Since interleague play began in 1997, though, these two storied franchises have played just two series before this year -- at Wrigley Field in 2003 and in Yankee Stadium in 2005. Thus it was with great anticipation that Cubs fans welcomed the Yankees -- and thousands of their fans -- to Wrigleyville in Chicago and Wrigley Field for the first game of a three-game series on Friday afternoon.
The pinstripe-clad fans, wearing "RUTH 3", "MANTLE 7", "RODRIGUEZ 13" and "JETER 2" T-shirts and jerseys, snapped up souvenir T-shirts and caps specially made for this interleague series (at more reasonable prices, I might add, than similar items made in Boston for the Cubs' recent first-ever interleague series at Fenway Park). The Miller Lite beer billboard on a rooftop across from Wrigley's right field, changed for each opponent, this weekend reads "LESS TASTE? FUHGEDDABOUDIT!", in honor of the visitors from New York.
There was a different vibe inside the ballpark even for batting practice. After the Cubs hit, the Wrigley grounds crew both dragged and watered the infield dirt before the Yankees took the field for BP. I've never seen them do that for any other team -- perhaps just one more item that makes the Yankees the champions that they are.
Yankee fans are great. New York often has a reputation as a brusque city where people are pushing each other out of the way with angry looks on their face and saying (as the beer sign suggests) "FUHGEDDABOUDIT!" to anyone crossing their paths. Not so the friendly New Yorkers who visited Wrigley on Friday; they were taking photos of the neighborhood rooftops, the Wrigley scoreboard, Cubs fans and the entire scene. I love talking to Yankee fans, who know their sport and are passionate about their team.
Friday's game, tightly played and well pitched by both the Cubs' Doug Davis (who befuddled Yankees hitters with offspeed stuff timed as slow as 67 MPH on the Wrigley pitch speed meter) and the Yankees' Freddy Garcia (who used to baffle Cubs hitters all the time as a member of the White Sox). Davis, and Cubs relievers Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, were just a bit better; the Cubs scored three of Garcia by the end of the third and the largest crowd of the year at Wrigley, 42,261, stood and cheered every one of Marmol's pitches in the ninth inning, until he struck out pinch hitter Chris Dickerson to end it with a Cubs win and a serenade of "Go Cubs Go" to the visitors from New York. For just a short time, it was possible to forget that the Cubs have had a miserable first two months and trail in the NL Central by 9.5 games, and that the Yankees are making yet another pennant run -- the teams seemed on equal turf Friday afternoon, and despite face value ticket prices resembling broker rates, it was worth every penny paid for admission.
The Yankees may invade Wrigley Field only every eight years or so. But they certainly make things worth the wait.