- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
O.K., I admit it. I'm a lifelong Phillies fan ... and I almost sang that damn song! Something about this ballpark corrupted me—its intimacy, its age and its denizens, their rabidity and ribaldry. Where else is the historical hysterical? And so of course I jumped at the chance, just before the next day's game, to meet Wrigley in person.
Yes, Wrigley Fields had come to Wrigley Field to throw out the first ball, the unlikeliest of namesakes: he being blonde, blue-eyed, innocent and seven. His name had come to his father years before the boy was conceived, a moniker born, of course, in a beer bottle. Jerry Fields and some buddies were quaffing a few in their dorm at Western Illinois University nearly two decades ago when one of them said, "You know, you ought to name your kid Wrigley," and Jerry Fields gave it a half-second's thought and said, "Yeah!"
Now Wrigley Fields was entering Wrigley Field for the first time, and he was grooving on it. "It feels like it's my field," the lad gushed. "It's cool. And this team is doing awesome. My name is a baseball field, and I'm a Cubs fan so it's really cool. Except when kids at school see me and yell, 'Sox rule!'"
His father stood to the side, blinking. For him, these 2008 Cubs and this moment with his son were not just unexpected summer sweetness. They were release from a meat hook ... salvation. Another of his sons, two-year-old Trevor, had come within a few seconds of drowning in the family's backyard pool earlier in the summer—saved by his sister Kamryn's screams and the rapid CPR work of two neighbors—and it was this team that was preserving his sanity through weeks of guilt and nightmares. The Cubs were so beautiful to watch, so cohesive a team, that for a few hours each day they made him stop flogging himself and asking, "Why wasn't I there?" at least until he lay down in bed.
"It's their camaraderie," he said. "I read their mannerisms. I watch them in the dugout, everyone always high-fiving. They have no MVP—they have ten MVPs. For years this team was all about Sammy Sosa. Now it's all about winning. I know I should be expecting doom, because I always have before, and if you don't, you're not a real Cubs fan. But I don't this time. I just don't." He glanced over at Trevor, in his wife Kathy's arms. "Thank God all this is happening," he said. "It eases everything."
Wrigley Fields strode to the hill in a Soriano jersey. The crowd roared so loud, when the tyke uncorked a beaut, that he forgot to do the cartwheel and flip that his dad had offered him 20 bucks to do. I raced upstairs to find Santo, the Cubs' radio voice, the wincing, wheezing embodiment of Cubdom, the team's 68-year-old former All-Star third baseman who, year after year, even on peg legs, just keeps coming back for more. Coming back despite his toupee being set aflame by an overhead press-box heater, coming back despite his diabetes and his amputations and his heart attack and his bladder cancer and his 22 operations and his team, coming back to slit his wrists and bleed Cubbie blue into the microphone for nine innings each day, then stitch 'em up and go home to await nine more. I needed to see if he sanctioned this freight train of faith roaring through Wrigleyville, this casting off of a century's chains ... and did he ever. "Don't worry about it!" bellowed Ronnie. "Enjoy it! Enjoy it! Don't worry about it! There are no holes in this team! This is the ball club!"
Wow. O.K. I rushed the news back to the rightfield bleachers and ran smack into another wedding party, 50 green-T-shirted people of both sexes celebrating the wedding—just two days away—of Jordan Gerber and Lynn Meyer, a 36-year-old optometrist whose grandma, were she not buried in a Cubs blanket, would've beamed at the white veil with white Mickey Mouse ears emblazoned with Cubs logos that now festooned her granddaughter's head. The bearded rabbi in a Cubs hat who was going to perform the wedding ceremony certainly looked pleased. Lynn's fiancé had spent about $2,500 and most of his summer combing Craig's List to buy 50 of the most expensive bleacher tickets on earth, at $45 a pop, at the only stadium in sports history that charged more for seats farther from the central drama than for many of the closer ones. But Lynn was sure Ronnie Santo was right. "We're used to devastation," she said, "but I just don't have that feeling this year."
The heat was savage. Today's was an afternoon game. Here was Wrigleyville broiled to its essence, young men and women pouring from the surrounding bars into the bleachers, pausing on the outdoor concourse to purchase a pair of 16-ounce plastic cups of beer, double-fisting them to an unclaimed patch of bench, stripping down to bare chests and bikini tops and settling in for a four-hour house party, the scents of suntan lotion, hops, barley and baked flesh inseparable by the bottom of the second. Marvelous multitaskers, able to eat, drink, text, troll, couple and clamor for the Cubbies all at once.
The Phils took a 2--1 lead into the bottom of the fifth. But these Cubs were so Santo, crawling off every gurney, hobbling back into every game, leading the league in come-from-behind hurrahs. They loaded the bases in the sixth as Kosuke Fukudome, their new rightfielder, the anti-Sosa, approached the plate. The Fukudomania that swept Wrigley back in the spring, fueled by his sizzling first month with the Cubs, had subsided, along with his batting average, to a quieter, deeper appreciation of his fundamentals and fielding, his egolessness and patience that had helped transform a lineup of flailers and lungers into the walkingest team in the league. But now Fuk Frenzy blazed anew, a full house in love with the sound of that name rising from its lips: FU-KU-DO-ME! ... FU-KU-DO-ME!...
"Yes, I hear their chanting," he'd assure me later, through his interpreter, in the Cubs' clubhouse. "They might be releasing tension. I have heard many male fans here saying, 'I love you,' which I find odd. This is the biggest party of any baseball stadium I have played in in America. If we win the World Series—if I can be sure to come home alive—I will join that party." But just in case, I asked him what the traditional Japanese antidote would be to ward off some threatening evil, like, say, a 100-year curse allegedly brought on by a smelly, rain-soaked billy goat's eviction from a very well-known baseball stadium in 1945. "A small mound of salt," he replied, "placed outside the front door." ...