Wrigley Field

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.

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

The seventh-inning stretch is a sacred tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray passionately performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every home game during his tenure as Cubs radio play-by-play man, previously doing so late in his tenure with the White Sox.

Caray died in 1998 and the Cubs have continued the tradition in his honor ever since, using a rotating cast of celebrities and former players as guest conductors. Last season, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster performed at the Friendly Confines.

Some renditions are more memorable than others, though not in an endearing way like Cookie Monster’s. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon sang 15 years ago Sunday, and not only did he refer to the ballpark as “Wrigley Stadium,” but also was off pace and didn’t really know the lyrics altogether.

Cubs fans showered Gordon with a chorus of boos, to which all he could do was chuckle and finish as fast as possible. 

Singing in front of 40,000 people isn’t easy, so it’s hard to be too tough on those whose appearances go awry. Nevertheless, guest singers know what they’re signing up for. On the anniversary of Gordon’s performance, here are five more of Wrigley’s worst in recent memory.

Mike Ditka — June 5, 1998

Well, Ditka certainly provided some energy. “Da Coach” didn’t take a breath in his 26-second blaring performance; perhaps he was winded from rushing up to the booth, to which he arrived a few moments late.

Ozzy Osbourne — Aug. 17, 2003

This isn’t a ranking of bad performances, but Osbourne sits atop the leaderboard anyhow. The Black Sabbath vocalist started off singing “Let’s go out to the ball game” before breaking into a mumble streak of made-up words. The look on Kerry Wood’s face summarizes things well.

Mr. T — May 25, 2009

It didn’t sound too good, but it sure was enthusiastic. Way to do your thing, Mr. T.

David Cross — Sept. 21, 2013

Hard to say what Cross, a stand-up comedian and actor, was going for here. He starred in three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films and, fittingly, screeched into the mic a couple of times. Maybe it was all in jest? He ended his rendition by saying, “That was awful. I’m so sorry.” 

Scottie Pippen — Oct. 22, 2016

Pippen performed the stretch in the biggest game in Cubs history (at that point) — the pennant-clincher in 2016. The Bulls Hall-of-Famer was on tune to start before mixing up lyrics, then passing the mic to the animated Wrigley crowd. 

We’ll give Pippen a slight pass here, considering he brought six championships to Chicago during his playing days.  

With that, I'll leave you with this:

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New Cubs organist serenades Wrigleyville, gives fans sense of normalcy

New Cubs organist serenades Wrigleyville, gives fans sense of normalcy

Gabriel Dixson was lounging outside of his apartment building across the street from Wrigley Field on Friday evening, when organ music began billowing out of the ballpark.

“We were like, ‘We thought baseball wasn’t starting until July?’” he said.

Dixson was right — the proposal Major League Baseball owners approved Monday targeted an early July start. But with the sounds of baseball absent from the normally bustling Wrigleyville, the Cubs decided to inject some life back into the neighborhood.

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“Wrigley Field, living right next to it, you get used to hearing the organ, hearing the fans and everything like that,” said Dixson, who has lived across the street from the ballpark for about three years. “So, it’s kind of cool to hear it again because it’s been silent, and it’s been so weird.”

At 5 p.m. sharp, John Benedeck, one of three organists the Cubs hired recently to replace the retired Gary Pressy, began his Friday performance with "Hey Hey, Holy Mackerel."

A pair of pugs howled along from outside of Murphy's Bleachers. Christopher Sorley and a group of his fellow bleacher bums staked out the corner of North Waveland and West Kenmore avenues.

“We’re just trying to keep the morale going,” Sorley said, “trying to keep some normalcy in our lives.”

Cubs fans Anne and Steve Lapp sat on the opposite side of the ballpark, after driving in from Rockford.

“The quickest we’ve ever gotten here, man,” Steve said.

They learned about the event from the NBC Sports MyTeams app. When the notification popped up on Steve’s phone, he called to Anne from the shower. It was time for a trip to Chicago.

“This is where we go,” Steve said. “This is where we go for anniversaries and dates.”

Anne chimed in: “Birthdays, Father's Day, Mother’s Day.”

Benedeck played for an hour, serenading Wrigleyville with songs from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to Neil Diamond's “Sweet Caroline.” Listeners congregated around the perimeter of the ballpark, most wearing masks and maintaining a distance of several feet from each other. 

“We’re all looking for a light at the end of the tunnel,” Dixson said. “And this is a little bit of that, so we’ll take it.”

As if on cue, Benedeck launched into the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”

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