It was a sunny and chilly day with wind blowing in off of Lake Michigan as hundreds of fans made their way to Wrigley Field on Monday for the Cubs’ Play for Opening Day event. Everyone in line received a scratch-off card good for tickets to a baseball game in April, but 50 lucky fans would find themselves with a chance to step up to the plate at the Friendly Confines to take three swings of the bat. The Cubs’ email announcement of the event promised prizes, including the chance to win $1 million if a fan could hit a stack of Budweiser boxes in the mid-left or right field bleachers, but the real prize was the opportunity to step to the plate itself — a bucket list moment for any fan.
I was near the long standing tables at the middle of Gallagher Way when I heard the first excited scream as Alyssa Curl scratched off her ticket to find out she was one of the lucky 50 who were “on deck” who would get to swing a bat at Wrigley Field. It was as joyous and pure as any fan reaction you could imagine. Another lucky fan, Zak Krisciunas, grew up in the neighborhood and described it as a once in a lifetime opportunity he couldn’t pass up when a friend mentioned heading down to the old ballpark to take their shot at a chance to step on the field.
Members of the media were invited to kick off the festivities taking a bit of our own batting practice at 1 p.m. It is barely possible to put into words what this experience was like. Every year the first time I go to Wrigley Field my breath catches in my throat a bit as I walk up the stairs and the majestic beauty of the old ballpark unfolds in front of me. I’ve lost count of the number of times a helpful usher has stopped me to ask if it’s my first time at the park.
This year, the first time I walked up the stairs towards the field, we just kept walking down passed the lower 100s, then the box seats by the on-deck circle, and then the gate I’ve seen so many family and friends of players enter after games was opened for us and we were welcomed onto the field.
I’ve been on the field at Wrigley before during tours of the ballpark. I have spent a handful of minutes staring out at that park from the dugout. I have never spent two hours on the field chatting with friends from Bleacher Nation, Marquee Sports Network, the Cubs announcers and more. I stood at the top of the dugout and did my best David Ross impression. I took pictures of my podcast cohost, Danny Rockett, pretending to make calls to the bullpen. We talked about how hard it would be for anyone to hit with the wind howling in. We had so much fun on what can only be described as the greatest ball field in America.
When each of us stepped up to the plate we were announced by the Cubs PA announcer Jeremiah Paprocki, who asked us how we wanted to be announced as we came up. He announced our name and affiliation and the butterflies in my stomach as I walked up to “And now, Sara Sanchez from Bleed Cubbie Blue” was one of the best moments in my life that I never even dreamed of happening. You can hear a sample of that with this incredible announcement Paprocki did for Miguel Esparza, the Spanish language voice of the Cubs:
I stepped to the plate for my swings, and honestly, I’ve had better days at the plate. I hit a couple of weak foul balls, one foul ball down the right field line that almost took out a photographer (truly sorry about that!) a pop up, and a couple of pitches I didn’t swing at because they weren’t strikes. I think I saw seven balls in total in my time at the plate at Wrigley Field and as I walked back to join the rest of the crew who’d already hit or was waiting to hit I was giddy to have made any contact with a baseball at all. Speaking of people who made great contact, Paprocki had some great swings in his time at the plate:
Got some good reps out at Wrigley today!! pic.twitter.com/ZMfGr5jhgG— Jeremiah Paprocki (@jtheannouncer) March 28, 2023
It didn’t matter if you had a great trip to the plate or a weaker one, everyone was thrilled to have the opportunity. I told a friend that all I’d wanted to do was make contact, and I did. It turns out striking out in batting practice at Wrigley Field is still more incredible than just about anything else in the world.