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Cubs ring in the home season with banner Wrigley opener Monday

MILWAUKEE — A minute or two into a conversation between team president Theo Epstein and reporters on the field before the Cubs’ season opener April 2, fans pressed up against the railing at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and began chanting: ‘‘Thank you, The-O! Thank you, The-O!’’

That was more than a week before the Cubs’ first game at Wrigley Field since their historic World Series championship last fall and only the most recent version of that sentiment from fans in the five months since.

‘‘Every place you go, more than anything you hear, ‘Thank you,’ ’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, his voice lowering. ‘‘And you feel like, ‘Come on.’

‘‘I have not been around long enough to know exactly the depth of it, but I’m learning.’’

On Monday, fans will pour into the streets and the new plaza outside Wrigley before packing the ballpark for a banner-raising ceremony the National League’s oldest field never has had reason to stage before.

Where will they raise the championship banner?

‘‘I have no idea,’’ Maddon said.

Exactly.

‘‘It’ll probably be like a playoff game at Wrigley, a World Series game,’’ said right-hander Jake Arrieta (2-0), who struck out 10 in seven innings Sunday to beat the Brewers 7-4 and send the Cubs home with a 4-2 record. ‘‘I expect Waveland, Addison, Sheffield and Clark to be packed. It’s going to be a blast.’’

The Cubs will unveil gold-trimmed hats and gold-lettered jerseys for the banner-raising Monday and the ring ceremony Wednesday. Both promise to bring the noise to late-October, late-inning decibel levels.

‘‘It’ll be exciting; it’ll be energetic,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of the scene he expects Monday. ‘‘The reaction we got after winning it all last year, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see that again in any sport. Images I’ll never forget. Memories I’ll never forget. [Monday] will be no different.’’

The ring ceremony Wednesday might be even more intense.

‘‘A lot of tears,’’ reliever Carl Edwards Jr. said of his expectations.

Tears for him?

‘‘No,’’ he said. ‘‘Chicago.’’

Edwards said he was asked by a friend last summer what he would do if he and the Cubs won the World Series.

‘‘Crazy,’’ he said. ‘‘And then we won it. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’ll do.’ And I still don’t know what I’m doing.’’

Even veteran Ben Zobrist, who homered Sunday, can’t be sure what the next two game days will hold emotionally. It might be especially meaningful for him because he became a free agent after winning the World Series with the Royals in 2015 and didn’t experience their banner-raising or ring ceremony.

‘‘It does add something to it, and I’ll be privileged to be a part of it,’’ said Zobrist, whose wife, Julianna, is scheduled to sing ‘‘God Bless America’’ before the game Monday. ‘‘To get a chance to wear that jersey in a game, the gold jersey — not a lot of players get a chance to do it. No one in Chicago yet for the Chicago Cubs.’’

Players have seen renderings and pictures of the rings but have been sworn to secrecy about the details. Many were asked for input on the design.

Rumor has it the rings will feature 108 diamonds for the record number of years between Cubs championships. The last one happened so long ago that championship rings weren’t yet a thing, and the World Series trophy didn’t
exist in anything close to its current form.

‘‘You know it’s going to be a big ring if they can fit that many stones on there,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘It’s going to be cool to put it on for the first time.’’

‘‘I don’t know how much I’ll wear it,’’ right fielder Jason Heyward said. ‘‘I’ll cherish it. I’ll probably look at it a lot.’’

‘‘I’ll wear it every day,’’ catcher Miguel Montero said.

And if it’s a 108-diamond behemoth that dwarfs any finger or thumb?

‘‘Doesn’t matter,’’ Montero said. ‘‘I’ll put it on my wrist.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Historic opener

The Cubs plan to wear gold-lettered jerseys, commemorating their World Series title last season, for their first two home games Monday and Wednesday against the Dodgers at renovated Wrigley Field. Pregame events those days:

Monday: Alex Wood (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (0-0, 1.80), 7:05 p.m., ESPN, 670-AM.

(Events begin about 6:15 p.m.)

• Banner-raising ceremony, featuring prominent former Cubs.

• Julianna Zobrist (Ben’s wife) sings ‘‘God Bless America.’’

• Wayne Messmer sings the national anthem.

• Ricketts family throws out the first pitch.

Also, Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams will sing during seventh-inning stretch.

• Promotion: Magnetic schedule giveaway (first 30,000 fans).

Wednesday: Brandon McCarthy (1-0, 3.00) vs. John Lackey (1-0, 4.50), 7:05 p.m., Ch. 7, 670-AM.

(Events begin around 6:15 p.m.)

• Ring ceremony, including 20 fans as ring bearers.

• David Ross throws out the first pitch and sings during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s not immediately clear whether he will dance.

• Promotion: Replica banner giveaway (first 30,000 fans).

Thursday: Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-1, 3.86) vs. Brett Anderson (0-0, 1.59), 1:20 p.m. CSN, 670-AM.

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