A security guard at Busch Stadium, a longtime Cubs fan, cried on 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist’s shoulder a few hours before the Cubs’ season opener April 2 in St. Louis.
“He just bear-hugged me and started crying on my shoulder,” Zobrist said. “I just said, ‘Wow.’ ’’
Left-hander Mike Montgomery, who got the last out of the historic Game 7 victory in Cleveland, spoke Monday about realizing as a newcomer last year how big the long-awaited championship was to Chicago.
“You realize this is more than baseball,” Montgomery said. “This is for an entire city and a culture. . . . You have fans come up and talk about their ancestors.”
Maybe it had been that long. Maybe the anticipation did run that deep.
If nothing else, it made the hour-plus delay before the first raising of a championship banner at Wrigley Field feel like a nanosecond by comparison — the drama and ceremony dampened only slightly by the rain that pushed back the start of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory over the Dodgers in the home opener.
Anthony Rizzo’s single in the ninth inning drove in Jon Jay with the winning run. Jon Lester had a no-decision after pitching six innings. He allowed one run and four hits and struck out seven.
Before the game, Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams raised, in succession, new 1907 World Series, 1908 World Series and 2016 National League championship banners on new flagpoles alongside the center-field scoreboard.
Then Rizzo raised the 2016 World Series banner as fireworks exploded behind left field and right field.
“You see the banners from 1907 and ’08 up there,” leadoff man Kyle Schwarber said. “For us to be able to have one that’s going to be up there for a long time, probably for as long as baseball’s going to be around . . . and for generations of people to look back and realize that we did what we did will be super-cool.
“But as baseball players, I think that we’ll appreciate that more when we’re done with it because we’re more worried about trying to get back there again and do it all over again because that’s what our job is, and that’s our goal.”
Oh, yeah. They also played a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Lester, whose $155 million free-agent signing before the 2015 season was the symbolic start of the Cubs’ competitive run, threw the first pitch to Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe nearly two hours past the scheduled game time.
By then, the seventh game of a 162-game schedule was barely an afterthought on a night that was all about remembering the history made by a team that returned nearly intact from that Nov. 2 finish.
“The best part about last year was we all got to be part of something bigger than ourselves, connected to each other and the fans and the organization and the city,” team president Theo Epstein said. “They say all glory is fleeting, and it is, but the flag will fly forever, and that feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves will last forever, too. To me, that’s what it symbolizes.”
If the Cubs were in danger of taking a post-title hangover into 2017, they seemed to prove on a 4-2 opening road trip that focusing on the goal Schwarber talked about won’t be a problem.
“This is the lowest-maintenance group I’ve ever been around,” Epstein said. “They handled the target on their back last year so well. And this year, they’re handling the fact that we won and avoiding that complacency better than I could have imagined.”