Cubs Give Foul Ball Explosive Send-Off

Friday, February 27th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Die-hard Chicago Cubs fan Dave Kunicki watched as the baseball many blame for the team's playoff failure last year was reduced to a pile of thread.

He wasn't impressed.

``To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed,'' Kunicki said. ``It was a little overhyped. But only in Chicago would fans care enough about their team for this to happen.''

The ball was blown up Thursday night by a Hollywood special effects expert in a flash of light and sparks inside a bulletproof tank. The stunt was broadcast live on television from inside a tent at Harry Caray's Restaurant, but some fans who gathered on the street outside didn't have much of a view.

``All of a sudden it was bang, bang and it was over. But it's still exciting to be here,'' said Kim Hoffman of Hinkley.

To celebrate the ball's destruction, some fans wore replicas of the thick, black-framed glasses worn by Caray, the famous Cubs' broadcaster. Most held up a beer to toast Caray, who died in 1998, and sang ``Take Me Out to the Ball Game'' just before the ball was obliterated.

Kathy Kemulcahy of Glendale Heights said now that the ball is gone and its curse is lifted, it's time to talk about the upcoming season.

``I'm very relieved,'' Kemulcahy said. ``It's done, and now we're going to the World Series.''

Ward Tannerhauser, who stood above the crowd on stilts dressed as Wrigley Field's ivy outfield, also was optimistic about the season. He hopes he can paint his green leafy costume red in the fall if the Cubs make it to the World Series.

``It's going to be a great year for the Cubs. They have the best pitching,'' Tannerhauser said. ``And I'm hoping that in the fall, I change to red to match the (ivy) wall as it turns colors. Red means World Series.''

The Cubs almost got there last year.

With Chicago leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 on Oct. 14 and just five outs from their first World Series appearance since 1945, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached for the ball hit toward his front-row seat at Wrigley Field, knocking it away from left fielder Moises Alou. The Cubs then gave up eight runs to the Marlins, and squandered another lead in Game 7 the next night.

Bartman, who has made no public statements since issuing an apology in October, didn't plan to attend Thursday's event, a family friend said.

In its final hours, the ball was put on display, given a massage and treated to a ``last meal'' of steak and lobster, or at least the aroma.

Grant DePorter, who helped buy the ball at an auction for $113,824 on behalf of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group, lined up hours of music, comedy and celebrity appearances for Thursday's event.

DePorter also teamed up with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and made the event a fund-raiser, which was expected to raise $1 million.

``This is the kind of thing that makes dads sleep better,'' said Ron Rhode, a foundation board member, whose 10-year-old daughter has diabetes. ``We're one step closer to a cure now and all this is over a little ball.''