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Opening Day at Wrigley Field: Freezing, raining and almost perfect

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opening-day-wrigley.jpgThe charcoal gray clouds painted an ominous backdrop as I made my way north up Sheffield Avenue as the rest of the world slept early this morning. The dreary sky was in stark contrast to the optimism permeating the young day.

You see, this was Opening Day at Wrigley Field. An April tradition built on dressing in layers, Old Style and the timeless pageantry of yesteryear.

Let me be perfectly clear here. I've never, ever been accused of being a Cubs fan. In fact, their championship drought is one of the story lines that I wouldn't mind continuing. But, there's something special about the return of baseball to a historic ballpark to an unflinchingly loyal fan base.

I enjoyed every second of the long, rain-soaked opener. It is baseball, after all

Although he won't readily admit it, I'm convinced my blog cohort and unabashed Cubs supporter Kevin Allen lives just moments from the Friendly Confines solely to hear the roar of the crowd. He's suffered through a long, uneventful winter to get to this point.

A morning where his street was teeming with people hell-bent on having a good time and seeing their team back in action.

Wrigleyville is often seen -- and somewhat deservedly so -- as a haven of frat-like shenanigans and irresponsibility. There's a prevailing notion that a night out in that stretch comes with certain undesirable elements. But, today it was a little different. Today, there was baseball -- and baseball can boost a mood as fast and high as any drug to a certain sect.

Mother Nature was not fully cooperative. A short walk left us drenched, cold and in desperate need of some shelter. It was 8 a.m., but Yak-zies was teaming with people, donning 'C's and drinking light beer. A team of young women from Admiral Theatre approached us to give us discount passes should we wish to make the trip later on tonight. Again, it was only 8 a.m., but the mind began to race.

It was going to be an interesting day, we thought.

With each passing raindrop, the likelihood that this game would be played seemed to dissipate. It was too wet, it was too cold. We thought it wasn't going to happen. But, since we were out and about already, we thought we'd make the best of it.

free-hats.jpgA short jaunt down to Cubby Bear rewarded us with free Cubs knit caps, an impromptu photo-op with a guy who was a dead-ringer for Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump and lots more standing around in a circle. It was much better than it sounds.

Ten turned into eleven and eleven into twelve. We made our way over to the stadium and presented our tickets, still not believing the game would ever come to fruition. We found some seats in the third row in straightaway right field. The rain was a dense mist that drenched us to the bone while the wind kicked us when we were down.

We'd have been miserable, but we were at Opening Day at Wrigley Field. As we've said before, a terrible day at a baseball game is better than a great day at work. Around us fans buoyed terrible opinions and misrepresented facts about the game that would (hopefully) take place. In the interest of the day, we let it slide. You see, telling someone that Matt Holliday wasn't on the Rockies anymore would have killed the vibe.

 The grounds crew hustled out to take off the tarp as the crowd roared. There'd be baseball after all. Immediately we weren't so cold, the beer tasted better and the acid reflux I was suffering from a questionable ballpark frank seemed to subside.

And so they played. Ted Lilly was retiring the Rockies in workman-like fashion, quietly working deeper into the game without giving up a hit. The Cubs capitialized on wild pitching and sloppy defense to build a 3-0 lead.

About the fourth inning, we realized Lilly had a no-hitter brewing. Ignoring every unspoken baseball rule, we began to discuss it openly. The left-hander avoided our jinx and continued to deal.

It should be noted that the best part, the most amazing part of the day had come about four hours earlier. Walking down Clark, we had crossed paths with a man walking toward the field in a hooded Carhart coat and jeans, his head down. Only Kevin realized this was Lilly, walking from his nearby home to the park to prepare for his start.

Again, I'm not a Cub fan, but there's something to be said about players and fans intermingling in the neighborhood. One moment you're sharing a sidewalk and the next you're hoping he completes a momentous no-hitter with over 30,000 other patrons. It's those little moments that are slipping away in the professional sports landscape. That's what makes them even more special.

We stayed until the Rockies' Garrett Atkins singled to left field to break up the historic bid, but not before giving Lilly a standing ovation for his efforts. Don't get us wrong, we love baseball, but Murphy's had one thing Wrigley didn't: heat.

As the final out was recorded and the people sang "Go Cubs, Go," I realized just how lucky Kevin and I had been in a span of a week.

We'd seen the White Sox kick off their home slate with a dramatic win over the Kansas City Royals, and the Cubs slog through the elements to vanquish the Rockies. Two parks, two completely different experienes and a hell of a lot of appreciation from two guys who like good baseball.

Personally, I realized even more what an amazing sports town this is. We have two fan bases who are unfailingly loyal to their squads, and although different, each great to be amidst. Each game was captivating in its own way and each atmosphere ripe with hope for a successful season.

What a priviledge it is to be privy to such opportunities in this city.

It's going to be a great summer.

And hopefully it will get a little warmer. The hot chocolate prices are killing me.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on April 13, 2009 10:52 PM.

Video: Reed Johnson robs Prince Fielder of grand slam was the previous entry in this blog.

Is this the strangest playoff hockey video ever? is the next entry in this blog.

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