"Winning the [NL] Central division is exciting, it's great," Hall of Fame Cubs outfielder Billy Williams said to the crowd. "The players guaranteed me it's just the first leg."
Beloved Chicago native Jim Belushi emceed the hour-long event and was joined on stage by Cubs greats Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Williams. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich were on hand along with Cubs chairman Crane Kenney. They all addressed the chilled crowd. Cubs players Derrek Lee, Sean Marshall and Micah Hoffpauir also made appearances.
"You are the best fans in the world," Lee said. "Thank you for having our back the last six months. We need you guys for one more month, 11 more wins."
Belushi jump-started the celebration by leading a rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago," gyrating around the stage and dismounting with a backward somersault. Howling winds blew Kenney's Cubs hat off his head while at the podium.
Kenney called Sept. 14 the decisive moment of the season, when 23,000 fans filled Milwaukee's Miller Park on less than 24 hours notice and were treated to Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter.
Blagojevich looked ahead to the Dodgers.
"I say let's give Manny Ramirez a haircut," the governor said, drawing an eruption from the crowd.
Like they have all season, and for 100 years, the fans braved the elements. More than 3.3 million churned through the turnstiles at Wrigley this season, the highest total for a professional franchise in city history. On Tuesday, the crowd featured a sea of "W" signs, including about 20 "Ws" staring at the stage from windows at the George W. Dunne Cook County Office building across the street.
Trudie Acheatel, 63, stood among the masses, six months after breaking her ankle on a bus ride home from Opening Day at Wrigley. Acheatel, known as "The Button Lady" for her colorful pin-covered hat, is Jewish. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was celebrated on Tuesday.
"I'm supposed to be in a synagogue, repenting for sins," said Acheatel, 63. "[Being at the rally] is really not what you're supposed to do. I'm too much of a Cubs fan, that's my problem."
Like Acheatel, Jerry Pritikin lived through the disappointments of 1969 and 1984. At 71, this may be his last chance for the famed "The Bleacher Preacher" to witness a winner. He remembered asking his father for World Series tickets in 1945, the last time the Cubbies made the Fall Classic.
"He said I was too young, he said next time," Pritikin said. "I'm here for closure. I want to get to the Promised Land. I know Moses never got to the Promised Land, but I want to get there."
Pat MacAskill, a 19-year-old White Sox fan, played hooky from Harold Washington College in Chicago to be engulfed by North Siders. He got a crash course in Cubs history from an 80-year-old man squeezed next to him in the front row and admitted that, yes, he roots for the Cubs. They're his No. 2 team.
"I've got a game tonight," MacAskill said, referring to the White Sox-Twins one-game tiebreaker at U.S. Cellular Field. "When [the Cubs] play the Sox, it's a whole different story."
Fans young and old and of all faiths took it in. Many won't be able to get their hands on postseason tickets, so they got a taste of the playoff atmosphere a day before October began.
They sang along with a video of Harry Caray conducting "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and concluded the day by chanting "Go Cubs Go" with Belushi, who altered the lyrics from "Cubs are gonna win today" to "Cubs are gonna go all the way." Santo summed up the day.
"I just have four words," he told his adoring crowd. "This is the year!"