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When we swept every series at Wrigley Field

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We always swept the series.

All of this 100th anniversary Wrigley Field talk is reminding me of three wonderful summers I spent as an ``extra man’’ on Pete Marcantonio’s ground crew.

It was 1969. Ernie Banks’ prophecy that ``The Cubs will shine in ‘69’’ was coming true, and fans were flocking to Cubs Park, as we called it then.

That meant the upper deck, which was closed unless there was a big crowd, was open virtually every day. And that meant Pete needed more sweepers to tidy up all of those Coke cups, peanut shells and Ron Santo’s Pizza boxes.

I was a 17-year-old rookie vendor in ’69. When someone mentioned that Pete was looking for ``extra men’’ to help clean the ballpark before and after games, I marched myself down to the groundskeeping workshop, on the outside of the concourse down the left-field line.

Pete looked me up and down, shook his head skeptically and said, ``Aw right. Grab yourself a broom and go up to the upper deck.’’

It was the seventh or eighth inning. We’d finished vending for the day. When the game ended, the foreman gave each of us—we were 10 or 12 strong—a section and we started sweeping.

Push it out to the aisle. Flick it down the steps. Do it again. And again.

But it was nice. We were in the upper deck at Wrigley Field, late in the afternoon, stealing glances at the outfield being mowed, the gleaming scoreboard and the occasional sailboat on Lake Michigan.

Add in the fact that between vending and sweeping, you could basically earn enough to cover out-of-state Big Ten tuition—I was going to go to Wisconsin—and even my intellectual mother stopped scoffing at sports and became a Cub fan.

We were at Wrigley Field from 6 or 7 a.m. to 8 or 10 p.m. It was heaven. During the last few innings—after the vending had stopped but before the sweeping had begun—we were even free to watch the game.

And in those years, 1969 to 1971, the Cubs were quite watchable—at least until school started again in September.

After we’d finished sweeping the upper deck, we went downstairs to rejoin the full-time groundskeepers, who had swept the grandstands—and everyone united for a full-out assault on the box seats.

In 1969, the box seats were still loose chairs. So we ``extra men’’ were given the simple task of pulling the top row of seats onto the main walkway. When that row was swept, the next row of chairs was pulled up. When it was all finished, we moved the top row down to the front row.

The first day I did that, I didn’t have gloves. I had blisters. I always had gloves after that. The point became moot in 1970, when bolted-in chairs were installed.

Along the way, we often swept ``the underneath.’’ This was an intense project because the wind often blew down the steps and up the tunnels that led to the seating areas, wreaking havoc with hot dog wrappers and crushed beer cups.

We traded in our little sweeping brooms for big push brooms—and started down ``the underneath,’’ under the direction of the mercurial Pete Marcantonio himself.

Pete would show us how to flip the broom upside down, how to push in unison with two or three brooms, how to steer clear of the wind pockets.

Didn’t matter. If the wind was blowing hard, the garbage was going everywhere. And Pete was cursing: ``Aw, fer chrissakes!’’

At the end of the day, everyone—``regulars’’ and ``extra men’’ alike—would go out on the field to put the tarp down.

We would go home weary. And get back to the park early in the morning to clean up the bleachers.

One drizzly Sunday morning, we extra men stuck around to help pull off the tarp. In those days, ``22,000 tickets [went] on sale the day of each game.’’

The Cardinals were in town for a doubleheader. Long before gametime, the park was jammed.

As we pulled off the heavy wet tarp, a roar went up from 36,000 voices. For us.

There was no better summer job. Anywhere.

Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field.

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