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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, when the first pitch is thrown today between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies, it marks the start of the 100th professional baseball season at Wrigley Field. It opened in 1914. The Cubs arrived two years later and in all that time the Cubs have never won a World Series. Which leaves just one question: Why? Why do fans keep showing up?

Maybe it's the ivy on the outfield wall or maybe it's the setting. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I'm standing on Waveland Avenue just outside of the ball park, and yes, it's surrounded by bars and restaurants and souvenir shops, but it's also surrounded by single family homes, two flats, three flats and small apartment buildings. And right here, right across the street, is a very busy Chicago firehouse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

CAPT. JOHN GIORDANO: Oh, we love it. It's what makes this firehouse special. That's, you know, why I like working here.

SCHAPER: Captain John Giordano of the Chicago Fire Department's Engine 78 is a life long Cubs fan.

GIORDANO: Fifty years. I used to walk to the ball park when I was a kid. I grew up in Lincoln Square.

SCHAPER: That's a neighborhood about a mile and half from Wrigley, and Giordano remembers coming to every game he could with his buddies when he was young. They were all day games then; Wrigley didn't get lights until 1988. And after the games, kids who stayed to lift up all of the seats and help pick up cups got a free pass to the next day's game.

GIORDANO: You know, people live here. People live right across the street. People come home from work when the games are on. People are walking off the train to go home while people are walking off the train to go to the ball game at the same time.

SCHAPER: Many fans consider Wrigley Field hallowed ground.

RICK REARDON: My spirit, it just lifts when I walk up the steps and I see the field.

SCHAPER: Rick Reardon calls Wrigley a spiritual place. He too has been coming to games here since he was a boy, often with his family. Sitting at Murphy's Bleacher Bar across the street, 54 year old Rick and his 53 year old sister Julianne Reardon reminisce.

JULIANNE REARDON: Crazy Cubs fans, all of 'em.

RICK REARDON: Yeah, crazy, Crazy. My grandparents would drag us out and they'd take their - they'd pack some bizarre food in bags and use the bags for little sun visors.

SCHAPER: With their parents and grandparents now gone, brother and sister they feel their presence in the intimate park, where the fans sit almost on top of the field.

JULIANNE REARDON: It's a pure baseball place. They don't have a lot of signage, they don't have a lot of stuff going on in there. You go there to watch the game.

RICK REARDON: Yeah. We're right on top of the game and it's real baseball.

SCHAPER: Inside Wrigley Field, 73 year old Darrell Windle can barely contain his excitement.

DARRELL WINDLE: I'm overwhelmed. I'm overwhelmed by this stadium every time I come here.

SCHAPER: It's a bitter cold, blustery and rainy day, yet this retired banker who's a longtime usher here doesn't see the clouds of misery.

WINDLE: I see the green grass and I see the scoreboard that's been there since 1937 and I see the rooftops across the way and how unique they are. And look over towards the lake and see the fog rolling in and rolling out. How many ball parks can you see something like that?

SCHAPER: Windle doesn't focus on the failures on the field; what he does see is intergenerational bonds.

WINDLE: Practically every game I will have a father sitting in my section helping his seven year old son keep score. And probably 50 years ago that father who's now helping his son was helped by his father. And it's so neat to see.

SCHAPER: The ball park itself isn't in the greatest shape - part of the outfield brick wall had to be replaced this winter; a few years ago, crumbling concrete fell from the upper deck, and the men's rooms still have troughs instead of urinals. The team's owners want to do a massive renovation of Wrigley Field and put a winning team on the field.

Whether they do or not, Cubs fans, for reasons only we can understand, believe this place is magical - quite remarkable when you consider the last century of Cubs' box scores. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY, HEY, HOLY MACKEREL")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (singing) Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it. The Cubs are on their way. Hey, hey...

INSKEEP: Backing up for a running start, this is NPR News.

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