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Are You Ready for a Howling, Pagan, YouTube Oktoberfiesta?
September 29, 2008
Wrigley Field has always been the best bash in sports, and now—after this Summer of Love—certitude and dominance, ass-to-ass on the same plank in the bleachers, have replaced doubt and doom
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September 29, 2008

Are You Ready For A Howling, Pagan, Youtube Oktoberfiesta?

Wrigley Field has always been the best bash in sports, and now—after this Summer of Love—certitude and dominance, ass-to-ass on the same plank in the bleachers, have replaced doubt and doom

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I. Reunion

SO MUCH had changed in the 10 years since the bartender, the union laborer, Sammy's 37th and I all chanced to meet that night at the wall of the shrine. The rightfielder whom we'd come to exalt was now in exile. The piece of history that he'd sent to us, off his bat, was now stained. The man now standing in his place was Japanese. The bartender was an executive producer. And I was in a white plastic cowboy hat. ¶ We were together again, all but Sammy, for the first time in a decade, reuniting last month at that same sweet spot where we'd met, Wrigley Field's ivy-covered rightfield wall. Still innocents, in spite of everything. Believing once more that something impossible was about to happen, that history again was in the air.

I'd come to Wrigley in July 1998 on the cockamamiest of crusades, chasing the Great Home Run Chase back when it seemed so clean and Herculean, crisscrossing the country without sleep to sit in San Diego's, Tampa Bay's and Chicago's outfield seats on three consecutive nights and catch Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa as they pursued a record unreachable for 37 years: Roger Maris's 61. It was a summer of magic, a grace of such abundance falling from the skies that it sprinkled even me—all three titans rewarding my pilgrimage with home runs, and the last one, Sammy, depositing his virtually into my lap. Or so it all seemed....

All of us had gone up for Sammy's ball—the bartender beside me whom I'd just befriended, a bleacher regular named Chris Ramirez; his pal, the union laborer, Marty Crowley; and the Sosa Boys, four adjacent young crazies whose blue-painted bare chests spelled S-O-S-A—but the notepad and pen in my hands had betrayed me. The ball had ricocheted off the paw of a Sosa Boy into the wire-mesh basket atop the wall; wild-eyed Marty had dived headfirst into the basket, bit one of the Sosa Boys' hands and emerged with the prize, the 37th of Sammy's 66 long balls that homer-happy season; and eagle-eyed Sports Illustrated photographer John Biever, from clear across the stadium, had captured the frenzied moment for posterity. We'd posed for pictures in front of Wrigley's marquee with the ball—blood and beer brothers for a night—then never saw each other again.

And never would've, if magic weren't afoot in Wrigleyville again, and if cyberspace weren't so loose-lipped. Tracing on the Internet the now-defunct phone number for Chris Ramirez that I'd scribbled down that night, I'd found his mother's number, she'd found Chris, he'd found Marty, I'd found our old seats, and here we were, toasting old times as the Cubs, attempting to win a 10th straight series and run away with the National League Central Division, opened a four-game Labor Day weekend series against the Phillies.

The old yard hummed with harmonic convergence. This summer was the 10th anniversary of Sammy's epic chase, the 20th anniversary of the first night game played at Wrigley, the 60th anniversary of WGN's coverage of the Cubs, the 100th anniversary of the seventh-inning stretch song—Take Me Out to the Ballgame—immortalized by the Cubs' legendary voice, Harry Caray, and, looming largest of all, the 100th year since the Cubs' last championship, in 1908 ... the longest drought in the history of major North American professional sports.

On this team's worst days, the bleachers at Wrigley were the best place in sports; I was itching to see what they'd be like on the Cubs' best days. What sort of winners were the Lovable Losers, I wondered. What happens to a victim when his victimhood, in its 100th year, turns to dominance? Or so it seemed....

The Cubs were entering this series playing at a .721 clip at home, owned baseball's best record and sat six games ahead of the second-place Brewers. Could God be that heartless? Could this all be another cruel joke?

No. It couldn't be. No man would drape around his neck three long chains of green beads, one of silver and one of gold, place atop his head a two-foot-tall sombrero with a kamikaze headband wrapped around its cone in honor of the new rightfielder from the Far East, attach a colossal pair of pink synthetic testicles and woefully undersized penis to his loins, and lead a throng of two dozen men wearing white plastic cowboy hats into Wrigley's rightfield bleachers in order to be the butt of a joke ... would he? Of course not. Especially not a doctor. Dr. Drew Warnick, the sombreroed one immediately to my right, was hoisting beers to his final hours of freedom before his weekend wedding, and to his certainty that this Cubs team was the one that would at last deliver his tribe from generations of murdered hope, pausing only to grab one spare plastic cowboy hat and deputize me into his bachelor party just as Chris and Marty were arriving ...

... and affixing me with long, dubious stares. "You better hope people are thinking 'bachelor party' when they see you with that hat on TV," said Marty, "because otherwise they're thinking Brokeback Mountain."

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