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Cubs fans rejoice at home opener: ‘High holy day in baseball’s cathedral’

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Tim Samson wore a furry bear jacket over his Chicago Cubs jersey.

“It’s not a costume, it’s just a coat,” Samson, 42, insisted.

He just spent the weekend in Texas, watching the Cubs’ three-game series against the Rangers. Monday morning, he took a flight back to Chicago and went straight to Wrigley Field for the team’s home opener. It’s his 20th home opener.

“Cubs fans are just a whole different level,” Samson said. “We have a great time, win or lose.”

The streets of Wrigleyville were buzzing with excitement for the opener Monday. Under overcast skies was a bustling sea of red and blue as eager fans crowded into the ballpark.

The Cubs’ opener is a holiday of sorts in Wrigleyville, fans said. And Wrigley Field — the second oldest park in the major leagues — always exudes history and tradition.

“We call it a high holy day in baseball’s cathedral,” Dave Winfrey, 64, said. He’s been to every home opener for the past 30 years.

The threat of rain loomed — most forecasts called for showers by around 3 p.m. The game, against the Colorado Rockies, was slated for a 1:20 p.m. start.

But were fans concerned? For most, the answer was a resounding “meh.”

“If it happens, it happens,” Winfrey said.

“Eh,” said Anish Gauri, 45, walking into the ballpark. “We’ve had opening days snowed out, rained out, we’ve seen it all.”

Jim Efting, along with his wife Liz, drove four hours from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to cheer on the team. He remembers watching his first Cubs game 60 years ago on WGN-TV.

“Being in Wrigley, there’s no better place to watch the game, because you feel like you’re so close to the team,” Jim Efting, 65, said. “The environment is just great.”

The couple met 30 years ago. Luckily, they both were avid Cubs fans — for Liz Efting, that’s a deal-breaker.

“Some people can’t date a smoker. I can’t date a non-Cubs fan,” she said with a laugh.

The smell of hot dogs, beer and other ballpark staples lingered in the air. Crowds inside nearby bars spilled onto the sidewalk. One man braved the streets in a St. Louis Cardinals jersey, and was met with a chorus of boos from passersby.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Chavez walked into Wrigley Field in a head-to-toe Cubs uniform. Over his shoulder, he hauled a shining gold championship belt — a tribute to his beloved team, he said.

“Everybody here is just, like, a diehard fan,” said Chavez, an Oak Park resident. “There’s just such excitement. Every time you hear the word ‘Cubs,’ everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god.’”

The 34-year-old was born with a congenital heart defect. He was given only a slim chance of survival, he said, and his childhood was marked by major surgeries.

“I would watch the Cubs and it would motivate me,” Chavez said. “I just started loving them more and more. They’re like my safety blanket.”

In Gallagher Way park, adjacent to the field, Blake Wirht played catch with Burt, his 7-year-old son. Burt scampered across the lawn with a mitt as he chased after the baseball.

“I think we’re gonna win,” said Burt, sporting a Cubs jersey.

The pair moved to the area two years ago, but they’ve quickly adopted the spirit of the team.

“The tradition is great, and everyone is so friendly here,” Wirht, 50, said. “It’s a perfect Opening Day.”