APRIL 23, 2014
KC PACKERS 7 CHI-FEDS 5
With the benefit of hindsight, most of us look back at the 2014 Cubs with fondness as the team that gave us our first hints of the amazing things to come. Whether it was Javy Báez hitting a game-winning homer in his major league debut, Jorge Soler launching Busch Stadium bombs as if to inform St. Louis “This is what a real arch looks like,” or Anthony Rizzo performing his one-man re-enactment of The Warriors in Cincinnati, 2014 proved to be a momentous year.
But at the beginning of 2014, the overwhelming feeling we had for the team was blasé. After the 2012 and 2013 seasons played out as “slogs with a purpose,” the first month of the new season felt like more of the same. Everybody knew it was going to be another long season and even the most optimistic Theo believers like myself couldn’t be certain that it was going to lead to anything good.
With a cloud of anxiety hovering over the organization, there was only one game on the 2014 calendar that we knew for sure would be a good day: the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field. I was living in New York at the time and it was the one road trip back home that I needed to make. Here was a game even the Ricketts family couldn’t mess up since all they had to do was open the gates and make sure the ballpark didn’t collapse. And it didn’t!
That was what the team on the field was for.
Looking back, what strikes me most about the 100th Anniversary Game was how well done it was for 98% of the day. It began with the 1914 Chicago Federals replica jersey promotion, one of the best giveaways the Cubs have ever had to the point where I still wear mine to the ballpark seven years later. It doesn’t even have any advertising, which feels like such a genuine miracle the design meeting should have ended with Ben Zobrist leaping onto second base.
When my dad and I got to our seats, the pregame ceremony turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. Legends like Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, and Fergie Jenkins received the adulation they deserved. And happily, so did other alumni like Glenn Beckert, Bobby Dernier, and Gary Matthews. Ron Santo’s grandsons got one of the biggest ovations of the day. Ryne Sandberg was managing the Phillies at the time but he recorded a video greeting that was both charming and awkward — in other words, perfectly Ryno.
It was also the last time I got to see Ernie Banks in person and I will always be grateful for that. I’ll never forget the sight of Ernie pumping his arms in an exaggerated motion and trying to will his 83-year-old body to hustle out to his shortstop position one more time. Even in the last year of his life, he was forever Ernie.
The Cubs also gave us birthday cake! And you didn’t even have to pull it out of a dumpster.
Every aspect of the celebration was nailing it and despite taking place in an era where MLB ceremonies were choreographed and focus-grouped within an inch of their lives, the feeling of emotion in the ballpark that day was genuine. I was so thankful to be there.
The team that day dressed in Chi-Feds throwbacks and trotted out a lineup featuring Emilio Bonifacio, Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano, and Mike Olt. So when Ernie, Billy, Fergie, and Andre were on the field, it felt like the Cubs had a better chance of winning if the last words of the ceremony were “Surprise…You’re activated!” For the first eight innings, though, they did the job against an Arizona Diamondbacks team that was getting in the spirit by wearing replica uniforms of the Kansas City Packers—the Chi-Feds’ opponent during Weeghman Park’s first game.
Although the D-backs jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, the Cubs appeared to take control with three runs in the bottom of the 5th, the big play coming when Paul Goldschmidt threw a Darwin Barney safety squeeze bunt into foul territory with two runners on. It proved that even after 100 years, it was still possible to see something new at Wrigley — in this instance, the first time Goldschmidt did something that didn’t make 32,323 people regret their life choices. Clearly, this was a birthday gift from the universe.
One inning later, it only felt like more of a celebration when Justin Ruggiano lined a Wade Miley offering just over the right-center field basket for a two-run homer. Jeff Samardzija was in control for the home team, allowing only two runs over 7.1 innings. Throw in a round of “Happy Birthday” with Gary Pressy and a 7th inning stretch led by Dutchie Caray and, even though the April winds were chilling my dad and me to the bone, by the time the 9th rolled around, everyone in attendance experienced an incredible feeling of warm contentment.
The day had hit just the right notes of nostalgia, history, and camp. The game was playing out as an uneventful but joyful celebration with the Cubs three outs away from a 5-2 victory. There was only one indelible part of the Wrigley experience that was missing but none of us could quite put our fingers on it.
A Wayne Messmer national anthem? No, they did that.
Ronnie Woo Woo? Couldn’t keep him out if they tried.
What was it that we hadn’t seen yet…? It was…just on the tip of our tongues…oh, that’s right…
Just in time for the 9th!
Pedro Strop took the hill to try and wrap up the 100th Anniversary Game, but this was one of those days where he just couldn’t locate anything. I’m not going to go off on him because Strop is still one of the best relievers in Cubs history and one of my very favorite players of all time. Hell, I’ve watched highlights from this game and, even though he was wearing a throwback Federals cap, he still tilted it to the left as if to say “Suck it, Joe Tinker!” (A sentiment that Johnny Evers would approve.) I adore Pedro Strop.
Unfortunately, he led off the inning with a walk to Chris Owings. Then Starlin Castro booted a potential double play ball and Strop walked Eric Chavez. Suddenly, the bases were loaded with nobody out. In less than 10 minutes, it felt like the Cubs had been holding a seat for Doom all day and his Uber just pulled up to Clark and Addison.
Even with almost no command, Strop still tried to rally, striking out Gerardo Parra for the first out. But Martin Prado bounced a BABIP-gift two-RBI single off the second base bag, making it a one-run game with two D-backs on base and Goldschmidt coming up to bat. It felt like Wrigley Field itself was celebrating its birthday with a massive heel turn. All that was missing was a piece of concrete falling on Anthony Rizzo.
But again, Strop wouldn’t give in, striking out Cub killer extraordinaire Goldschmidt with the tying run on third and pulling us back off the ledge once again. Now the Cubs were one out away from what would’ve been a genuine adrenaline-pumper of a victory. With the benefit of several years’ experience watching Strop, you could make a decent argument that they should’ve just stuck with him at this point. If there’s one thing he showed us he could do, it was pitching with guts when the pressure was its highest.
Down to his last strike, Montero uncorked a liner to right field that Ruggiano pulled up short on to play into a game-tying RBI single. And…instant deflation. It was the bizarro version of Miggy’s NLCS Game One-winning homer because the only reason Wrigley Field was shaking was the sound of everybody leaving.
Justin Grimm came in and got Aaron Hill to pop up a ball to right field in the exact perfect spot to both fall in for a two-run game-winning triple and somehow injure Ruggiano and…honestly, that seemed just about right. Doom showed up real late to the party but it still got there in time to make the Budweiser Play of the Game. Just as it had done for the past hundred years.
So after five runs on all of three hits, what had been the highlight of the 2014 baseball calendar turned into an inning that encapsulated everything that was excruciating about being a Cubs fan. The most awful thing about that day’s game was that it gave terrible sports media hot takers a chance to belch out the exact same clichéd “Cubs celebrated Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday in the most Cubs way possible” ledes in every corner of the country. And there was nothing we could say in their defense. As the day proved, sometimes the hackiest writer of all is reality.