With a delicious breeze from Lake Michigan snapping salutes from every banner and flag across the town, Chicago today paid a delirious tribute to its Cubs.
The team paid its fans and the city back in full by beating the San Diego Padres, 13-0.
The East Division champions hit a playoff-record five home runs, including two by Gary Matthews and one by pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, in the opening game of this best-of-five National League championship series.
The only thing missing was the major league umpires; they went on strike and four Big Ten Conference umpires from the Chicago area officiated.
A festive air had been building in the city for more than a week heralding today's game at Wrigley Field, the ancient North Side stadium where for 39 years the team had known mainly frustration and defeat. But today all of that was forgotten by today's sellout crowd of 36,282 and the uncountable rooftop onlookers.
Seldom has the Windy City so needed the tonic this team represents. The Cubs came through just when it seemed as if this Midwestern metropolis of 3 million was headed into a slump from which it might never recover. The summer brought Chicagoans mostly grief: a second year of political turmoil at City Hall, thousands of additional jobs lost as economic recovery moved slowly forward, dismay on the South Side when the White Sox collapsed after their triumph last year when they won the American League West after 24 losing seasons.
But the Cubs came through by winning 96 games, more than they had won in any season since 1945. In return, the city's enthusiasm for the team has reached peaks that jaded Chicagoans find amazing.
The scramble for tickets to the two playoff home games and to the World Series, which will begin next week, has been intense. More than 2 million applications were received for tickets to Wrigley Field, which holds 37,275 for regular-season games.
For hours before today's game, hundreds of Chicagoans, joined by out-of-towners from across the Midwest, gleaned for tickets amongst the lucky spectators thronging Sheffield and Addison streets near Wrigley Field.
Scalpers got $200 a ticket for box seats. Meanwhile, thousands of ticket holders clogged the sidewalks in the area, where city crews were busy over the weekend filling potholes, fixing stop lights and joining in a general sprucing up.
But perhaps nowhere in town was the joy greater than among seven occupants of the modest building at 3639 Sheffield, a three-story row house just across the street from Wrigley's right field bleachers. The occupants had won a great court victory guaranteeing them free seats on the roof.
James Eakle, 30, a businessman and fan of the Cubs for half his life, brought suit last month, fearing his landlord would sell the rooftop seats to the highest bidders and bar renters from a fringe benefit of life in the neighborhood that they have come to love.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Wosik, whom Eakle described as "a real baseball fan," made a Solomon-like decision -- he gave everyone enough seats for themselves and their friends. He also found room for the landlord, who lives in New Jersey. He divided the 60 seats set up on the roof among all interested fans.
But this created another problem. "It's been real tough," Eakle said. "People I haven't heard from in six years have been calling . . . friends . . . "
The judge had awarded 15 seats to Eakle and roommate Jon Duncan. Today, with a policeman in the front yard to handle would-be gatecrashers, the two welcomed their real friends.
Looking somewhat embarrassed by all the attention from passersby to their privileged status, the longtime fans of the Cubs filed in one by one and climbed the three flights to take their rightful places.
The house is famous, too, because Tom Hickman, another renter, has hung a sign from the roof. Painted just like the signs inside the park, this one tells the world that the distance from the roof to home plate is exactly 495 feet, or 150.876 meters. Today, Sutcliffe hit a ball that seemed as if it could have cleared Hickman's sign easily.
At 3639 Sheffield, Eakle and Duncan and as good a cross section of Cubs fans as could be found anywhere were on hand. There were Steve Roess, a fan "all along," and girlfriend Linda; Danny Cohen, "a big Cubs fan," who used to work for the White Sox until he corrected his ways.
Then there were Dick and Bruce, Michele, Tim, Craig and Mark and Marc.
Like most other Chicagoans, they've seen the Cubs lose a lot over the years. Today was a day to celebrate winning and the entire city joined in.