Welcome back, Cubs fans.
Been a while.
The big news whenever the Cubs are in the postseason is not only how the team itself is doing, but how the fans are doing. They are celebrities in their own right, every one of them. That is one of the perks that come with rooting for a team that hasn't won it all since 1908. Wednesday night, they predictably showed up in mighty force at Chase Field for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, constituting an estimated 40 percent of the sellout crowd of 48,864 in the team's first postseason involvement since 2003.
"The turnout is outstanding," said Mike Schneider, 30, one of the thousands of "carafans" who came from Chicago. "It's good to be back. Absolutely, I remember what happened in 2003. It's on a card on my desk that I had laminated. It's called 'Scapegoating: Knowing who to blame for your mistakes.' As a true Cub fan, you can't let one play dictate 100 years. Take 1984 -- nobody talks about that complaint."
Schneider was among many fans who were asked about 2003, and if they finally could let go now that Carlos Zambrano was throwing for the new NL Central champions against the NL West champions. Who could forget Steve Bartman reaching for the foul ball and distracting Moises Alou from possibly catching it for a crucial out? Whatever the case, the Marlins scored eight runs after that play, Bartman was basically run out of town into folklore, and some folks said they forgot about it and some say no way.
"I went to 35 games that regular season and four postseason games that year," said Chris Schneider, a native Chicagoan who is currently a doctoral student and instructor at Arizona State. "I remember it like it was yesterday. In my family, that was my initiation. My father's initiation was '69. The Amazin' Mets kept us out of the World Series that year. The Mets had a huge choke this year, so maybe it's payback."
Schneider, wearing the familiar "W" flag on his back as he stood in a hot dog line, showed off a Cubs tattoo under his left jersey sleeve. His father, Jim, has one as well. "We have that in common," Chris said. "I was at Game 7 of that [NL Championship] Series. I didn't have a ticket to Game 6 [the Bartman game]. Game 7, it was like a funeral after the last out. Totally quiet. Now we're back."
Cubs fans are back, all right. It's the fourth inning, and TBS is showing iso after iso of them in all their glory. That one is wearing a Grace jersey, that one a Zambrano. That one is behind home plate on his cell phone, waving at the TV camera from the center-field view. That one is in a wheelchair on the concourse near first base, zooming right through D-backs fans like it's a race. Those guys are yelling, "Let's Go, Cub-bies!" Those guys just came back from the Sliders bar outside.
"The word is that they flew in Old Style from Chicago for Cub fans," said Michael Ploog, 31, of Chicago. He and Mark Campbell, 30, were heading to their seats. Ploog was tracking the crowd proportion, too. "I'm saying 60 D-backs, 40 Cubs," he said. "I was in Atlanta [for the 2003 NL Division Series], and it was 80-20 in favor of Cubs there. There were more Marlins fans for the next series. Here, it feels like 60-40."
Those two fans disagreed on whether this is "next year." Said Ploog: "Unfortunately, I think we're just beefing up the team for next year -- our 100th anniversary." Said Campbell: "I think Cubs pitchers and hitters are superior to anyone else in the National League. Brandon Webb has 10 losses. The Cubs have more stars than we did in 2003, more established. This team can win it all."
Kevin and Kristy Bozack were here. They're Cubs fans, too. Four years ago, the year of the meltdown, they moved from Chicago to Mesa. "We moved to HoHoKam Village and bought there just because it's only a half-mile from the Cubs' Spring Training," Kevin said. "Last year, I worked at the stadium selling hot dogs and beer."
Just before he spoke, the Cubs finally scored a run. The place went half-wild. The Bozacks showed off their pins. His hat was filled with them, from Spring Trainings. Her teddy bar was covered in them, a Harry Caray pin, an NL Central champs pin, etc.
"I'm happy to be here, loving life right now," Kevin said. "We also go to D-backs games, so it's a win-win. Anybody but New York. I'd say it's 50-50 Cub fans here. OK, maybe 60-40 D-backs. Either way, it's good. We only had to pay $15 for a seat online, too."
While it is breathtaking to see the masses of fans who flew and drove from Chicago to Phoenix for these two games, it is also important to note what a large population of Cubs fans already exist here. Many of these people have had a longtime rite of spring that means watching the Cubs play Cactus League games in nearby Mesa.
"Cub fans have had a presence in the Valley for 50 years, and the D-backs have only been here 10 years," Schneider said. "A lot of people around here grew up with the Cubs."
After the bottom of the fifth inning, the Kiss Cam was shown on the giant scoreboard, and it included something that brought a loud reaction from the crowd. They showed a spoof with a guy pretending to be a Bartman character, wearing a windbreaker, Cubs hat and a Walkman, and his head down. Then the fan pulled out a ball as the P.A. played "Mr. Lonely."
There's a Cubs fan. He works for an ad company and made his own custom sign that reads: "Cubtober." He's wearing a Santo jersey, and so are his friends. He's got a sign that says Theriot-Blanco-Soriano (for TBS). Those three guys are wearing red, white and blue wigs, and posing for pictures with other Cubs fans.
"I thought there would be more Chicago fans, to be honest with you," said one of those wig-wearing fans, Sean Lucky, an omen of a name if there ever was on this night. He and his buddies, Scotty Dietz and Mike Maher, were all here from Vegas, and Illinois was a part of their past. "But there are still quite a few. The ballpark is sweet. It's unbelievable, my first playoff experience, and look at all these fans."
Elliott DiBattista, 22, was standing in a souvenir line that sold only Diamondbacks merchandise. He was a Cubs fan. What was he doing there?
"I need a camera," DiBattista said. "This is something to keep forever. I couldn't be more excited. It's only the 15th time in the postseason for us. I'm in the fifth row from first base, and I can't believe the scene here. Cub fans are out. They are definitely out. Maybe 50-50.
"I lived in Chicago my whole life and moved here to Sedona a few years ago to manage restaurants. To have the Cubs playing in the postseason here is a dream. I don't even remember 2003. It happened. It's over. We ain't gonna wait another century."
DiBattista said he couldn't wait for the seventh-inning stretch. "That's what every Cub fan is waiting for," he said. "'Take me out with the CUB-BIES.' That's all you're gonna hear."
At exactly five minutes until midnight on the East Coast, the stadium organist played "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
It was the loudest "CUBBIES" roar you could ever imagine in the playoffs, especially on the road. The Diamondbacks fans were here in strong numbers. And on this night, they couldn't help but share their space with a whole lot of celebrities.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.