Wrigley memories: Celebrating Independence Day at the Friendly Confines In 2004


Nineteen years ago, I finally convinced my brother to come to Chicago with me to see the Cubs.

In 2004, we celebrated Independence Day at Wrigley Field and there are few better ways to spend the Fourth of July than at the Friendly Confines in Wrigleyville in a great all-American city.

We saw two games that weekend, the Cubs against the White Sox in the Windy City Classic. Because it was Cubs-White Sox, the crowds were festive, sellouts all weekend, bragging rights on the line.

The Saturday game was bizarre, not because of anything that happened on the field but because of the weather.

There were four rain delays, but not long rain delays, maybe 20-30 minutes each.

Dark, ominous clouds would roll in, the heavens would open and torrential rain would fall, yet 10-15 minutes later the sun would come out. This kept happening all afternoon.

By the third rain delay, John was getting bored. I was enthralled. I could have stayed at Wrigley all night.

To me, there was something deeply spiritual about what was happening. The unpredictable weather somehow added to Wrigley's allure. The temperature could be 10 degrees cooler at Wrigley than downtown, just a few miles away, because the ballpark is only six blocks from Lake Michigan.

Sure enough, after the fourth rain delay, the sun came out yet again, but the umpires determined the field was too wet and called the game.

But it was an official game, the Cubs had the lead, and they were awarded a rain-shortened 4-2 victory in six innings.

That night, we went to see "Bleacher Bums" a play that depicted what the bleachers were like before Wrigley became yuppy heaven.

Everything changed in 1984, when the Cubs finished first for the first time in 39 years.

Actually, everything changed on a memorable Saturday afternoon in June against the rival Cardinals in what became known as the Sandberg game in Cubs' lore.

Cubs' second baseman Ryne Sandberg, an appropriately named ballplayer in the City of Broad Shoulders even if his name is spelled differently than the poet, hit not one, but two-game tying home runs off Cardinals' closer Bruce Sutter, one if the ninth inning and one in the 10th. Cubs' broadcaster Harry Caray, probably half in the bag, nearly lost his mind.

In one of the wildest games at Wrigley in years, the Cubs rallied from a 7-1 deficit to beat the Cardinals 13-12 in 11 innings and announce to the rest of the world they were read to win.

They won the N.L. East by 6 1/2 games over the Mets before choking away a 2-0 lead to the Padres in the NCLS, which was then a best-of-five. They needed to win only one game in San Diego to reach the World Series. They lost all three.

The play chronicled a different time at Wrigley, in the 1960s and 1970s, when crowds could be sparse.

Set in the bleachers during a game against the Cardinals, the fans in the play were an eclectic group, odd would be more like it.

They were unemployed, choosing not to work so they could go to the Cubs' games every day. Keep in mind, this was long before lights arrived at Wrigley, so every game was a day game.

They were a pessimistic lot, fully expecting the Cubs to lose, but they still showed up every game. They would gamble on outcomes of plays, many of them involving negative things for the Cubs, like a strikeout or a pop up or grounding into double play.

One of the actors portrayed a blind fan who kept referring to himself as Spartacus.

"I'm Spartacus," he kept telling his friends.

But in a perverse way, they were actually great fans. They didn't really root for the Cubs to lose. It was just a form of reverse psychology, a defense mechanism. Cubs' fans of that era were used to losing, psychologically scarred. From 1947-1966, the Cubs experienced 19 losing seasons, the only exception coming in 1963, when they went 82-80.

And, you know, these fans were a like a family, an odd family perhaps, but still a family because they were there every day, sharing their stories, their experiences. Their lives revolved around the Cubs.

The next day, July 4, the Cubs and White Sox were slated to play the ESPN Sunday Night game, a 7 p.m. start local time.

I would tell you that this had to be one of the best three days of the summer weather-wise in Chicago.

I think baseball was invented on a night like this: temperature in the low 70s, virtually no humidity and a light breeze wafting in from the lake.

The Cubs won again, prevailing, 2-1, on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth.

And I swear, these are the days and nights when Wrigley truly is heaven on earth, the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the happiest place on the planet.

The Cubs had a decent season in 2004, the year after Bartman, finishing in third place in the N.L. Central with an 89-73 record, but missing out on a wild card spot by three games.

The White Sox also missed the playoffs after posting an 83-79 record, nine games behind the first-place Twins in the A.L. Central.

FanPosts are written by readers of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and as such do not reflect the views of SB Nation or Vox Media, nor is the content endorsed by SB Nation, Vox Media or Al Yellon, managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue or reviewed prior to posting.