I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been a diehard Cubs fan of unwaivered support and had yet to visit Wrigley Field; even though I had lived a short two hours west of Chicago for 15 years. Finally, while home on R&R from Afghanistan September 2011, my fiancée (at the time) surprised me with tickets to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
We had tickets for the September 16th Astros v. Cubs. Our seats were along the third base line, six rows from the bullpen holding area, just to the left of the Cubs dugout. It was a chilly, overcast, autumn day; but I was as excited as a kid on Christmas day. I took pictures of everything visible and was in complete ‘aw’ of the history surrounding Wrigley Field.
The atmosphere was exciting; even though the Cubs post-season chances ended at the beginning of August. However, the real excitement was lying ahead with a couple of surprises my fiancée had arranged.
At the end of the sixth inning, a ‘Cubs Ambassador’ comes to our seats with a VIP package full of Cubs memorabilia and thanked me for my service. I received a few hats, sweat bands, pictures of Wrigley and the starting picture for the Cubs. I thought it to be a pretty generous gift. Then shortly after the seventh inning stretch (sang by Martin Sheen), a Cubs bullpen coach pointed to me and motioned for me to come down!
I approach the ‘sideline’ of the Cubs bullpen, and the Coach identifies himself as Lester Strode. He states he heard that I was home on leave from Afghanistan and attending my first Cubs game. I reply and he says, “From a grateful Cubs organization, (we) thank you for everything you and your family sacrifice for (us).” He then hands me a baseball, shakes my hand, and tells me to be safe with the rest of my deployment.
I return to my seat before I even look at the ball. There’s a grass stain, indicating the ball was used during the game, and 12 signatures. The ball was signed by: Lester Strode (Bullpen Coach), Mark Riggins (Bullpen Coach), Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Lane, Edgar Tovar, Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, John Grabow, Ramon Ortiz and James Russell.
Unbeknownst to me, when I went to the restroom, my fiancée went to the bullpen sideline and spoke to the bullpen coach. She told Lester Strode the circumstances surrounding my first Cubs game, and asked if there would be anyway for a Cubs player to sign a ball and give it to me. Lester told her he couldn’t make any promises, but he would see what he could do. Neither of us expected what Lester did for us.
So the game continues, and of course I’m riding ‘cloud-9’ for the remainder of the game. The Cubs gave up the lead in the top of the ninth, but the game continued into extra innings, twelve to be exact, meaning free baseball. Ultimately, the Cubs pull out the win and you would have thought the Cubs had clinched a playoff berth with the excitement surrounding the ballpark. And then of course, we all sang ‘Go Cubs, Go!’ with the celebration of the win.
All-in-all, this is an unforgettable first Cubs game at Wrigley Field and the Cubs organization really went out of their way. But my fiancée made all of this possible and I’m lucky to have shared the experience with a woman like her.