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Wrigley buzz reaches fever pitch
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06/06/2003  4:58 PM ET 
Wrigley buzz reaches fever pitch
By Mark Newman / Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
Fans Merle Branner, left, and Edi Garvey show their allegiances during batting practice. (Brian Kersey/AP)
Baseball's Best: Yanks/Cubs in 1938 World Series

CHICAGO -- At the intersection of Clark and Addison, in front of the entrance to Wrigley Field, 24-year-old Brian Betticker prepares to serve 'em up at the Cubby Cafe. They have beefed up their staff considerably for this three-game series against the Yankees, which bring the Bronx Bombers here for the first time since the 1938 World Series. "We're well-stocked this weekend, and we're ready for something bigger than ever," he says. "I've been a Cubs fan as long as I can remember, since watching Harry on WGN. I don't think it can get any better than this. If we can take two of three, or maybe sweep this series, then it will raise everybody's expectations here even more."

Sharon Pannozzo, the Cubs' director of media relations, is hoping it can get even better. She has fielded more than 300 media requests for this series, more than Opening Day and more like late-autumn. "This is a dry run," she says, grinning and envisioning a 2003 Cubs-Yankees World Series right here. She is on the main concourse inside the front entrance, chatting with Penny Marshall, the actress-turned-director. She is wearing a hat that says: THE BRONX. "You're not rooting for the Yanks, are you?" asks a fan getting her autograph. She smiles one of those mischievous Laverne smiles from her old TV show.

Cub fans are legendary, but so are Yankee fans. So not surprisingly, there appears to be about one Yankee fan for every few Cub fans. It is an overwhelming presence from the club that has the most world championships, which can thank Interleague play for this series against the club that is known for endlessly seeking that elusive world championship.

Jim Nadoleski, his brother Glenn and buddy Matt O'Donnell are standing in raindrops outside the bleachers on Sheffield and Waveland. "We drove from Bayonne, N.J., to Cincy and now here, and (tomorrow) we're going to see (Roger Clemens win) 300," Jim says. They're fresh out of Murphy's pub and loose. "We love baseball and we'll travel anywhere to see the Yanks play. This is history in the making. Now we have to get to our seats. Right where Babe hit it, bay-bee!"

The rooftop seats of 3627 Sheffield are adorned with a Miller Lite billboard just for the occasion, poking fun at the Yanks' payroll: "160 MILLION COULD BUY A LOT OF BEER", it reads. During batting practice, a ball struck by a Yankee, maybe Giambi, bounces on the street. Tony Yaniz dives head-first for it, onto uneven brick pavement. He has the ball, and is bleeding profusely from his arm. "It's the very first ball I've ever gotten at a big-league game, which is why I drew blood to get it," he says. "I guess it was worth it."

Ted Zegarski distracts the crowd drawn to him, hawking souvenirs with a megaphone and wearing a Yankee-colored tall hat and billboard that trashes the visitors. "It's gonna be an unbelievable weekend," Zegarski says. "I've been pre-hawking for four or five days, through the Astros and D-Rays series. It even makes Yankee fans laugh."

Some fans are not laughing at the price of tickets being scalped. And some fans are finding that it pays to keep looking around. A brief investigation into the scalpers' world for this series show that caveat emptor is the operative phrase. "We just got two for $500 each, and they're going for $1500 to three grand," one Cub-decked fan is telling a friend on his cell phone. "That's more than a World Series!"

But 20 yards away, a regular scalper laughs. "Show me the money, then," he says, dismissing reports of grandiose prices. "It's $200 for a good seat in there, about like usual."

It's an hour before game time and the rain is falling hard. The big, blue tarp covers the field. Fans are unfazed, reaching peak frenzy over this event. They grab special T-shirts and pennants that promote this Interleague meeting. Murphy's is spilling over, and allowing new patrons only every 15 minutes because of capacity.

At Sports World, the thronging souvenir store on Addison, a sign in front reads: "We still love you, Sammy!" Fans are buzzing about him. Word is trickling in about his suspension.

At 3:07 p.m., according to the big clock on top of the famous manual scoreboard out in center field, there is a thunderous ovation. The grounds crew has come back out onto the field. The rain has subsided. There is a huge series to be played, the hottest series of the 2003 Major League Baseball season, the first time that the boys from the Bronx have played a game in this park since well before Pearl Harbor was bombed. The play-by-play seems almost like something of a formality to the thousands who have come. A once-unimaginable series has been accomplished.

Carlos Zambrano will throw the long-awaited first pitch to Alfonso Soriano. One of the National League's new stars throwing against one of the American League's new stars. It will get only better from here. It has been a wet start to the series of the year, but, who knows, maybe Pannozzo is right. Maybe this is a dry run.

"It's always our year, and now that it's June we're not about to stop saying that," says Bettiker, the bartender. "Now we have a chance to show it against the guys you always think of when you think of winning. We've been looking forward to this series since the schedule came out last year. Now they're playing. This is just awesome. It's something you can tell your kids and grandkids about."

Mark Newman is a writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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