Two months late, but a century in the making, Louis Reinhart crossed the Wrigley Field grass Sunday and dropped the game ball on the pitcher's mound.
The 100-year-old retired farmer, still too young to have seen the Cubs win a World Series, was supposed to present the umpires with the ball before the April home opener. Nasty Chicago traffic caused the vehicle he was riding in to be late that day, so the club invited him back this weekend.
This time, the highways between his central Illinois home and the North Side ballpark were more hospitable. He assessed the traffic as “not too bad,” and he was in the stadium well in advance of the afternoon’s first pitch in the Cubs-Miami Marlins game.
Reinhart, who lives in Metamora, said he's cheered for the Cubs his whole life. But when his sons wheeled him onto the infield on this breezy June afternoon, it was something different altogether.
“It's the first time I got down on the field like that,” said Reinhart, who sported a Cubs hat, jersey and jacket and whose lap was covered in a team blanket. “I like seeing the players.”
After batting practice, a grinning Reinhart took in the scene from the on-deck circle. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stopped by to take a picture with him and shortstop Starlin Castro, his favorite player on the current roster, signed a ball for him.
Later, team chairman Tom Ricketts greeted Reinhart and said “hopefully we can get you a win.” But it was the Marlins who took a 4-3 victory.
The game was something of a reunion for the Reinhart clan of Cubs fans. Dozens of relatives and friends gathered on the field for a pregame photo.
Roger Reinhart, one of his sons, said his dad brought him up a Cubs fan and reminisced about watching Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. His father, who shares a birth year with the Cubs’ ballpark, was supposed to be part of Opening Day festivities honoring the stadium’s centennial. Though he arrived too late for the pregame program that day, he did get to the park in time to watch the game.
When his father found out the team was having him back to the stadium for another go at delivering the ball to the mound, Roger Reinhart said, it was welcome news.
“He was real excited,” the son said. “It’s probably an opportunity he didn’t think he’d have.”
As the family mugged for the cameras before Sunday’s game, the guest of honor's wheelchair was, rather appropriately, stationed on the “100” logo behind home plate commemorating the ballpark's centennial.
A few minutes later, it was time Louis Reinhart’s big moment. As the public address announcer welcomed him to the field, he deposited a fresh baseball on the well-raked dirt, a smile beaming from his face.
“Not too many people have the opportunity to live to be 100,” Roger Reinhart said, “let alone go on Wrigley Field when they are 100.”