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Cubs fans celebrate in Cleveland: 'We've been waiting a long time'

By Patrick O'Connell / Chicago Tribune • Nov 3, 2016 at 11:19 AM

With each extra-inning out, Cubs fans from the box seats to the bleachers held their breath.

One out.

Was it really going to happen? In blue Cubs caps and "W" tattoo stickers on their cheeks, they waited, biting nails and gasping for air.

Two outs.

Fans throughout a soggy Progressive Field braced themselves, leaned on friend's shoulders, turned giddy with nervous anticipation.

When the ball landed in Anthony Rizzo's glove at 12:45 a.m. in Ohio, it all came pouring out: 108 years worth of elation.

"Oh, my God! They did it!" fans yelled in the din of Progressive Field early Thursday morning in Ohio as the Cubs charged the mound to celebrate what for decades had been so painfully elusive: a World Series championship.

"I'm having trouble still believing it," said Bob Ashby, 52, of LaGrange, as he watched the celebration on the field from beyond the right field fence.

Nearby, John Kerpiniotis wept and embraced his friend, tears streaming down his face. He was wearing the jersey that belonged to his brother Pete, who died six months ago.

"I've been thinking about him the whole time," Kerpiniotis said. "It means the world. One hundred and eight years? We've been waiting a long time."

In the upper deck, Laurie Holmes, a longtime Cubs fan who was standing directly behind Steve Bartman on that fateful night in 2003 at Wrigley Field, couldn't miss a chance to see the title drought come to an end.

"I hope Steve Bartman is somewhere in here tonight, not looking at all like Steve Bartman, because he deserves to see a championship," Holmes said.

After the final out, fans from the box seats to the bleachers unfurled W flags. They chanted "Go Cubs Go" and danced in the aisles. They hung their feet over the outfield fence, yelling and screaming.

"I know it's cliche, but I always think they're going to blow it. There's always another shoe that drops. This is the first time that shoe hasn't dropped."

The Brown clan was among the thousands of Cubs fans who made the trip to northeast Ohio for Wednesday night's game against the Indians, ramping up for a day many had been dreaming about for a lifetime.

"I said I wanted to see the Cubs win the World Series before the good Lord takes me, so here I am with my grandson and my son," Tom Brown, 84, said as he rested beneath the Progressive Field marquee near the home plate gate.

Brown, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and now lives in Lincoln, Neb., shelled out $8,000 for the three tickets. He and his son, Jeffrey, and grandson Patrick left the Kansas City, Mo., area at 3 a.m. Tuesday, boarded a flight to Detroit, rented a car and stayed the night in Toledo, Ohio, before heading to Cleveland. It was worth it, they said.

"I decided I don't really have the money, but we're going," Tom Brown said. "I sold a little stock."

With the excitement level rising with each tick of the clock at the iconic Tower City Center, aglow in red and blue spotlights, fans made their way to the ballpark.

In one of the plazas between a busy East 4th Street and the stadium, Indians fans mobbed actor Charlie Sheen as he exited a black SUV, on his way to a rally to pump up the local fans. Sheen played fictional Indians pitcher Ricky Vaughn, nicknamed "Wild Thing," in the baseball movie "Major League."

Sheen had been angling to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before one of the Series games in Cleveland, but the Indians selected former stars, including Jim Thome for Game 7.

That didn't stop Sheen from high-fiving surprised Tribe fans, then giving an expletive-filled speech to the crowd.

"It's the wrong night to be from Chi-Town!" Sheen said. He criticized the Indians for bypassing him, then said it was going to be Cleveland's night on the field.

The plaza beyond the left-field gate was a popular gathering spot for fans, many who didn't have tickets to the game but wanted to soak in the moment.

Ryan Koehneke, 41, of St. Charles, drove to Cleveland on Tuesday and was searching for a ticket on the street after attending Game 6. A few moments before, someone nearby beat him to a pair of standing-room tickets.

"We're hoping for a miracle, man," Koehneke said. "We're hoping for magic."

As Corey Kluber delivered the first pitch, Indians and Cubs fans stood and cheered. Cubs fans made their presence known early, erupting from the box seats to the nosebleeds when Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run. Cubs fans appeared to make up close to half of the fans in the stands.

And this was an unprecedented moment not to be missed for loyal Cubs fans.

"I lived at Wrigley Field as a kid," Tom Brown said. In the 1940s, he'd buy a bleacher ticket for 25 cents. He said he once got in trouble for skipping school to attend a Cubs home opener. As a baseball-crazed teenager, he scurried for the latest editions of the newspapers, scouring the box scores and memorizing player statistics. His favorite Cubs are Ernie Banks and Phil Cavarretta — "He was a hell of a first baseman."

He said he's been a die-hard fan for 72 years.

Most Cubs fans were not alive the last time the team won the National League pennant, in 1945, let alone when the team won its last championship in 1908, facts not lost on the waves of fans who headed to the ballpark, giddy anticipation apparent on their faces. Indians fans have been long-suffering as well, the team's last title coming in 1948.

"As far as the game tonight, let the best team win," Brown said.

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