CHICAGO – Nothing was going to dampen the spirits of Cubs fans Monday night.
Not a steady rain that poured down during the early evening hours and certainly not a wind that shifted from warm to chilly in an instant.
This was the night the Cubs raised their championship banner, and what’s a little waiting to Cubs fans?
The ceremony got underway close to two hours late, and members of all levels of the organization had their take on what celebrating the 2016 World Series title meant and how the evening – and the banner – might unfurl.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on everyone’s faces as that banner goes up, players and fans alike,” team president Theo Epstein said. “They say all glory is fleeting, and it is. But the flag will fly forever, and that feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves will last forever, too. To me, that’s what it symbolizes.”
Four new flagpoles behind the center-field bleachers provided a hint that more than just the 2016 banner would be hoisted.
Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg raised the banner for the 1907 world championship. Fergie Jenkins did the honor for 1908. Billy Williams raised the National League championship banner from 2016.
Finally, Anthony Rizzo led his teammates as they put up the 2016 world championship banner. Fireworks shot out from behind the videoboards, and the ceremony culminated with team owners Laura, Tom and Todd Ricketts throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
The cheers were thunderous.
“It’s being part of something,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s being part of something bigger than you. That’s the really impressive part about it. Of course winning a World Series and winning a World Series in Chicago with the Cubs for the first time in a long time and the fan base, the tradition, the city itself, the organization, it’s just different.”
Pressed as to why it’s different, Maddon explained it from the point of view of a relative newcomer. He arrived on the scene in the offseason of 2014-15.
“I’ve been to every ballpark in the big leagues now, and there are some really good ones,” he said. “Great fan bases, wonderful traditions. But there is just something different about this place. Maybe it’s just because the ballpark is in a neighborhood. It has something to do with it. I know Fenway is kind of like that, but not quite like this.
“Maybe the long-term suffering of the group’s not having won in so many years. There’s an intellectualism about this place also that I think is different. There’s a passion about it. It really runs the gamut of all the spectrums of groups that are following this team and the reasons why. I didn’t know that. I did not know that before I got here.”
The players shared their experiences, too. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist won the 2015 championship with the Kansas City Royals, but doing it with the Cubs resonated differently.
“Recently, I had a guy basically cry on my shoulder, an officer from the city here,” Zobrist said, relating how he ran into the man in St. Louis. “To see how emotional it makes people and how much it means to them that we were able to win, I think all the stories people share about their families, that they’ve experienced the Cubs with their families over all the years, they’ve lost loved ones that didn’t get a chance to see it, it just reminds them of their loved ones. Those are the stories that touch the heart the most.”