Fans revel in chance to witness history
Cubs faithful hang on every pitch of Zambrano's milestone
MILWAUKEE -- Carlos Zambrano is known for his fiery fist-pumping, chest-pounding demeanor on the mound. There were about 23,000 Carlos Zambranos in the stands Sunday night.
With every side retired, and then with every out and, finally, with every pitch, the gallery at Miller Park, or "Wrigley North," ignited as Zambrano closed in on the Cubs' first no-hitter since the Richard Nixon administration. They were a part of it.
"It was amazing, just amazing," said Mark Vittorio, 45, of Milwaukee. "The place was electric. It felt just like Wrigley Field, 23,000 come here and support the Cubs, basically less than 24-hours notice, it's amazing."
How electric? Seat-slapping, heart-racing, losing-your-voice electric. On the other hand, it was also an edge of your seat, Hail Mary, don't-jinx-it electric.
"That pins-and-needles feeling," said Rhys McIntyre, who shared the night with his brother, Colin, and father, Bob. "Butterflies in your stomach, unbelievable. You're getting nervous, taking deep breaths."
But these are the Cubs. The black-cat Cubs. The Bartman Cubs. Something had to turn awry. Apparently, the baseball gods let this one slide.
"Being a Cub fan, you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop," Vittorio said. "I was anxious to see it end, always knowing that there was going to be some squeaky hit that just got through that would ruin the no-hitter. It was great to not have that happen."
It's a shame that many Wrigley regulars missed out because of the game's short notice. Hurricane Ike postponed the Cubs-Astros series originally scheduled to be played at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Major League Baseball didn't decide on a neutral site for two of the games until Saturday, with tickets not going on sale until late that night.
"We were going to be home watching the Bears game," Barb Decesare said. "I said, 'No, we've got to go. We've got to go to a Cubs game today.'"
The fact that 23,441 fans -- mostly Cubs supporters -- trekked two or more hours through the rain to see their team win, 5-0, is a testament to how special (or rabid) these fans are. What a reward for their efforts.
"I'm sure a lot of these folks are regulars at Wrigley," said Vittorio, who was at his first game of the season. "But I'm sure that probably more than half of them are folks who can't get tickets now at Wrigley [because they are such hot commodities], and are just glad to be able to see a game."
Calling it a "neutral" site is somewhat incorrect. This was a Cubs home game, even if they batted first. Before the first pitch, you could not spot more than a few people wearing Brewers or Astros gear. There were more Green Bay Packers jerseys.
"Anywhere the Cubs go, it's like this," said Western Illinois University student Matthew Lane, who has one heck of an excuse for not being present for two classes Monday. "It doesn't matter, it could be Houston. It could be in California. It could be in St. Louis. It could be in Comiskey [the White Sox's previous home]. That's what I love about being a Cubs fan."
At least one Brewers fan embraced it, sort of. Russ Salchow watched the Milwaukee-Philadelphia game on a concession-area television until he noticed Zambrano's no-no through five innings and turned his attention to the field. On a day his Brewers got swept in a doubleheader to fall into a tie with the Phillies in the National League Wild Card race, Salchow was forced to watch a rival ace make history at the Brewers' home base.
"I'm going to go a little extreme here, this could be an all-time low as a Brewers fan," Salchow said.
The smart ones not only took it in, but also took home souvenirs. A man snapped still frames of his 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son standing with the scoreboard in the background. The Astros' line read, "000 000 000 001." If only Miguel Tejada hadn't committed that error.
The game won't soon be forgotten.
"Sept. 14, I'll definitely remember the day," Colin McIntyre said as he exited the park.
One month ago, Cubs manager Lou Piniella laughed at a reporter who asked him if this was a team of destiny, 100 years after the franchise's last World Series crown. Anybody who was on hand Sunday night is pondering that same question.
"If this is what this is like," said Lane, amid deafening commotion minutes after the final pitch, "I can't imagine a World Series."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.