Hot Off the Presses: The August edition of Vine Line with Travis Wood
Like most Cubs fans of a certain age, I remember exactly where I was on Aug. 8, 1988.
My family had recently moved to the Dallas area. But despite being a dyed-in-the-wool Braves man (or kid, more accurately) and living in Rangers country at the time, I—along with most of the baseball-loving universe—was glued to WGN’s national broadcast of the Cubs-Phillies game at Wrigley Field.
There wasn’t really much to recommend the series—the North Siders were just 53-66, sitting a distant 13.5 games back of the NL East-leading Metropolitans, and the Phillies were even worse at 48-62. But there was at least one good reason to tune in that night.
At 6:06 p.m., 91-year-old Harry Grossman, a Cubs fan since 1905, flipped a switch, and the brand new Wrigley Field lights flickered to life for the first time. It was a momentous evening. The stadium was packed, a then-record 556 media credentials were issued, the broadcast crew wore tuxedos, and Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams were on hand to throw out the first pitch. Even Morganna the Kissing Bandit made an appearance.
Mind you, night baseball didn’t start off that well for the Cubs. After being nearly blinded by the simultaneous popping of about 40,000 flashbulbs, Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe gave up a long home run over the left-field bleachers on his fourth pitch to Phillies leadoff man Phil Bradley. But in the bottom of the inning, after Cubs outfielder Mitch Webster led off with a single, Ryne Sandberg clubbed a two-run home run off Kevin Gross to give the Cubs the lead.
The night seemed to have everything—except, of course, an ending. Midway through the fourth inning, just as the lights were taking hold at about 8:15 p.m., the game was stopped due to a powerful storm. After a two-hour-and-10-minute delay, home plate umpire Eric Gregg officially called it. As far as the record books are concerned, the first official night game at the Friendly Confines was the Cubs’ 6-4 victory over the Mets the following night.
I’ve mentioned in this space before that the first time I ever visited Wrigley was in 1984, and that I was immediately enthralled. I grew up watching and loving baseball, and had been to my share of ballparks by then—most, unfortunately, of the multi-use, 70s-era, cookie-cutter vintage—but visiting Wrigley Field was like stepping back in time. It seemed shocking, almost quaint, that in the ultra-modern, go-go 1980s, a professional sports venue could still lack an artificial lighting system.
Putting the lights on Wrigley Field was a fascinating journey that took decades to accomplish, and the 25th anniversary seems like the perfect time to revisit it—especially given the Cubs are again working to modernize the soon-to-be 100-year-old park. In the August issue of Vine Line, we take you back to that illuminating evening to examine what the lighting of Wrigley Field meant to the park, the team and the future of the franchise.
We also talk to a significant piece of that future, Cubs lefty Travis Wood, who is having a breakout season in 2013. When Wood was acquired along with Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes (since shipped to the Astros) in December 2011 for set-up man extraordinaire Sean Marshall, it looked like a steal for the Reds. Marshall had a great season in 2012, while Wood bounced between Chicago and Triple-A Iowa. But this season, Wood has solidified his position as one of the best young left-handers in the game, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
Finally, we check in with the voice of the franchise, Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes, now in his 18th season as the play-by-play man for WGN Radio. Hughes has led a charmed professional life, sharing a booth with such broadcasting luminaries as Al McGuire, Bob Uecker and the beloved Ron Santo. He talked to us about his storied career, making the inevitable on-air mistakes and preparing calls for the biggest moments.
If you’re looking for a little illumination, we shine a light on the Cubs organization from the lowest levels of the minor leagues to the Wrigley Field broadcast booth every month. Subscribe to Vine Line, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.