MESA, Arizona — It wasn’t anywhere near the estimated five million people who attended the Cubs parade and rally in Chicago last November, but a loud and enthusiastic crowd packed the area outside Sloan Park for a World Series championship rally Friday afternoon, one day before the Cubs begin the defense of that World Series title with the first spring-training game of 2017.
In the morning, a blues-style band played, entertaining fans as they arrived. A long line of fans waited to have photos taken with a giant oversized replica of the World Series trophy. Some other fans had arrived as early as Thursday evening to get wristbands to wait to have photos taken with the actual trophy, which was also put on display on the stage.
The Cubs were taking live batting practice inside Sloan Park as several hundred people watched. The gift shop and concession stands were all doing brisk business. Here’s a few minutes’ worth of video of BP from Friday’s session. Both Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward were sending baseballs out of the park.
Then it was down to business. A couple of videos were shown, one with highlights from the entire 2016 season, another that was just postseason clips, and I’m sure these will be shown at Sloan Park and Wrigley Field during the 2017 season.
Jim Deshaies was the emcee and he introduced Ryne Sandberg and Mayor John Giles of Mesa along with the members of the Mesa City Council. Mayor Giles spoke briefly and gave Joe Maddon a key to the city, which Joe gratefully accepted:
Then the players were introduced, not one by one, but a group of them came on stage and Kyle Schwarber spoke on behalf of his teammates:
Carrie Muskat tweeted that 500 people attended the rally. I’m not great at estimating crowds of this type but it seemed to me as if there were at least twice that many there. If it was only 500, all of those people got to have photos taken with the trophy as the Cubs had planned on handing out 1,000 wristbands. I’m efforting getting a better estimate of the crowd and will update this post if I get a better number. UPDATE! The city of Mesa says there were about 5,000-6,000 there, which seems a lot closer to reality to me.
It was a beautiful afternoon, a nice way of putting a neat little ribbon on the 2016 celebrations and getting ready to kick off the 2017 spring-training season, which begins Saturday with split-squad games against the Athletics (Sloan Park) and Giants (Scottsdale Stadium).