How two Wrigley Field seats found a home in NASCAR driver Kurt Busch's yard

How two Wrigley Field seats found a home in NASCAR driver Kurt Busch's yard

Kurt Busch carried a cup of coffee to his back yard last Thursday, his eyes scanning the lake just beyond his putting green. He headed toward a pair of green stadium seats, numbered 107 and 108.

The previous weekend, Busch had finished third in NASCAR’S first race since the coronavirus shutdown. But when Busch returned to Darlington Raceway a few days later, he skidded to a 15th place finish. The next morning, it was time to decompress in his retired Wrigley Field seats.

“Those are my inspiration chairs,” Busch told NBC Sports Chicago.

Last week, NASCAR became one of the first American sports to return from the coronavirus pandemic hiatus. Busch has been posting race updates since then, but one Twitter video stood out: a shot of his Wrigley field seats.

“I felt compelled to show everybody a bit more of my daily life after a race,” Busch said, “and my Wrigley Field chairs have always been my place of relaxation.”

As for how the seats came to be in his back yard in the first place, the short version is, they were a gift from Busch’s friend Steve Farmer three years ago. But that explanation doesn’t do the whole story justice.

Busch grew up in Las Vegas, but he had family ties to the Chicago suburbs. When Busch got home from middle and high school, and his parents were still at work, he’d position himself in front of the television, flipping through his family’s limited channels.

“Soap opera,” he said, miming the routine. “Soap opera. Soap opera. Cubs game. Something else. And I’m like, well, these Cubs must be good. They’re on TV every day.”

Busch’s fandom blossomed thanks to that TV, but he was in his 20s when he experienced his first game at Wrigley Field. Busch and a friend circled a Brewers game in between races. Next step, picking their seats.

“I want a cheap ticket,” Busch said, “I want to work my way up. I know I’m going to be coming back to Wrigley many a time.”

They arrived early, in time for a half-priced beer, and headed to the bleachers.

“Just walking up those steps,” Busch said, “and just stopping right at the top and hearing the organ play, batting practice was going on, I melted. It was one of the most iconic feelings that I’ll always remember.”

Busch’s prediction came true; he did come back to Wrigley frequently. Eventually Farmer, an Illinois native, would join him on some of those trips, most memorably during the 2015 NLCS. Busch and Farmer first bonded through their Cubs fandom, and now they’ve been friends for over a decade.

“He had a mission too,” Farmer said. “He wanted to go see all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and he always tried to do it where he could get in when the Cubs were playing.”

The Cubs organization embraced Busch. He led the 7th inning stretch in 2011, doing his best Harry Caray impression as he sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” In 2017, Busch brought the Daytona 500 trophy to Spring Training, and the Cubs invited him to take part in batting practice.

Even after working his way up, both in seat location and connection to the organization, Busch held onto his first experience in the bleachers. Whenever he takes someone to their first Wrigley Field game, he instructs them to take it all in: the smells, the sounds, the feeling. Pause at the top of the stands, even if it means being the “obnoxious fan” who people have to maneuver around.

Busch sits somewhere different every time he goes to Wrigley, he said. The best seat? Five rows up, behind home plate, for Game 5 of the 2016 World Series.

“It was the most epic feeling ever,” Busch said. “Even if I was in section 400, I was just there. … I don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to top that.”

Busch also had the opportunity to see Game 7 in person. But instead, he stayed home with his soon-to-be wife. It was the middle of the week, and Busch was preparing for a race. But his jeweler was also scheduled to deliver the couple’s wedding bands that day.

“I felt 100 percent confident that the Cubs were going to win it without me there,” Busch said. “… and (with) that symbolic value of commitment, of letting the Cubs do their thing and showing love to my wife, that I did my part to bring home that Game 7 win.”

Later, Ashley Busch surprised her husband with a Cubs World Series ring.

Kurt and Ashley were married on Jan. 7, 2017, a date that would come to mind when Farmer asked Busch which Wrigley Field seats he'd be interested in.

“What do you get the guy that’s got everything?” Farmer said.

The answer came thanks to Wrigley Field renovations. The Cubs put retired seat sets up for sale in 2017, and season ticket holders had a chance to purchase them before the general public. Farmer had a friend who was a lifelong season ticket holder.

Busch put in some thought before choosing the perfect pair of seats: 107, for his wedding anniversary and 108 for 108 years between Cubs World Series victories.

“There’s a lot of energy within those chairs,” Busch said. 

This Memorial Day Weekend, Busch channeled that energy into a strong start. After visiting his Wrigley chairs during the week, Busch won the pole position for the Coca-Cola 600, his first pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Cubs' David Ross waiting for COVID-19 test result, won't attend Monday's workout

Cubs' David Ross waiting for COVID-19 test result, won't attend Monday's workout

Cubs manager David Ross and five other Tier 1 individuals won't attend Monday morning's workout as they wait for Saturday's completed COVID-19 testing results.

The Cubs said the majority of Saturday's results have been reported but Ross and the five other individuals "anticipate further clarity" later on Monday.

“We’ve decided to do the prudent thing so myself and the five others will not attend this morning’s workout,” Ross said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, we think it makes sense for the six of us to wait for clarity. 

"Situations like this have not been a worrisome indicator of a positive test result to date.” 

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The Cubs are the only team in Major League Baseball without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing.

The Cubs pushed back last Tuesday's workout while waiting for their test results from July 5.


Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

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“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs their best chance for success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”