CHICAGO -- It just had to rain, right?
Weather forecasts for Monday’s banner night at Wrigley Field had been spotty for a week, so it came as no surprise that the Chicago Cubs would have to wait a little longer to raise their first championship flag since 1908. What’s another 90 minutes or so when you’ve been waiting a lifetime? And besides, it was another reminder of that night in early November when the Cubs scored two runs in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series to defeat the Cleveland Indians -- but only after a players meeting in the weight room of Progressive Field during a rain delay in Cleveland.
On Monday, the Cubs didn’t need any meetings; they just needed the rain to disappear before they could raise their banner in front of a sellout crowd. And the night ended in equally dramatic fashion, as Anthony Rizzo gave Chicago another cause for celebration with his walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth in the Cubs' 3-2 win against the Dodgers.
After the game, Rizzo said he was overcome by emotions throughout the night and, at one point, was "fighting back tears."
"I wasn't expecting to get hit with that many emotions," he said. "It was amazing."
Here’s how the historic day and night unfolded (in Central time):
By midafternoon, the tarp had come off the field after a morning of rain showers but it went right back on, canceling batting practice for the Cubs and their opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Another round of rain didn’t put a damper on the spirits outside of Wrigley Field as the ribbon cutting on a brand new plaza went on as scheduled earlier in the day. Fans milled around outside as the new video board in the plaza replayed games from the World Series.
The Cubs opened their locker room to the media for the first time in 2017, but it was something just outside the room that caught your attention. Hanging along the walls were new pictures from the 2016 playoff run, including the moments after the final game on the field, an aerial shot of fans celebrating outside of Wrigley and the World Series trophy on stage during the Cubs rally, but the last one -- which takes up an entire wall -- is Joe Maddon’s favorite. It’s a picture of the red brick wall on the outside of the stadium upon which fans wrote messages in the days after the World Series.
“My mind started racing when I saw that,” Maddon said. “I've been wanting to get that photograph and I didn’t know it was going to be there as we walked in. That would be the trinket I would like, a nice canvas photograph of that.”
Inside the clubhouse, players were getting ready for their big night, alternating between talk of the banner ceremony and the upcoming ceremony on Wednesday, when they’ll get their rings. For slugger Kyle Schwarber, the night had even more meaning. Remember, he only could DH in the World Series due to his knee injury so he wasn’t seen much during the home games.
“I haven’t really got to play at home in a year so it’s really going to be special when I walk out to left and see people in the bleachers,” Schwarber said. “It’s going to be a bit of a family reunion, I guess.”
Ben Zobrist was asked to recall special moments from fans since the native of Illinois won his second consecutive World Series. The “thank yous” haven’t stopped.
“Recently I had a guy cry on my shoulder,” Zobrist said. “An officer from the city here.”
On the field, rain picked up, tapered off and then picked up again, but that didn’t stop singer Eddie Vedder and former Chicago Blackhawks star Chris Chelios from mingling with Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein conducted interviews as the assembled media on the field was nearly as numerous as for a playoff game.
“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,” Epstein said. “That’s what it symbolizes.”
It became clear about an hour before game time -- and 30 minutes before the banner ceremony -- that there would be a weather delay. It wasn’t raining at that moment, but a storm was slated to come through before the rest of the night was clear. The video scoreboard replayed the Game 6-clinching NLCS win over the Dodgers, shown, presumably, because the Dodgers were in town. Just as the final out was recorded, the rain came down hard. The raising of the championship banner would have to wait a little longer.
While the Cubs and fans were waiting for the ceremony to begin, a fan favorite from 2016 appeared on the video scoreboard as David Ross took to the dance floor for Week 3's competition on “Dancing with the Stars.” The crowd roared when he danced, then a few moments later booed one judge when she was critical. A night to commemorate 2016 wouldn't be complete without an appearance by Grandpa Rossy, and the Wrigley faithful got it -- just not in the form anyone would have imagined a year ago at this time.
The tarp came off the field and both teams finally were introduced along the foul lines. Zobrist’s wife, Julianna, sang "God Bless America" and Wayne Messmer performed the national anthem. Finally, the Cubs were ready to raise their banners.
Cubs players and alumni headed out to the bleachers through the doors in center field. That’s where the team had erected four new poles where the banners would reside. First up was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who raised a banner commemorating the 1907 championship; he was followed by another Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins, who raised the 1908 banner. Finally, Williams got the honor of raising the National League pennant from last year as the crowd awaited the final banner.
Led by Rizzo, one by one the Cubs got to tug on the strings that would hoist the final banner, reminding everyone of their dramatic seven-game World Series win over the Indians. For Maddon, Wednesday’s ring ceremony will be nice but banner night is his favorite.
“I’m a banner guy,” Maddon said. “The ring’s a ring. I know it’s wonderful. I’m not that much into jewelry myself, but I do like banners. They’re seen on a daily basis by everybody. I like the idea of when kids come in they get to see that and then they hear about how the team hadn’t won in 108 years, and all of a sudden there is one at 5 or 6 years of age and they grow into being a Cubs fan even more.”
The banners might be there for all to see, but they’re a little small from the grandstand area, and though it was a windy evening on Monday, they didn’t seem to “fly” like other flags higher up on the foul poles. But the symbolism can’t be hidden. The Cubs achieved something historic on Nov. 2, and their banners will always be there as a reminder.
“The best part of last year is we all got to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Epstein said. “[We] feel connected to each other and the fans and the organization and the city.”
The Cubs and Dodgers began Game 1 of their three-game series, which was delayed 1:56 by rain and the banner ceremony.
The night just had to end with Rizzo delivering the heroics. The leader of the young Cubs earned his first RBI of the season in walk-off fashion with just a smattering of fans there to see it. A 3-2 win after midnight in April isn't often memorable, but for these Cubs, on this night, it won't be forgotten soon.
Said Rizzo: "I'll remember this day for as long as I play baseball."