Bryan, a good-natured, 38-year-old employee of a family entertainment company, was quite surprised to find a scrum of reporters awaiting him when he arrived at Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 in Wrigley Field on Saturday night, minutes before the start of Game 6 of the Cubs-Dodgers National League Championship -Series.
Bryan, who chose not to divulge his last name or many personal details, wore a blue “14” Ernie Banks cap and a blue-on-white “W” sticker on his jacket. He was not aware of the historical significance of the seat he acquired in the Cubs’ online lottery. “But I am now,” he said.
The seat belonged to luckless Steve Bartman for Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, Marlins vs. Cubs. It’s the seat from which his ill-timed lunge for a foul ball off the bat of the Marlins’ Luis Castillo launched a two-day series of events that ended the Cubs’ quest for the World Series after they had been five outs away. As they took the field against the Dodgers on Saturday, they hadn’t been closer since their last Series appearance 71 years ago.
Bryan, originally from Detroit, was not in ballpark that night, “but I lived in the area and I was aware,” he said. “I was still a Tiger fan, to be honest. Now it’s Cubs. If a foul ball comes this way, I’m keeping my hands to myself.”
A gnarly looking fan in a Cubs hoodie observed the conversation from a few seats over and mistook Bryan’s Banks hat for a Dodgers cap. “You reach for a foul ball tonight and we’ll come find you,” he warned, perhaps kidding, perhaps not.
“No worries,” Bryan replied cheerfully. “Let’s enjoy the game.”
The mood in the seats surrounding Bryan’s was festive before he arrived. A few fans came by to take photos, including Heather Johns, from Richmond, Virginia. Her 9-year-old son, William, wasn’t alive on Oct. 14, 2003, but he wanted a picture of the seat because he felt sorry for Bartman after seeing how fellow fans turned on him in “Catching Hell,” an ESPN documentary on the infamous night.
John Zeitz, who had driven over from Kansas with his pregnant wife, Jillian, watched the collapse on television in his dorm room at Kansas University and was dismayed to learn later that Bartman was from Northbrook, “my hometown.”
Brandon Jones brought his 10-year-old son, Kai, over from Section 105 and wore a horrified look when told where he was standing. Cubs reliever Pedro Strop then flipped a baseball to Kai, and the seat seemed pretty nice to the Joneses.