Frozen Smiles

October 05, 2003

O.K., freeze it! Freeze everything in and around the ballpark,
right where it is. Good. Now, let's you and I walk around and
taste this, one of the most delicious days in the haunted history
of Wrigley Field.

Look at the 70-year-old geezer high-fiving the dude on skates.
Look beyond leftfield at the guy in the tie leaning out the
third-story window, hanging a can of beer off a fishing pole and
lowering it to fellow Cubbies fans on the street. Check out the
guy in the wheelchair shimmying to the "Cubs win!" chant being
banged out on an overturned bucket and a cracked cymbal.

You talk about overturned and cracked symbols: The Cubs are
winners?

When this gloomy Saturday began, they were the Susan Lucci of
baseball. Ninety-five years since their last world championship.
Fifty-eight since their last National League pennant. Fourteen
since their last division title. Hell, it had been 71 years since
the Cubs had clinched any kind of title at Wrigley.

The true faithful were ready to dodge pianos falling from the
sky. Like that guy in the red minivan, leaning nonstop on the
horn. His name is Ralph Dynek. I don't know who the sickest Cubs
fan in the world is, but Ralph has got to be in the photo. He
named four of his kids after streets near Wrigley. There's
Addison, 15, Clark, 13, Sheffield, 11, and Grace, 8. Oh, and
little Ivy, 6.

"I've been set up before," he was saying at the start of the day.
"I've had my heart broken too many times. I keep waiting for a
ball to roll through Leon Durham's legs, the black cat to walk
out at Shea, something awful to happen."

Chicago led the NL Central by a scant half-game over the Houston
Astros, who were playing the pathetic Milwaukee Brewers. It
looked as if the Cubs would need to sweep a doubleheader from the
Pittsburgh Pirates--that hadn't happened in 23 years--on Saturday
and then maybe win again on Sunday using No. 1 starter Kerry
Wood, which would screw up their rotation if they made the
playoffs.

But somehow, for no apparent reason, s--- didn't happen.

By 3:30 p.m CDT on Saturday the Astros had lost to the Brewers
and the Cubs had won Game 1, 4-2. At 4:05, in the first inning of
Game 2, Sammy Sosa hit a baseball nearly to Lake Michigan. By
6:30 the Cubs were jitterbugging away with a 7-2 win. They had
magically, unthinkably won the division in one 18-inning,
six-hour dream of a day. Not only that, the last out and the
first appearance of the sun came at the exact same moment. What
do you know? Ernie Banks was right: It was a good day to play
two.

O.K., now freeze it!

It's a joyapalooza--see the people singing, sisters kissing, bank
presidents gettin' jiggy. Forget the players. Only three of the
Cubs have been on the team for as many as five years. Most Cubs
fans have Cubs underwear older than that. This moment is for the
fans, like that man, Al Yellon, who's at his 1,616th Cubs game.
("I've hugged more men today than the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus,"
he will say later. Well, they did sing the national anthem before
the first game.)

Alcohol is going everywhere but into people's mouths. In
rightfield Sosa is involved in another messy cork
incident--spraying champagne on his fans. ("For the first time in
my career I feel like I'm in the right place," he will say
later.) At the Cubby Bear bar across the street from Wrigley, Joe
Kraft is hoisting a beer, which he's going to dump over the head
of his brother Pat.

Over there, sobbing, is rugged Joe DeSalvo. At 3:00 a.m. Saturday
he went to sleep on the sidewalk outside Wrigley, hoping to get a
ticket. He did. ("Man, my dad's been taking me to Cubs games
since I was seven," he will blubber. "I never thought I'd see
this!")

That woman flying through the air is Glynis Chess. All day long
she's been trying to get her husband, Gary, to calm down. He's
the big, red-cheeked hulk who's been coming to Cubs games since
he was seven too. He used to get to Wrigley at 6:30 a.m. for a
1:20 p.m. game. Telling Gary to calm down is like telling a lion
to go easy on the red meat. Hopefully, when Glynis comes down to
earth, Gary will catch her. After all, he's the one who tossed
her up there.

PENNANT, PLEASE, BEFORE I DIE reads the sign of 89-year-old Cubs
fan Beth Fisher.

I'M HAPPY! says another sign, scrawled on a ripped-open cardboard
box.

HEY, SATAN! WANT TO BORROW MY ICE SKATES? reads a third.

Now, unfreeze everything!

Ralph Dynek looks troubled. "I don't know what to do now," he
says, suddenly glum. "We're Cubs fans. We root for the lovable
losers. It's the Crusade. But if we start winning, does that mean
we're not special anymore?"

Ah, relax, Ralph.

There's always the Bears.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

Until last Saturday it had been 71 years since the Cubs had
clinched any kind of title at Wrigley.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)