Few expected the Northwestern baseball experience at Wrigley Field to be anything but underwhelming. The team struggles to combat its reputation for mediocre play. And coach Paul Stevens – the widely respected head coach in his 26th season – oversees the difficult situation in Evanston. Rocky Miller Park fails to attract consistently high attendance or energy.
As with many sports at Northwestern, student apathy runs high. The results are iffy. The decision to hold even one game in hallowed Wrigley Field seemed odd. Next to the excitement of Wrigley football, this was the sideshow at best. But I went anyways. It cost seven dollars. At first, nothing about the game was particularly special.
The decent turnout was a bit surprising given the 38-degree temperature at first pitch, which only sunk as the game progressed. The anthem performer held the word "free" for about 10 seconds—an impressive feat. Yet this simple Northwestern baseball game provided fans–and NU lovers–with an excellent experience on several counts.
I should begin by praising the team, which demonstrated passion befitting the event. They ran counts. They executed sacrifice bunts. They never succumbed to the inherent pressure of playing at Wrigley Field.
My friend, who played at Wrigley as a youngster, will never forget a single moment. He went 0-for-3 that day, though, with some combination of groundouts and strikeouts. The Wildcats, on Saturday night, showed the poise necessary to win on the big stage.
"I don't know if it gets any better than what I just saw in the last few hours," Paul Stevens told the media (which does not include me in this sport). "I was absolutely mesmerized, and I know our guys were."
They, in fact, dominated a better team behind the pitching of an MLB manager's kid. PR doesn't get any better than this: Luke Farrell, son of Boston Red Sox skipper John, pitched one of the craftiest college games you'll see. The Michigan players–clearly itching to hit home runs–got under just about everything. He wound up with a 90-pitch complete game three-hitter in the 6-0 win.
Perhaps the temperature dipped below freezing. It felt like it. But so many showed up. Announced attendance was a not-bad 4,197.
Several members of the basketball and football teams arrived to support fellow student-athletes. The alumni fan-base, from my perspective, was especially energized. Michigan fans, heckling as always, were quieted with chants of "Scoreboard."
When they responded by asking about football, one NU fan joked: "We didn't even play you in football. I blacked out in the second half. It never happened." No one could slow the Wildcats faithful down.
Was the marching band necessary? Probably not. The cheerleaders? Definitely not. In so many ways, this was an experiment.
Most people stayed until the final out–a blow-by strikeout from Farrell–and the crowd began to celebrate. It wasn't raucous, but it was nice.
NU hopes to truly embrace the "Chicago's Big Ten Team" slogan, and some of those efforts were realized tonight. The team played like this meant something, and the crowd responded. It was fun.
Congratulations to those who set this up, namely Jim Phillips. Congratulations to the team, and to the purple-clad fans who scored the biggest victory of all.
Upon returning home to Evanston, those who made the wrong decision by staying indoors insisted on asking me how the game was.