CHICAGO — A venerable old ballpark Joe Maddon called “the finest venue there is in professional sports and maybe in all of sports” is set to rock like never before.
Or at least in a way it hasn’t in 71 years.
The Cubs play host to the Indians in Game 3 of the World Series Friday night at Wrigley Field, the first such game played in this park, which opened in 1914, since Oct. 10, 1945, when the Cubs lost to the Tigers in Game 7.
“Everybody’s been waiting for this moment,” second baseman Javier Baez said Thursday before the Cubs worked out. “Very crazy. I mean, there’s already people outside and we don’t even play today.”
Activity buzzed all day and into the night outside the ballpark, its outfield walls covered in distinctive ivy and tucked into a neighborhood block on the North Side of Chicago at the intersection of Addison and Clark. Fans swarmed souvenir tents and surrounding businesses, or stopped by to take pictures in front of the iconic marquee above the main entrance.
A World Series game at Wrigley would have put this city at a fever pitch regardless of how the first two games went in Cleveland. Because the Cubs took Game 2 Wednesday to even the series, they could clinch their first title since 1908 at home. That possibility has created an unprecedented anticipation that is palpable throughout the town.
“This is a very passionate fan base,” catcher David Ross said. “The talk on the plane last night was how excited everybody is to get here and feel the energy.”
The 39-year-old Ross, who won a World Series in 2013 with the Red Sox, said Fenway Park and Wrigley are two of a kind.
“The history when you step into places like this, they’re museums,” Ross said. “You’re getting to play in a museum for work, so when you get to walk out of that tunnel and out of that dugout and see the fans on their feet in this kind of environment, Wrigleyville, it’s just cool. It’s home, it’s warming.”
The Cubs started spring training in the warmth of the Arizona sun as the favorite not only to get to the World Series but to end the longest championship drought in professional sports. All along Maddon has instructed his team to embrace the expectations but not to dwell on the history.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the manager is immune to the kind of atmosphere that awaits Friday, created by the official end of 71 years without a World Series home game.
“It’s going to be an absolute blast,” Maddon said. “My kids are coming. Everybody’s coming in. It’s going to be great. So I know that people have been waiting for this for a long time and are going to savor it, and hopefully on our part we can do something to really make it even better.”
The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They would like nothing more than to play spoiler, though they, too, appreciate what they will be a part of.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said first baseman Mike Napoli, a teammate of Ross’ on the 2013 Red Sox. “Going into this, watching the National League play, I wanted to play against the Cubs because I knew the atmosphere would be unbelievable. I watched when they clinched to go to the World Series and how crazy it was and seeing the fans in the streets where they had to have police escorts. So it’s going to be fun. It’s something that I wanted to be a part of, and thought that it would be an unbelievable World Series.”