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Payton throws out first pitch

Caray, Brickhouse honors part of Wrigley Field festivities

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Posted: Monday April 12, 1999 08:29 PM

  Walter Payton gets a hug from Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa after throwing out the first pitch. AP

CHICAGO (AP) -- Walter Payton strode to the mound, took off his jacket, crossed himself and then turned his hat around backwards with a big smile as the crowd at Wrigley Field stood and cheered.

Then the most prolific rusher in NFL history wound up and delivered a strike to Sammy Sosa, who had jokingly shoved the umpires out of the way and then squatted behind the plate to catch Payton's offering.

Payton, the Bears Hall of Famer who needs a liver transplant, then got a big bear hug from Sosa, another of Chicago's revered sports heroes, as the Cubs kicked off their home season Monday.

"Walter Payton, we're praying for him," Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said. "I hope he treats this disease like an oncoming defensive back."

The Cubs celebrated the past on a cool, sunny day. A statue of Hall of Famer Harry Caray was unveiled outside the right field wall. And Jack Brickhouse, another Hall of Famer from the radio and TV booth, was honored as his familiar home run call "Hey Hey" was posted in bright red letters on both foul poles.

Caray's ceremony came first, about two hours before the first pitch.

"I know he's watching with a big smile on his face and a Bud in his hand," Chip Caray, Harry's grandson and current team play-by-play announcer, said. The 7-foot white-bronze statue showed Harry Caray waving his microphone while dressed in a Cubs jacket. Counting a granite base, the statue stands 11 1/2 feet and is hard to miss.

"He left, but we still remember him," Sosa said of Caray.

Brickhouse, too. Some wondered if he would get his own statue.

"As long as they remember," Pat Brickhouse, Jack's widow, said. "They were two great guys who loved each other."

On a day when former Bears coach Mike Ditka warbled an off-key "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for a second straight season during the seventh-inning stretch, the Cubs also unfurled rooftop banners recognizing Kerry Wood and Sosa, last year's National League Rookie of the Year and MVP respectively.

Sosa was greeted with applause and ovations at every turn, but he couldn't give the fans what they really wanted -- a homer. In a horrid early-season funk, he went 1-for-4 in a 7-2 loss and is now just 3-for-25 with one homer.

"I wish I could have a hit or homer every time," Sosa said.

Another loud ovation went to another former Cubs star Ryne Sandberg, who is serving as a part-time coach.

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, wearing a familiar hat bearing his nickname, "Mr. Cub," was swarmed by autograph seekers along the third base line.

Banks, as usual, was enjoying himself at the ballpark.

"It never gets old. You see friends and fans. It's Opening Day," Banks said with his usual enthusiasm.

"We should play two."

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