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Wrigley Field: Saturday's Best Campus Atmosphere

Crowley Sullivan is a 20-year sports-media veteran having spent ten years at ESPN as a producer, programmer, content creator, business developer, and brand manager.  He now serves a EVP, Planning/GM, Sports for MandtVR, a content creation platform that emphasizes Virtual Reality initiatives.

Bother Crowley at @CrowleySullivan

Wrigley Field: The Ultimate Saturday Campus Today

Saturdays in the Fall.

The very words conjure up images and feelings of a crisp day on campus, up in the early hours of the morning to prepare for reconnecting with friends from that golden era when that campus was home. And, any time we’re back on that campus, we’re reminded that it really still is home.

And when the sounds of the marching band mixes in with the smells of the food and the magic of the drinks, Saturdays in the Fall become much more than a day to cheer on the alma mater. They become annual rituals that keep us coming back, year after year.

This Saturday, however, transcends all of that.

It’s hard to fathom since the magic described already transcends whatever could contribute to the makeup of a “normal” college football Saturday. All day, campuses will certainly be alive with the pomp and circumstance associated with game day.

And rivalries all over the land will keep everyone on the edges of their seats.

Fantastic finishes will lead to joy and heartbreak from Gainesville to Tempe.

But, on this Saturday, it all takes a back seat to what will be happening on Chicago’s North Side, within a unique campus of its own, Wrigleyville.

This “campus” will be the focal point for folks of all stripes who have spent, literally, their entire lives – no matter what age we’re talking about – hoping and even praying for it to happen.

And while the alma mater always pulls at the heartstrings and conjures up memories of the times of our lives when we had the world by a string, for so many people, the sights, sounds, smells, and magic of Wrigley Field and the ball club that calls that ball park home, this is what transcends all else when it comes to our passions associated with sports.

Plenty out there have gone to great lengths to sneer at what they like to think is a certain lack of authenticity or knowledge or true interest beyond the sunshine and the beer.

Fine.

I’ve always simply shrugged that off in the way a person from a giant, fun, passionate, dysfunctional family might shrug off a critique from a non-family member due to the understanding that the critic simply doesn’t know what’s really going on behind the curtain.

I first walked into Wrigley Field with my dad on Opening Day when I was in second grade.

As I walked up through the tunnel and the whole ballpark came into full view, I ceased to know what was real and what was a dream.

I clutched on to my dad’s gigantic hand – perhaps in a subconscious attempt to say, “Thank you” to the old man.

I was speechless.

We stood there for a good minute, my dad not saying anything, just watching me take it in.

Before I knew it, we were sitting in our seats – a couple of innings late, of course, due to the need to spend time in the Cubby Bear where my dad held my hand as he drank his Old Style and had his world by a string with his buddies, all of whom were big players in my family’s life.

Before I was able to get comfy in the cold, green Wrigley Field seat for the first time in my life, Dave Kingman – my hero at the time – was up. And – as if my dad had arranged for it to occur – King Kong launched one on to Waveland and trotted around the bases awkwardly as he always did.

I don’t even recall if the Cubs won that day – I just remember, as vividly as I remember what my wife looked like on our wedding day, holding my dad’s hand, the sights, smells, and sounds of Wrigley Field, and Kingman trotting around the base paths.

I wouldn’t even be able to give an estimate on the amount of ball games I’ve seen at Wrigley Field. And if you asked a random sampling of friends of mine from all sections of my life to speculate on what my favorite place on earth is, I’d be willing to bet that close to 100% of them would say Wrigley Field.

I sat in the bleachers countless times as a young pup with my mom – MY MOM. She and her lifelong Penny Webb would take me on the El from Linden Street on a lazy summer weekday and I’d bask in the circus of the bleachers while watching Ivan DeJesus’s entire at bat closely enough to further perfect my backyard imitation.

My childhood effectively ended on Sunday, October 8th, 1984.

As a 13-year old, the only thing that mattered at the time was the Cubs. And even after Garvey’s histrionics in Game 4, I held out hope that Sutcliffe and the guys would get it done on Sunday.

Too young at the time to think anything else, I guess. I cried my face off when the ball went through The Bull’s legs.

There have been teases and spurts.

1989 was terrific – but it never really felt like it was IT. Andre Dawson – my all time favorite Cubs player – was playing on one leg and Will Clark was too much.

The Sammy Era was a flamboyantly frustrating period – for countless reasons. The duel with Mark McGwire sure was something at the time – but it all feels so empty now.

And, of course, 2003.

Far too much has been written and said about it.

Films have been made, books have been written, and experts and pundits have all espoused.

And while I’ll never go ahead and “blame” the guy, I’ve never moved – not even slightly – from the position that if he doesn’t get in the way, the Cubs are in the World Series.

The way all of the self-righteous folks have gone to such great lengths to try and say that he had nothing to do with it – and with absolutely zero malice intended for the poor guy, I’ll never understand why anyone thinks that A) he didn’t get in the way, that B) Moises Alou wasn’t 100% going to catch the ball, and C) how anyone can’t see very clearly that the whole thing – while not specifically responsible for the collapse – triggered a series of events that would not have occurred had he not gotten in the way. It’s all pretty simple.

But enough about that…

Lou Piniella came along and gave it a go.

I recall many questioning why a Yankee would be brought in to do the unthinkable. I said many times, “I don’t care if the guy wears his Yankee uniform in the damn dugout – let’s get him to get this thing done…”

Lou hobbled away mumbling to himself.

During all of these periods, life has happened.

College graduation.

Career twists and turns.

New cities all over the country.

Ups.

Downs.

Marriage.

Beautiful children.

Friendships.

Blessings.

Heartaches.

Family.

And, Mom and Dad getting older.

My dad was 42 years old when we watched Kingman blast that one on to Waveland.

He and my mom are 82 and 81 now.

They’re at home, living the life they always probably dreamed of – which is to say that they’re watching their own kids raise their own families, each of which has more blessings than anyone could want.

Ten grandchildren for the folks.

Three of them are my own son and two daughters who I took to Wrigley Field for their first experience some years ago. I refused to do it when they were toddlers – they needed to be old enough to remember it, the way I still do.

It’s impossible for anyone who knows me to believe but I didn’t talk much that day.

Instead, I watched and listened to the kids as they experienced my ballpark, my ball club, and, in many ways, my home.

I think that’s what separates the Cubs Experience from so many other “experiences” across our sensational world of sports.

There are schools and franchises and clubs that all have their own unique DNA.

There are traditions all over the land that give people the chills and conjure up memories of special times with special people.

But I think that Wrigley Field, the entire experience that comes along with it, the ball club that has played there for so many generations, the personalities on the club and in the stands, the heroes like Uncle Ernie, Fergie, Billy Williams, Santo, BUCKNER, Kingman, Sandberg, Dawson, sure, Sammy, Dunston, Grace, Wood, Moises, HARRY, and now this current batch of heroes – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the stories associated with the entire dynamic including all of the indescribable fun all around the neighborhood that is unlike any other in all of American sports – it all mixes into a potion that really can only be best described as “home.”

And this Saturday night will be the most special, most thrilling, most heartwarming, most frightening, most nerve-wracking, most electric, most hopeful, most fearful, most hesitant, most emotional, and most fun night in the history of Wrigley Field.

That’s an all-encompassing example of what goes on over the course of a lifetime in any home.

And the entire family will be fixated on it.

More than 40,000 family members will be right there, jammed into the joint.

Countless more will be focused on it from literally all over the world.

And my own family will be living and breathing it all from all possible locations near and far.

Saturday features a hefty slate of big time matchups across the college football landscape. And it’ll be as great as it always is.

But for this Saturday, it gets trumped by something that’s transcendent.

A gigantic family of folks who have waited their entire lives will come together and see if this is it.

Is this it?

Win or lose, the entire family of folks will be sharing the experience for generations to come…