They returned, again through an opening in the wall under the bleachers, with Rizzo carrying the Commissioner’s Trophy high. The team owner, Tom Ricketts, then held it while throwing a ceremonial first pitch with his sister and brother.
“There’s going to be some fans shedding tears — they’ve waited a long time for this — but they’ll be tears of joy,” Ben Zobrist, the World Series most valuable player, predicted before the game. “People are excited to be here for this moment. It’s a very special moment in the history of the Chicago Cubs franchise.”
Rizzo, who ended a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers with a ninth-inning single off Kenley Jansen, said the feelings tugged at him hard. Rizzo has been with the Cubs since January 2012, longer than anyone else on the team.
“That pregame ceremony, I wasn’t expecting to get hit with that many emotions — it was amazing,” he said, then reflected on the bad times that preceded the good. “I was fighting back tears a lot.”
While raising the flag above center field, Rizzo said, he joked with teammates that he might stay out there and watch from the bleachers. Naturally, he had never been there with the stands full.
“What a view,” Rizzo said.
Wrigley Field opened in 1914, for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, and the Cubs moved to the park two years later. They had won the World Series in 1907 and 1908, when they played at West Side Grounds. Flags for those victories — and other league and division titles — ring the Wrigley roof, but the Cubs had never arrived for a season as champions.
Now they have, 159 days after Mike Montgomery induced a weak grounder to third by the Indians’ Michael Martinez. Third baseman Kris Bryant gathered the ball, then tripped, but his throw stayed true to Rizzo, lifting the heaviest burden in sports for a patient and passionate group of fans.
“That’s the thing that kind of shocked me the most — it meant a lot to us as players, but realizing it was all about the fans’ experiences more than ours,” Montgomery said. “The whole vibe of the city, to really transform a city in a way and make them come together, you realize that, man, this is more than just winning baseball games. This is for an entire city — a whole culture, almost.”
The Cubs retained 19 players from their World Series roster, everyone but Aroldis Chapman, Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, Jorge Soler and Travis Wood. They went four of six on the road before facing the Dodgers, the team they beat in the N.L. Championship Series. Jon Lester — who had won the last game at Wrigley, facing elimination in the World Series — worked six strong innings in the victory.
“It was better than what we could have expected,” Lester said. “When the crowd sticks around through a two-hour rain delay, that’s always nice. The team going out there and raising the flag, some old guys coming back and doing the same thing — it was a special night.”
The Cubs raised season-ticket prices by an average of 19.5 percent this season, but demand has never been higher. Ninety-nine percent of season-ticket holders renewed this year, and The Chicago Tribune reported that the waiting list had reached 112,733.
The ballpark is undergoing a five-year, $500 million renovation. Video boards were added in 2014, and a lavish new home clubhouse followed last season. Now the bullpens have moved under the bleachers, from their familiar spots down the baselines, where four new rows of seats now stand.
Hundreds of other seats, behind home plate, are now padded — part of an upscale, underground club-seating project that will open next season. The most visible changes are now outside the park, along Clark Street, where a hotel is under construction across from a new fan plaza outside the team’s modern office building.
A Starbucks is part of it, naturally, and a Jostens jewelry store will open Wednesday, to coincide with the ring ceremony. There is also a trophy room where fans can pose for pictures and, of course, a two-story souvenir store.
Chris Costner, a 44-year-old fan who drove from Wichita, Kan., browsed the store Monday afternoon — it was warm enough for him to wear shorts, showing off a Cubs championship tattoo on his right calf.
“We had to be here for opening night,” said Costner, who paid $600 for two tickets along the first-base line. “I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like with Wrigley all lit up and the Cubs as reigning World Series champions. It’s going to be insane. I will get emotional.”
Jose Mejia, 39, flew in from Honduras with a $220 bleacher ticket. He grew up watching the Cubs on WGN and had waited three decades for Monday.
“I’m going to remember all the years of frustration, of hoping every opening day that this year was going to be the year,” Mejia said. “They could win it again this year, and it won’t be the same. This is once in a lifetime.”
When he looks at the flag, Maddon said, he will think of how it represents something greater than the team. He was touched to see a giant photo canvas at the entrance of the clubhouse, depicting the brick wall at Wrigley where fans had scrawled messages of thanks in chalk. There really is no place like the Cubs’ home.
“It’s just different, the way the whole thing’s built, how everybody reacts,” Maddon said. “Every day is a playoff game. Every day. Every day you feel the same vibe walking in the door.”
The same, perhaps, but with a new and glorious addition to admire.