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Wrigley Field has plenty in store for 100th birthday

Cubs set for promotions to celebrate historic ballpark's centennial year

CHICAGO -- Long awaited, the Wrigley Field centennial season arrives on Friday.

In a perfect world, the Cubs would mark the occasion by running a pennant up the flag pole or welcoming All-Star players in July, with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo as the greeters. They would be in their third consecutive season as a playoff team, not the third in the Theo Epstein rebuild. The ivy would already be green after a mild winter and balmy start to the spring.

But if it was going to be easy, it wouldn't be the adventure of so many lifetimes, would it?

Word of advice to Cubs fans for Friday: get to the park early or stay late, when the place is its quietest. Close your eyes, cover your ears and see if you don't hear echoes from the back-to-back Bruce Springsteen shows two Septembers ago.

The Boss sang "Thunder Road" both nights, and you know how it goes:

"So you're scared and you're thinking
"That maybe we ain't that young anymore
"Show a little faith there's magic in the night ..."

And in the day, as Ernie Banks is always quick to tell us.

The Cubs have lots of cool promotions planned, including a Chicago Federals jersey giveaway on April 23, the 100th anniversary of the Feds' win over the Kansas City Packers in the first baseball game ever at the ballpark, and bobbleheads to commemorate Banks, Joe Tinker, Gale Sayers, Red Grange and even Babe Ruth's "Called Shot."

But in the spirit of Mr. Cub and eternal optimism, here are some happenings that can make the 100th season of baseball at Wrigley as special as it should be:

• No rain, no rain, no rain -- That chant didn't exactly work at Woodstock, but maybe it will in Chicago, beginning with the marginal forecast for Friday. Nothing's better than baseball in great weather, so here's hoping that an idyllic spring and summer is the payoff after the frigid, frightful winter.

• Saying hello to the new Banks (or Ryne Sandberg) -- Few organizations have ever had a middle infielder lead their league in home runs, but Chicago has had two. Javier Baez,who smacked 37 home runs last year, is likely to make his debut at some point in 2014. He's worth a look at shortstop, but the Cubs remain committed to Castro to write him off, so he'll probably play alongside Castro as a second baseman.

• A chip on their shoulder against the Cardinals -- Historically, this has been a one-sided rivalry. But Chicago baseball is its best when the games against St. Louis seem to count double, as they did when Dusty Baker squared off against Tony La Russa. The Cubs are 19-32 against the Cards the last three years. They don't have the roster to match up this season, but maybe Rick Renteria will be Mike Matheny's Kryptonite.

• Phil Wrigley/Bill Veeck Day -- Wrigley's civility and Veeck's creativity paved the road for the Cubs to thrive as a franchise. It's easy history to honor.

• Fans lyrically chanting a favorite player's name -- When the wind blows right, you can hear the crowd a mile away. That made the first half of 2008 so much fun, with newcomer Kosuke Fukudome being celebrated with sing-song versions of his name -- Fuke-o-dome-eh, Fuke-o-dome-eh. It was beautiful, and it showed the power of multi-syllabic names.

If Emilio Bonifacio continues to get four or five hits a night, fans might try Bon-eee-fass-eee-oh, Bon-eee-fass-eee-oh. Or more likely, Ja-vee-Buy-ez, Ja-vee-Buy-ez. That one works whether he is in a Cubs uniform or hitting home runs in Des Moines.

• A no-hitter -- Once, the Cubs were no-hit twice in 22 days. First by the Reds' Jim Maloney on Aug. 19, 1965, and then again that September when Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game. One of the stubborn points of pride for Chicago fans is that the team hasn't been no-hit since then -- a longest-in-baseball streak that stands at 7,666 games. That's cool, but the Cubs haven't thrown a no-hitter at Wrigley since Milt Pappas' in '72. There have been only seven no-hitters ever at Wrigley Field, half as many as at Fenway Park and two fewer than at the Coliseum in Oakland, which opened in '66.

• A Derek Jeter moment -- He'll visit on his farewell tour from May 20-21, and it would be nice if he did something, especially since his home in Kalamazoo, Mich., is only about 145 miles from Wrigley Field. He's played Major League games in 41 ballparks, including three games in Wrigley back in 2003 (he was on the DL when the Yankees played at Wrigley in '11), but it and San Diego's Petco Park are the only two places where he doesn't have an extra-base hit, an RBI or a stolen base.

• Hack Wilson Day -- It has been 84 years since the Cubs' brawling slugger set the record with 191 RBIs, and only Manny Ramirez has come within 25 of it (165, 1999) in the last 75 years. Wilson took the mark from Lou Gehrig on Sept. 17, 1930, homering twice at the Polo Grounds off the Giants' Tiny Chaplin, and oddly it wasn't celebrated at the time. In fact, according to Bill Chastain, author of "Hack's 191,'' the feat was relegated to the third item of a Chicago Tribune notebook. Why not blow that out on Sept. 17, when the Cubs host the Reds?

• A September that begins with a shot at .500 -- High Draft choices are great, and the Cubs are likely to get another future building block with the fourth overall pick in June. They did that when they landed Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant with the ninth, sixth and second picks, respectively, the last three years. But the on-field needle is going to start pointing upward at some point. Why not during the Wrigley Centennnial?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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