By: Austin Alexander-September 3-7, 2008
There are moments in a person’s life that become unforgettable snapshots for a lifetime. It may be one’s first homerun, graduation day, their wedding or the birth of a child. Whatever the case, it’s a moment that is etched into the memory bank of an individual amid all of the other mundane days and events during their time in this world.
This past week, my family, my players, fellow coaches and I had one of those moments as our South Carolina Diamond Devil club was slated to play on Saturday at the Chicago Cubs’ cathedral, the one and only Wrigley Field.
When confirmation of the big weekend came down the pike, my family scurried to make plans to land in the Windy City for this very special opportunity. After quite a bit of string-pulling, we were able to secure entrance to the Cubs game on Wednesday. After the tickets were rounded up, my family of three and parents locked in plans to fly up that morning, see the game that night, and remain in town through Sunday for the four games that we had scheduled to play on the weekend.
You see, Wrigley Field shares a very dear place in the hearts of my family. Many an afternoon over the years have been spent watching our beloved Cubbies on WGN. This time my two-year old fanatic of the Lovable Losers and my father, along with my wife and mother, would go to Wrigley for the first time together. Not only that, the pinnacle of this trip would come three days later. I’ll get to that part shortly.
Upon arriving in Chicago, the approaching remains of Hurricane Gustav made for a very windy and overcast welcome. We rushed to the ballpark and got the first glimpse of the stadium from a city bus and my son was completely beside himself! We exited the bus, grabbed a quick bite and began searching for a brick that my late grandfather had left for my son Nolan; it was embedded under the big red sign at Wrigley’s entrance. It was a fairly emotional moment for each of us, as we saw it for the first time and while my ‘diapered dandy’ cleaned it to make the brick appear new again.
Within two minutes, we were inside the park and a ball had been flipped from the field by coach Ivan DeJesus to us in the stands. My little guy already had a souvenir and he’d just passed through the turnstile!
We had the chance to get some pictures in the infamous Steve Bartman seat. Much to my pleasure, Nolan cried like a madman when I sat him down in it!
The game versus the visiting Astros eventually got underway and it was a quicky as Randy Wolf dialed up a 3-0, complete game shutout to finish off the Houston sweep. The highlight on this night was the 7th inning stretch, which is a near religious experience on this hallowed ground. Again, to be able to share this moment with family was one I’ll cherish forever.
Gustav finally arrived later that night and made for a very wet Thursday. A day filled with fun for a two-year old saw stops at Legoland, the Disney Store and of course, the Cubs Clubhouse, to name a few.
With the team set to fly in later that afternoon on Friday, concerns over some of the their departures became questionable due to the approaching Tropical Storm Hanna. Thankfully all of our coaches and players were able to board their planes and make their way to join us in Chicago.
Before they touched down, my family and I trekked it back over to Wrigleyville for a morning of fun around the Friendly Confines. Pictures in front of statues and way too much time in the various shops around the ballpark made for an enjoyable (and expensive) time, even with the Cubs on the road. Later that night we attended a White Sox game against the Angels at US Cellular Field, an eventual 10-2 route for the home team.
Finally it was time to play baseball though!
Our kids were up and moving around early on Saturday in anticipation of our game at Wrigley. We were set to play a team representing four different states out of the Midwest at 11:30 and got to the park early to take in the atmosphere. After a series of group pictures, we had a great deal of time to move about the park with free reign in one of baseball’s royal cathedrals. Due to a delay in the game before us, we were about an hour behind schedule…strangely, no one seemed to mind!
When the final out of the preceding game was made, our kids and coaches flooded onto the field with youthful enthusiasm! Much to our dismay, we were only allotted 15 minutes to prepare for the first pitch. It forced us to really hustle through the pictures and sight-seeing, but it sure was better than nothing. Most of our player’s parents were able to enter the field and my family did too. Nolan slid into home plate a half dozen times, we were able to play catch in the bullpen area and some very nice photographs of us were taken that will eventually line the walls of our home.
Believe it or not, we actually participated in a baseball game that day and things could not have played out better! We won the game 4-2, we were able to throw seven different pitchers and every primary position player was able to get multiple plate appearances. The coaching staff even got into the mix as we rotated manning the bases every inning! If we had drawn up the perfect scenario before the game, the way it actually went down would have been far better than anything we could have master-minded.
At game’s end, I allowed my little guy to sit in Lou Piniella’s reserved area of the dugout for the final three outs. When the "W" was finally preserved, he went through the line fist-bumping all of our guys and having a blast in the process.
It really, really was a great day. It’s my belief that players, coaches and families everywhere should be entitled to such an experience. Every single player and coach walked away with the day of a lifetime and a ton of pictures too. We even weaseled our way up the tunnels to capture pics of the umpire’s room and dugout urinal. I realize that may sound quite odd to some but that was not just any urinal, it was the dugout urinal for the Chicago Cubs!
Have you ever played on a Major League field? Have you ever even walked onto one? Well, until this past weekend, none of us had either and it was a true blessing to have had the chance to, especially at my childhood heaven-on-earth!
I have been fortunate baseball has taken me a lot of places from coast to coast that I would have never otherwise had the chance to go. But throughout all of my travels in the game, not a single one holds a candle to the trip I just returned from. The moments were magical and I was able to share it with some very special players, coaches and family too.
Oh by the way, we played three more games during the weekend and were unbeaten against quality clubs from the Midwest, then returned safely home Sunday night. But the memory that was emblazoned into the minds of our kids, coaches and families was that amazing Saturday on the North Side of Chicago.
It was truly an unforgettable time in our lives and I, for one, am so thankful to have had this opportunity!