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A senior usher, Widgren has been escorting Chicago Cubs fans to their seats at Wrigley Field on the north side of Chicago for many, many years.
He is 90 plus years old, not surprisingly the oldest Cubs employee. He likes to work all 81 home games. He looks like a young Mel Torme.
“My Dad had me over here when it was Weeghman Park and the Chicago Whales played in the old Federal League,” said Widgren, who is a legend to Cubs fans in the right field bleachers. “When we were kids we used to come after the ballgame and they’d give you a potato sack to pick up papers. Then they’d give you a pass for next Saturday’s game.”
Widgren was raised a block and a half from Weeghman Park in the Lakeview section of Chicago. Charlie Weeghman didn’t have a team for long. The Federal League soon folded.
“Here he’s sitting here with this park but no team!” Widgren quipped. “So he bought the Cubs!”
William Wrigley Jr. and the Wrigley family purchased the Cubs from Weeghman in 1920. In 1926, Weeghman Park officially became Wrigley Field. The rest is history. Today, locals simply refer to Lakeview as Wrigleyville.
Widgren remembers fondly the day a New York High School team rolled into town to play Chicago’s Lane Tech High at Wrigley Field.
“The first baseman for New York was Lou Gehrig,” Widgren recalled. “He hit a home run. I was going to Lane Tech at the time.”
Another moment Widgren is not soon to forget?
Oct. 1, 1932. It is a date that will forever live in baseball infamy.
“I was here the day the Cubs played the Yankees in the World Series,” Widgren explained. “I was here the day Babe Ruth called his shot.”
According to popular legend, with Charlie Root pitching on the mound for the Cubs, the Bambino allegedly pointed to a bleacher location and then proceeded to smack Root’s next delivery in that very same vicinity.
The historic home run came during Game 3 of the World Series and has been replayed and reenacted in numerous books and films such as "The Babe" and "The Natural."
“There have been so many events here,” Widgren said. “People just love it. It’s like a picnic for families. I was really brought up in this park.”
“We’re kinda hemmed in here,” he continued. “This is a landmark. Over half the people are from out of town. They just want to see one game. Everybody that comes to Chicago has to come to Wrigley Field.”
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Everyday. We get people from all over the world - Australia, New Guinea, Alaska...”
“...Yeah, I’m from Louisiana,” shouted a young boy in a Cubs shirt with “Grace” printed on its back.
“You see what I’m talking about!” Widgren replied sharply, with a wide grin.
Teenager Kevin Soileau lives in Pineville, Louisiana, about as far south from the Windy City as you can get without actually leaving the continental United States. Still, that didn’t stop the student from hopping in a car with his friend’s family one recent summer and traveling several thousand miles north to see the Cubs host the Diamondbacks in a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
Soileau, who has a striking resemblance to Benny from the film "The Sandlot," had seats along the third base line.
“I’ve been a Cubs fans since I was five,” said Soileau. “My brother got me interested. To see it on TV for so many years, and the Ivy and the bricks. It was breathtaking - just a dream come true. Then (Mark) Grace hit a home run the first night I was here. It almost brought a tear to my eye.”
As a season ticket holder, Hughesville, Maryland resident Jim Self has been watching the Baltimore Orioles play baseball for 60 years. He said he’ll never forget the evening when Cal Ripken Jr. played in consecutive game No. 2,131, thereby setting a new major league mark that is unlikely to be challenged. During a ceremony that night, Ripken circled the field, embracing and waving to fans who had watched him perform on the diamond for two decades.
“It was very emotional,” recalled Self, prior to an Oriole-Mariner game at Camden Yards. “People were crying and tearing up. Cal handled it so well when he circled the field.”
Soileau’s room back in an Alexandria, Louisiana suburb stands as a shrine to the Cubs. His favorite team may be far away, but his dream came true. As for Widgren, he’s been living a dream his whole life at Wrigley Field.
Widgren said he’s seen thousands of extra inning thrillers, which he calls “OT games,” as well as three no-hitters.
“I think I’ll probably die here if they keep me long enough,” Widgren concluded.
And this is why we love the game.
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Jul 08 2002, 14:28:29
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