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Wrigley evokes great memories for past, present players

With park celebrating 100th anniversary, sampling of those who competed there share stories

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season, and asked players for their favorite memory of the ballpark. Here are some recollections, beginning with former Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson, who called the Friendly Confines home for four seasons.

"Every player who plays here says the same thing -- 'If you become a free agent, come here and play,'" Johnson said. "It's one of the most unique experiences in all of baseball. Until you actually do that and come here and play for this team, you don't understand what the ballpark means, what the fans mean."

Johnson's wife bought a commemorative brick for him as a Father's Day gift, and it was added to the pavement outside Wrigley Field.

"The ballpark makes it special, but the fans add to that," Johnson said. "There's no better place to win in the big leagues. I still remember in 2008, coming out here after we had clinched. And we were in the clubhouse for a half-hour, and we come back outside and the stadium is still full. We made our rounds, spraying champagne into the stands."

Wrigley will undergo a major renovation, scheduled to begin Sept. 25 after the last home game. Johnson said he didn't need the perks other ballparks provide.

"To me, it's just what you value," Johnson said. "Some players value having hot tubs and cold tubs and the nice amenities underneath and the nice weight rooms. There's enough equipment in that weight room [at Wrigley]. The little pull-down screen [in the clubhouse] for guys who are pinch-hitting -- for me, that's enough. To this day, I still hit balls off the tee. I developed into a good pinch-hitter here when I hit off a tee and kept it simple.

"Some guys feel they need that extra stuff. To me, once you walk up the tunnel and onto the field, it's a big league field and the energy in the stadium is unmatched."

• Wrigley Field will always be special for Chase Headley because he made his Major League debut there on June 15, 2007, with the Padres.

"It was surreal," Headley said. "I'm sure anywhere you debut is special, but doing it at Wrigley with the history, there's just something about the atmosphere in Chicago. You walk down the tunnel and you walk out and it just smells like baseball. There's a certain smell, and it's just distinct.

"There aren't many other places where I think you'd rather debut at than Chicago. It's just baseball. There's nothing nice about the stadium as far as the facilities. But what it lacks, it makes up in character and atmosphere. The fans are great and there's history."

• Jaime Navarro pitched for the Cubs in 1995-96, and he said Wrigley was unique because of the wind.

"I had great teachers," Navarro said. "I had Ferguson Jenkins, who won 20 games there every year for a long time. What better guy to have as a pitching coach there? We'd talk every inning -- 'What do you think? The wind is blowing out, it's humid, so pitch this way.' Or, 'It's a cold breeze in the middle of May, pitch this way.' I did what he said, and you can't get any better pitching lessons than from a guy like that."

Ryan Dempster pitched for the Cubs from 2004-12, and he explored every nook and cranny of Wrigley Field, from the top of the scoreboard to the areas underneath the seats.

"I remember my brother, he would always sit in the family section, and one day I stuck him in the bleachers just so he could see what it was like," Dempster said. "Then he said, 'Can I sit there every time?' That just shows you what kind of unique view it is."

Dempster lived near Wrigley and would ride his bicycle to the ballpark.

"It's a great neighborhood," he said. "You always have people before the games getting ready to go to the games. And then after, they're playing bean bags and hanging out, drinking beers on their patios or front porches."

• Carlos Pena only played one season with the Cubs in 2011, but it's one he won't forget.

"Wrigley is one of those magical places, because it is so old," Pena said. "It's so iconic, like a baseball gem. To be able to play there was an awesome experience. It's like a cathedral.

"When you walk up the concourse, it is very powerful, because it is a dark tunnel. And when you walk out, you see the ivy and beautiful grounds. It's heavenly when you walk into Wrigley Field. I never took that for granted."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. reporters Dick Kaegel, Corey Brock, Greg Johns and Ian Browne contributed to this story.
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