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‘A city of MVPs:’ Cubs fans pack World Series parade, rally

Fans celebrate at the Chicago Cubs World Series rally in Grant Park on Friday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Some fans still couldn’t believe it. Others wanted to savor every moment for family members who didn’t live long enough to see it happen.

Many wanted to be part of history, while others wanted to celebrate the arrival of a new era.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon speaks during the World Series rally. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cubs manager Joe Maddon speaks during the World Series rally. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Fittingly, Joe Maddon called the day “Cubstock,” a play on the famed Woodstock music festival.

Cubs nation gathered around Wrigley Field, poured into Grant Park and lined the streets in between on Friday for Chicago’s official celebration of the team’s first World Series title in 108 years.

The rally itself lasted about an hour, with short speeches by a few Cubs players and executives who paid tribute to the city and its loyal fans. Outfielder and second-baseman Ben Zobrist, named the most valuable player of the World Series, hosted his MVP trophy as he gave credit to his teammates and the fans.

“This is a team of MVPs, and we’re in a city of MVPs,” he said.

Most of those MVPs awoke well before the crack of dawn.

“This is where you want to be, where it all went down,” said J.P. Calkins, an Oswego resident who arrived outside Wrigley Field at 6 a.m. “You want to be here, with the fans you suffered with all these years.”

Ben Zobrist, carrying the MVP trophy, speaks during the Chicago Cubs World Series rally in Grant Park, Friday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2016, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ben Zobrist, carrying the MVP trophy, speaks during the Cubs World Series rally. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The city’s Office of Emergency Management estimated a total of 5 million people assembled along the parade route and in Grant Park.

That figure would put the total number of Cubs fans who descended on the city at nearly double its population of 2.7 million — and about equal the entire population of Cook County.

The crowds in Chicago on Friday began assembling before dawn and led to delays on the roadways and CTA and Metra trains.

When officials opened the gates around Grant Park’s Hutchinson Field, thousands of fans sprinted to get coveted spots near the front of the stage.

Kevin Serlin was among them. “I don’t think I’ve run that much in probably two or three years,” said a delighted Serlin, 27, of Ukrainian Village.

Like thousands of those who attended the victory party, Hutchinson didn’t have to skip work; his boss gave him and other coworkers the day off.

Ben Zobrist waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade. | Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Ben Zobrist waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade. | Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

“Ever since that last out, I’ve kind of had that Anthony Rizzo feel — that glass case of emotion, on edge, so much excitement, haven’t slept much,” said Serlin, who awoke at 4:45 a.m. Friday.

By 10 a.m. the sky was clear Cubbie blue, as was the Chicago River, dyed so for the celebration. An ocean of fans stretched back behind Serlin, pockets of which occasionally whooped and broke into bursts of “Let’s go Cubs!”

The parade began outside Wrigley Field, where Jose Faria wore his Javier Baez jersey with a homemade World Series championship title belt draped over his shoulder. The amateur wrestler had brought it with him to Game 6 in Cleveland.

“Some Cleveland fans tried to steal the belt,” said Faria, who wrestled under the Cubs-inspired moniker Loochie Sosa. “I had to give out some sweet chin music to get it back.”

Lifelong Cubs fan Stephanie Foy pulled her daughters, Angela and Amelia, ages 13 and 11, out of school in Des Plaines to attend the rally at the ballpark. She’d also let them stay up late for all the playoff games.

The Cubs World Series Victory Parade makes its way south on Michigan Ave. seen from the 676 Restaurant & Bar at the Omni Chicago Hotel. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Cubs World Series victory parade makes its way south on Michigan Ave. seen from the 676 Restaurant & Bar at the Omni Chicago Hotel. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“I wouldn’t let them miss this,” Foy said. “They will probably live to see another World Series, but I may not. This will be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Cubs players waved at the cheering crowds and hoisted the World Series trophy from the top of double-decker buses. The caravan made its way through Wrigleyville to Lake Shore Drive, which was closed to traffic, and then along the Magnificent Mile and into the Loop. Fans in Cubs attire lined the streets.

Sara Kruscynski, 20, of Hammond, Ind., was waiting for the team in Grant Park. She didn’t hesitate to admit that she’d skipped her organic chemistry class at Ball State University to be at the rally.

“It’s so worth it,” she said.

As was the case with many fans, the day was about more than baseball for Kruscynski. She wanted to enjoy the historic event for herself while thinking about her Cubs-loving grandfather who died a decade ago.

“I’ve already cried twice today,” she said.

But unlike so many previous seasons, many Cubs fans expect to be back in the Series again – and soon.

Wearing custom-made replicas of the Cubs’ 1908 uniforms and makeup to give them a zombie-like pallor, two men who gave their names as “Frank Chance” and “Joe Tinker” – stars of that last championship team – walked away from the rally feeling confident about the future. The pair were part of a group of nine Cubs impersonators who attended games throughout the season, though the other seven didn’t attend the rally in costume.

The Cubs World Series parade makes its way south on Michigan Avenue seen form Michigan Avenue and Ohio St. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The Cubs World Series parade makes its way south on Michigan Avenue seen form Michigan Avenue and Ohio St. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

“We said if they ever won the World Series, we would all crawl back in the grave, but we decided to come out,” the faux Frank said. “I think they’ll be fine with this young ball club they have.

“Of course, we thought we might have a good (team) in 1909, when we won 104 games, but we didn’t get the pennant….”

Though most of the speeches at the rally didn’t match the electricity in the crowd, the fans didn’t want the day to end.

Brian Sheehan, 35, and his buddy, Vasken Haroian, 35, sat on a piece of flattened cardboard near the edge of the muddy, trash-strewn Hutchinson Field. Both men had tears in their eyes. They had no plans to go home soon. The field was almost empty.

“I’m just soaking it in,” said Haroian, who lives in Waukegan.

Beside him, Sheehan’s shoulders shook as he sobbed, remembering grandparents who were with him Friday only in spirit.

“It’s just amazing,” said a husky-voiced Sheehan. “Finally.”

ABOUT THAT CROWD ESTIMATE . . .

Even considering the Cubs’ strong fan base, experts said the 5 million crowd-estimate figure is highly dubious — as are previous estimates of 2 million for the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup celebration and 1.75 million for the White Sox’ 2005 victory parade.

Curt Westergard, President and Director of Research at DigitalDesign and Imaging Service Inc., said crowds at large events are typically overestimated. Westergard’s company estimates the “carrying capacity” of various event spaces using aerial photographs, 3-D modeling and complex math. Moving crowds are the most difficult to measure because of the likelihood of double-counting.

The 5 million figure the city set for Friday is “a lot more hope than science,” Westergard said. “The top five biggest events in Washington, D.C., have barely broken 250,000.”

Here are the numbers announced for some victory celebrations in Chicago:

Cubs 2016: 5 million

Blackhawks 2013: 2 million

Barack Obama’s 2008 victory speech: 240,000

White Sox 2005: 1.75 million

Bulls 1991: 1 million

Bulls 1996: 250,000

Bears 1986 (for 1985 team): 350,000 (held in sub-freezing temperatures at Daley Plaza)

Sources: Office of Emergency Management; Chicago Police Department, Mayor’s Office of Special Events