Stars Share Memories of Wrigley Field

Ballpark opened as Weeghman Park on April 23, 1914

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The sun rises over Wrigley Field in advance of its 100th anniversary celebration on April 23, 2014.

    Wrigley Field is marking the 100th anniversary of its first game on Wednesday with a matchup against Arizona. The ballpark that opened as Weeghman Park on April 23, 1914, has hosted millions of fans and been the scene of some of baseball's most indelible moments as home to the Chicago Cubs.

    Some stars who graced its friendly confines offer their memories:

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    An iconic Chicago franchise won its share at Wrigley Field, and it's the one that Mike Ditka played for and coached.

    The last time a team won a major title at Wrigley, Ditka was a star tight end and the 1963 Bears knocked off the New York Giants 14-10 in the NFL championship game.

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    The Bears also won NFL championship games at Wrigley in 1933, 1941 and 1943.

    Ditka says he has fond memories of the old home, quirks and all. He says "it was a great place" and loved that the fans were so close.

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    There's something comforting to Mike Veeck every time he goes to a baseball game in Chicago. He feels a connection to his dad and grandfather.

    The Veeck family has strong ties on both sides of town. His dad, Bill Veeck Jr., owned the White Sox on two occasions after working for the Cubs. And his grandfather was president of the National League club.

    The Veecks played big roles along with the Wrigleys in shaping the way the game was marketed and presented. Whether it was cleaning up the ballpark and creating a more family-friendly atmosphere or embracing the idea of broadcasting games on radio, they helped transform the fan experience.

    Then there's the ivy. That was Bill Veeck Jr.'s idea.

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    Steve Stone has memories of Wrigley Field, both as a pitcher and as a broadcaster, sitting in the booth next to Harry Caray and later next to Caray's grandson, Chip.

    As a broadcaster, he saw firsthand what a huge Cubs fan the elder Caray was. When he returned to the booth after suffering a stroke in 1987, Caray got a call from President Ronald Reagan while he was on the air.

    Just as Reagan launched into a story about his wife and her connection to Chicago, Caray cut him off to say that Bobby Dernier had just hit a bunt single. Then he hung up the phone.

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    For Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, the most important event at Wrigley Field didn't occur between the foul lines — it happened in the center field bleachers.

    Ricketts and his siblings were at a game against the Braves in July 1991 when he met his wife, Cecelia.

    He says the two just started talking. Twenty years later, they have five children.

    Ricketts lived across the street in an apartment at the corner of Addison and Sheffield with his brother Peter.

    And he says his bond with the Cubs really started to take hold as a freshman at the University of Chicago in 1984, when the team ended a playoff drought that dated to 1945 and launched a legion of bleacher bums who made Wrigley the place to be.

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    Ryne Sandberg took a seat in the visitors' dugout at Wrigley Field and called it "a home for me."

    The Hall of Famer was back at Wrigley for the Cubs' home opener this year, managing the visiting Philadelphia Phillies and reliving a flood of memories.

    He thought back to the playoff run in 1984, to the charged atmosphere that developed around the ballpark. And he recalled the game that put him in the spotlight.

    That was when Chicago beat St. Louis 12-11 in 11 innings in 1984. Sandberg had five hits and drove in seven runs, crushing tying home runs against Bruce Sutter in the ninth and 10th innings.

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    Ernie Banks remembers it was a scorching day in 1967 at Wrigley Field. He walked into the clubhouse and saw a bunch of teammates dreading the heat when he delivered three famous words: "Let's play two!"

    The way Banks recalls it, everyone in the room thought he'd lost his mind.

    The statement came to define Banks and his enthusiasm for the game.