and he answered “Kerry Wood”. She asked us where we were sitting because they wanted to come see us later and see how we were enjoying the game, so I gave her our section/seat numbers. She told us to be in our seats at 12:30pm and she would come see us then. I didn’t think much of it, again, they were doing their job. We walked on.
My dad had made a comment that he would like to find himself a jersey, but the money they were asking for a jersey there in Wrigleyville was insane. He decided to go in and find our seats as my son and I walked around Wrigleyville a little longer so he could get a taste of the Opening Day Experience. As the crowds grew larger, and more intoxicated, we decided it was time to just go into Wrigley and go watch some batting practice.
We got to our seats, dropped our winter wardrobe off, and headed down toward the field where my little guy was able to watch the Cubs take some batting practice. As we were standing there along the wall of the field, I looked down and for the first time EVER, I realized just how red the dirt was! How did I never notice this? I couldn’t help but think of how dirty that makes the white uniforms the players wear! I know, it was an odd thought, but thinking back, it seemed like just another “weird event” of the day. My son was very aware and vigilant of the time, and a little after noon, he decided he had had enough of the batting practice and we needed to go back to our seats so we were there for when “those people” came back.
12:30 came around, and I really got to wondering why they would tell us to be in our seats at that time. They knew where we sat, why didn’t they just come see us when they got a chance. Not very much longer, the lady started walking toward us, and right behind her was Tom Ricketts, the owner of the Cubs! I knew then SOMETHING was up! My heart began to go into overdrive! They walked up, and Betsy said “I would like to introduce you to Tom Ricketts”. He shook all of our hands. Mr. Ricketts got down to my son’s eye level and asked, “We were wondering if you would give us the honor of throwing out today’s first pitch?” OMG! OMG! OMG! My son just smiled and nodded his head. Mr. Ricketts then told us he would give us a few minutes to get our things together, and they would take us down to the field! Right then, the other Ambassador who was outside with us (Jeff) showed up carrying 3 Cubs jerseys for us (Dad got his jersey!!!!) I immediately tried to call my mom, who was at work, and she didn’t answer the phone. So, I got on Facebook! 🙂 Betsy asked me who I was texting to tell the big news, I told her I was putting it on Facebook because I couldn’t get a hold of my mom, so hopefully SOMEONE in my small town would get a hold of her to make sure she had her TV on! Of course, it was April 1st, so many of my friends thought it was an April Fools Joke! After about 5 minutes, Betsy led us down to the field.
She opened the little gate to the field, and I watched my foot as it stepped down onto the red dirt! Un-freaking-believable. That’s how it feels. I was standing on the same ground as so many of the Cub greats had stood on. Stood on? I mean was standing on! I looked up, and standing right by us were Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, All I could think of was “Crap, my camera is up in the stands!” Then it dawned on my, MY PHONE! I started to snap a few pictures.
Tom Ricketts asked us which one of us would be throwing out the pitch, and my dad and I both pointed to my little ball player. We told Mr. Ricketts that he was a pitcher for his little league team, and Tom replied to him, “Well, I guess this is a ittle bit of a tryout for you, then!” We told Mr. Rickett’s how back in 2004, when we took Brendan to his first Cubs game, he told us that day that he would play down on that field someday… and he sure got that right! Perhaps this could be a sign of his future? That would be awesome! My son told him that he wanted to play for him someday, so Mr. Ricketts said he would keep his eye out for him in a few years!
When down there, we were given instructions as to what was going to happen, where we needed to stand. Then they introduced us to Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Wayne Messmer, and then pointed out that we were standing in front of Robert Redford (which, at that point, he was the lesser of the celebrities in our eyes!). I looked to the left, and realized we were right next to the Cubs dugout! I think that is when it really hit me as to what was really happening. Before I knew it, right in front of us, they were giving us the Opening Day lineups, where each player was announced and they lined up along the baseline! We stood merely feet from Wayne Messmer as he belted out his amazing version of the National Anthem, and a cute bunch of little kids who led us all in the Pledge of Alligence. We stood right behind Ron Santo’s teammates as a moment of silence was held to honor Ron, as he had passed away just a few months earlier.
After all of that, they told us to head toward the mound (but not to stand on the mound). I turned on my video camera on my phone, slid it up my sleeve so that just the camera part would stick out and try to catch the moment on video. I looked up at the scoreboard as we headed out there, and saw our names up on the scoreboard, this was all still so surreal. We turned around to face homeplate and that is when I realized that Kerry Wood was going to be catching the first pitch. At that point and time, I had NO comprehension that 42,000 people were watching us… or that we were on national TV… I just was trying not to faint… or cry! Kerry is one of my all time favorite Cubs, and in an offseaon that was so sad, his coming back to the Cubs for hardly and money (in baseball players terms) just to come home was the best news this offseaon… and here he was, going to catch a pitch from my son! My son grabbed took the ball, and I whispered to him, “Can you make it that far?” He nodded. I then told him “Don’t bounce it, whatever you do!” He wound up, delivered, and threw a strike… and we got to go shake hands with Kerry, as he signed the ball for us! As we walked off, each of the Rickett’s family (Tom, Todd, Laura, and Pete) all shook our hands and thanked us. How can they thank us, when they were the ones who just gave us a chance of a lifetime? We said our “goodbyes”, and no sooner we walked through that gate to make our way up to our seats, both mine and my dad’s phones started to blow up with phone calls and texts from family and friends all over the country who had just watched us on WGN TV! It wasn’t long before our phones both died! We sat through the rest of the day in such a daze, I really can’t tell you much about the game, other than Ryan Dempster started the game, imploded early, and the Cubs lost. Somehow, though, we walked away from Wrigley that day feeling as if we just watched the Cubs win Game 7 of the World Series!
On another note to this story, back in 2004, my dad and I took my little guy to his first Cubs game. He was only about 4 years old at the time. Ironically, Kerry Wood started that game. That was the day he told Papa that he would play down there one day . Yes, he did! His “called shot”. I actually wrote the story of that day and submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it was published in their book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms”. This kid’s story keeps growing with every trip we take to Wrigley!
Exactly a week later, I got a phone call from the Peoria Chiefs. My son was a member of the Kids Club there. The told me how his name had been chosen to throw out the first pitch for their home opener! Needless to say, I had my son help me pick some lotto numbers that night, but I guess his luck just revolves around the Cubs! 🙂
Our experience on April 1 2011 all came down to being in the right place at the right time… and looking back at how many opportunities we had to NOT be in that right place in the right time, that day was just bound to be our lucky day!