Column: Cubs raise banner, expectations in a ballpark that will never be the same


By David Haugh - Chicago Tribune



CHICAGO — At 8:37 p.m. Monday, Wrigley Field changed forever.

And nobody at City Hall or in the neighborhood fought it or cared. Instead, a sellout crowd that waited for hours through a blustery April evening cheered wildly in their rain gear.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo led teammates into the bleachers, pulled on a rope and finally raised the banner Cubs fans had waited 108 years to see: “Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Champions.” Fireworks lit the sky and fans rose to their feet.

As the flag on the pole closest to the right-field side of the scoreboard flew in the 8 mph breeze during the home opener against the Dodgers, the words on the banner could be hard to read, but one thing stayed perfectly clear: The place would never be the same.

“They say all glory is fleeting, and it is,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said. “But the flag will fly forever and that feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves will last forever too, and that’s what it symbolizes.”

This was when reality started to sink in on the North Side. The Cubs actually won the World Series.

This was when it hit you, the Cubs fan who swore it would never happen, sitting in familiar seats with an unfamiliar but warm feeling on a 41-degree night. This was the new normal, suggested by the sight of the Eamus Catuli sign on Sheffield Avenue reading: “AC 000000.”

“For generations of people now to be able to see what we did is pretty cool,” Kyle Schwarber said.

The biggest part of the offseason renovation around Clark and Addison had nothing to do with grand plazas, moved bullpens or Starbucks. The most drastic change involved the new mindset every Cubs fan now assumes walking through the same old gates. You can’t see it, but many fans like Scott Bosley feel it, a sense something good will happen instead of the opposite feeling that had been ingrained into so many regulars.

“There’s not as much anxiety like before,” said Bosley, 60, a season ticket holder since 1982 — and a nephew of the late actor Tom Bosley. “I’ve relaxed. I watch it differently. There is nothing like the first time. It changes everything.”

Gone is the pervasive dread when the Cubs find themselves tied in the late innings or boot a ground ball with the lead. Say goodbye to the sense of foreboding that used to hover over every section. Hello, happy thoughts.

Perhaps the 17-minute rain delay in Game 7 helped wash away so many years of expecting the worst from the Cubs. The best thing ever came next, and it followed the team back to Wrigley for 2017 and beyond. The overall mood seems better, the burden lighter and the goals bigger.

Welcome to Rickettsville, baseball Disney. The Cubs pulled off what months of construction and millions of dollars’ worth of spending never could. They turned Wrigley Field into a place where dreams really do come true. The different perspective inside the 103-year-old ballpark wasn’t just the new view from the bullpen.

When Rizzo re-emerged on the field after the ceremony hoisting the World Series trophy, his Cubbie swagger exemplified the confidence that now defines the organization. Players have no doubt they can meet the expectations that were raised in sync with the banner. Wednesday’s ring ceremony will offer another gaudy reminder of what they are capable of accomplishing.

Since winning it all, the Cubs have celebrated their World Series victory at a parade, the Cubs Convention, the White House and Monday’s banner-raising ceremony. There’s no truth to the rumor the Cubs have hired behavior analysts to study all the celebrating so they can do it better next year. Epstein was asked why the Cubs decided to raise the banner and present the rings at separate games.

“That’s a lot to put in one night,” he answered. “After Wednesday, we can truly turn the page.”

Monday was about pomp and circumstance, reflecting and reminiscing.

Manager Joe Maddon’s mind started racing immediately when he stepped into the clubhouse and saw the wall covered with a portrait of the graffiti-covered brick exterior of Wrigley that fans covered during the playoffs. Across the top read this message: “WE DID NOT SUCK.” Looking into the distance, Maddon imagined that image on a canvas in his house in Pennsylvania.

“That would be the trinket I want,” Maddon said.

Maddon related how Cubs fans approached him in his downtown parking garage to express gratitude. Epstein could relate, guessing, “I’ve been thanked every day since it happened.” Inside the clubhouse, Ben Zobrist shared a story about a law-enforcement officer crying on his shoulder because he was so moved by the Cubs’ championship.

“Those are the stories that tug your heart the most,” Zobrist said.

Every Cubs player seemed to have one. After this sentimental week, they surely will hear more.

“It’s being part of something bigger than you,” Maddon said of the ceremony.

It started late because of weather that delayed the game 1 hour, 56 minutes. Mother Nature made the Cubs’ first celebration possible with the perfectly timed cloudburst over Cleveland, so apparently she wanted to return and make this party last as long as it could.

As the rain fell, the Cubs oddly played highlights on the giant video board from Game 6 of last year’s National League Championship victory over the Dodgers — with the Dodgers in the opposing dugout. Why create bad baseball karma?

Player introductions finally began at 8:10 p.m., long enough for the Cubs to show former catcher and North Side cult hero David Ross take his turn on “Dancing With the Stars.” When “Grandpa Rossy” gave a thumbs up after host Erin Andrews informed him the show was being carried live at Wrigley, the crowd roared because, well, Ross would get applauded crossing the street in Chicago.

Julianna Zobrist, Ben’s wife, hit all the right notes in “God Bless America.” Wayne Messmer mastered the national anthem. The Cubs took the field in white uniforms with gold lettering and trim. Cubs legends Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams — all part of the pregame ceremony hoisting three other championship flags — enjoyed the pageantry as much as Maddon did.

“I’m a banner guy,” Maddon said.

It’s a constant reminder of what was. And what can be.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

David Haugh is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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By David Haugh

Chicago Tribune