Millions celebrate at Cubs parade, Grant Park rally
The Chicago Cubs celebrated in grand style with millions of fans Friday throughout the city in a rally and parade 108 years in the making.
Indeed, these weren't just Chicago baseball players, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts observed, but "Chicago baseball legends."
An estimated 5 million revelers clad in Cubbie blue descended on Wrigleyville, the North Side and downtown for the 6-mile-long parade and rally at Grant Park's Hutchinson Field to celebrate the 2016 World Series champions.
If that crowd number provided by Chicago city officials is right, it would beat previous estimates for Blackhawks Stanley Cup parades (2 million) and the White Sox World Series celebration in 2005 (1.2 million).
Suburban paradegoers packed onto Metra trains early in the morning to get downtown, while many businesses called off work or allowed employees to work from home. The afternoon commute home was no less inviting; Metra officials think it may have been the busiest day in the rail service's history.
The celebration was largely safe. Chicago police reported six arrests for battery, damage to city property, disorderly conduct and operating a drone, the city said. The Chicago Fire Department reported 33 medical emergencies.
Motor boats moved up and down the Chicago River early in the day, dyeing it a shade of bright blue to match the team's color.
A rally for the ages
It's been seven years since Ricketts and his family bought the team from the Tribune Co. and five years since the hiring of team President Theo Epstein, the former Boston Red Sox executive who now has the distinction of having shaped two franchises with long histories of losing into World Series champions.
That history wasn't lost on Epstein, who thanked Cubs fans at the Friday afternoon rally for sticking with the team during a grueling rebuilding process that included a 101-loss team and having to trade away fan-favorite players.
"Let me be honest: For a while there, we forgot the 'not' in 'Try Not to Suck,'" Epstein joked, in reference to Manager Joe Maddon's T-shirts. "But you stayed with us."
The result of Epstein's promised rebuild came to fruition Wednesday night in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, after a 17-minute rain delay and a motivational team meeting led by outfielder Jason Heyward.
"I saw all 25 guys huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in the weight room. Instead of lamenting, 'What happened?' after blowing the lead, they said, 'Let's do this. Let's pick it up. We're going to win this game. We're going to win it for each other. We're going to win this for the fans.'
"As soon as I heard that, I stopped and said, 'We're going to win this game.'"
Epstein brought Maddon to the podium with the World Series trophy -- to the roar of thousands packed into Grant Park.
"Welcome to Cub-stock 2016," said Maddon, who in February ushered in spring training in Mesa, Arizona, with a tie-dye shirt and brown 1976 Dodge van reminiscent of the infamous Woodstock music festival.
Maddon kept it cool as ever Friday, wearing his unbuttoned Cubs jersey that revealed the latest T-shirt in his fashion line: "We Did Not Suck 2016."
"Let's hope it's not another 108 years," he told the crowd. "Let's repeat this and come back next year."
Ben Zobrist, holding his World Series MVP trophy, recalled playing baseball as a kid growing up in Eureka, Illinois, often getting inspiration from "Rocky" movies.
It was no wonder then that Zobrist, now 35, was inspired when teammate Anthony Rizzo started playing "Rocky" movies in the clubhouse during the World Series.
"This team answered the bell," Zobrist said. "Games 5, 6 and 7 were like a heavyweight fight, and this ballclub pulled through for all of you."
Rizzo, the player on the team the longest at four years, gave a nod to those Cubs greats who came so close to championships of their own before ultimately falling short, including the 1969 team led by Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.
Williams, wearing his No. 26 jersey, was joined on stage by No. 23 Ryne Sandberg. Both had their numbers retired by the organization.
"Every single person who has worn this jersey won this trophy with us the other day," Rizzo said.
He referred to catcher David Ross as a brother, who taught him lessons on and off the field.
"I'm forever grateful for him," said Rizzo, barely able to hold back tears over the 39-year-old player who hit a home run in his last game before retirement. "He's going out a champion forever."
Ross brought out country singer Brett Eldredge, who grew up in Paris, Illinois, to lead the crowd in "Go Cubs Go."
Players gathered on stage with the trophy to take selfies, amid a seemingly endless stream of red and blue confetti and the sounds of sports anthem "We Are the Champions."
Paradegoers part of history
For the thousands of Cubs fans lining the parade route Friday morning outside Wrigley Field, time seemed to stand still as the 2016 World Series trophy, hoisted first by Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts and then by Epstein, made its first public appearance in 108 years at the corner of Clark and Addison streets just after 10:45 a.m.
Some two dozen open-top, double-decker buses passed by the gathered thousands, some of whom arrived before dawn to guarantee their spot to see history.
The red buses, covered on either side with blue banners proclaiming "2016 World Series Champions," carried players, coaches, front office management, alumni, broadcasters, team sponsors, politicians and their families. The procession took some two hours to make its way along Addison to Lake Shore Drive, then Michigan Avenue and finally Columbus Drive before reaching the rally location in Grant Park.
The biggest cheer from the crowd outside Wrigley was reserved for Zobrist, who hit the memorable breakthrough RBI double in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7.
Comeback kid Kyle Schwarber, returning for the World Series after being injured in the third game of the season, pumped up the crowd by lifting his arms up and down. Rizzo, pointing number ones into the sky, Dexter Fowler with a cigar in hand, and Kris Bryant, wearing a WWE-style championship belt with Cubs logos, were all smiles.
The parade reportedly started some 45 minutes late because players had a hard time getting to the ballpark because of the big crowds and traffic.
As the procession finally got underway, fans held out phones to snap pictures, while those lucky enough to ride on the double-deckers or trolleys snapped photos back to capture the throng of gathered fanatics.
Among those standing in the front row behind metal barricades was Steve May, a Joliet resident who secured his spot at Clark and Addison at 3:30 a.m. Next to him was his 31-year-old son, Ryne, named after the legendary Cubs second baseman.
May, who has had stage 4 cancer for the last two years, watched part of the Cubs 2016 playoff run in a hospital intensive care unit. He got well enough to be home for their National League pennant and World Series victories.
May called the World Series championship a "fulfillment."
"I've been waiting 58 years for this," May said. "I didn't think I'd ever see it. This is the happiest day of my life."
Some fans waved flags -- among them the distinctive "W" -- while others held World Series pennants. Construction workers wearing neon vests and hard hats paused to watch, too, taking a break from work on the hotel expected to open across from Wrigley Field on Clark Street in 2018.
The ballpark setting could have been a scene from an Opening Day of yesteryear -- red, white and blue bunting draped from rafters; city, state and team flags hung from poles; and the historic red marquee proclaiming "Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs."
Except on this day, the sign read "World Series Champions."