A baseball game inside Wrigley Field as October drains away, the ivy changing colors, the air fragrant with earthiness and subtle decay. What a fantastical idea that is, a nice jumping-off point for a novel. A child looks through one of Wrigley’s gates and falls into Narnia or a secret garden or a field of dreams.
For the longest time, nobody gave more than a moment’s thought to a World Series game being played in the old ballpark. Too outlandish a notion, too much bad history, too something or other. Too often, the Cubs and other teams weren’t even in the same ballpark competitively.
The last time the franchise played a game this late in the year at Wrigley was never. The latest the Cubs played there was Oct. 21, 2015, when they faced the Mets in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. So this is where they are now, hacking through the thick vegetation of uncharted territory. They’ll face the Indians in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night, and the atmosphere figures to be … well, how to describe what the eye has never seen?
There are indeed people who saw the Cubs face the Tigers in the 1945 World Series, the last time the franchise played for the championship. And there are people who saw the Cubs play in some of the other five Fall Classics at Wrigley after the ballpark was built in 1914. But only a tiny percentage of the people walking the earth have seen the Cubs play a World Series game at Wrigley. And never this close to November.
“I know that the people who have been waiting for this for a long time are going to savor it, and hopefully on our part we can do something to really make it even better,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday.
There’s a feeling of enormity to all of this because the scale is so large. We’re talking about a team playing in its first World Series in 71 years with a chance to win one for the first time in 108 years. No matter how good the Cubs have been this season, we struggle to get our heads around the possibility.
I love that Cubs outfielder Ben Zobrist predicted the atmosphere at Wrigley would be electric Friday night. It wasn’t until 1988 that the old ballpark got lights, which in Cubs years is yesterday. Electric? For too long, the Cubs felt like the Gaslit Gang. If there were any justice in this world, Friday’s game would be played in the daylight. History looks better in sunshine.
Does anyone look more yesteryear than Kyle Schwarber? Squat and thick and blessed with a mighty swing, he looks like he could have been the roommate Babe Ruth kicked out every night on the road. And speaking of wondrous tales, Schwarber’s story is sounding more mythical by the moment. Ohio kid plays 69 regular-season games his rookie year, and by the time the playoffs are done, he owns the Cubs’ record for most home runs in the postseason. This year, fate barges into his knee, tearing two ligaments in his second game of the season. After just two minor-league games, he miraculously returns in time for the World Series, and immediately becomes one of the team’s best hitters because, well, who needs the regular season anyway?
It’s only a matter of time before the kid walks to the plate at the old barn and points to centerfield.
Wrigley Field will eat it up, and Wrigleyville will drink it up. That’s one of the few things I can predict with any degree of certainty heading into the first World Series game at Wrigley in forever. The corner of Clark and Addison figures to be the intersection of crammed and crazy, which, come to think of it, won’t be so different from normal.
“I drive down Clark every day from downtown, and as you get closer, you see all the venues that support all this, and also the people milling around,’’ Maddon said. “Anyplace I’ve been, I haven’t seen that with any ballpark to that level. So its enormity in its entirety, it’s just different, but to have actual living spaces surrounding the ballpark is pretty cool.’’
The neighborhood has that lived-in look, but the ballpark doesn’t have that played-in look, as it relates to the playoffs. That’s about to change in a very big way. It won’t be long before people can finally see what they have dreamed about furtively. They should get comfortable. A strange, remarkable story is about to be told.