With cursed ball gone, it's the year of the Cubs

Posted: Friday, February 27, 2004

CHICAGO In a flash, the ball that came to symbolize the Chicago Cubs' cursed history was blown up Thursday night, reduced to a pile of thread by a Hollywood special effects expert.

Hundreds of fans sang ''Take Me Out to the Ball Game'' before the ball the foul fly touched by Steve Bartman in last October's playoffs was obliterated.

Bartman had not been expected to attend the event, held in a tent outside Harry Caray's Restaurant. Some fans were decked out in Cubs gear, others wore replicas of the famous broadcaster's signature glasses and one man was covered in ivy.

''I feel it's finished, it's done and we're ready to move on and now I'm ready to play ball,'' fan Jessica Scroggin said.

The stunt was designed by Oscar winner Michael Lantieri, who worked on ''Jurassic Park'' and ''Back to the Future.''

''We're using a combination of pressure, heat and explosives in this bulletproof tank to destroy that ball so it will not resemble a ball at all when we're finished,'' Lantieri said earlier.

Because the explosive send-off came outside in a tent, some fans missed it.

''I'm somewhat disappointed, it was a little anticlimactic for us,'' Adam Fluck said.

Whether the ball was possessed by the curse that legend says afflicts the Cubs or not, fans were happy to see it go. To some, the destruction is a sign of the good things to come this season.

''I think it's very appropriate, it's symbolic of a new beginning,'' Rachel Cannon said.

Cubs fans are ready to move on from the infamous moment.

With the Cubs leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 in Game 6 of the NL championship series and just five outs from their first World Series appearance since 1945, Bartman reached for the ball hit by Luis Castillo.

From his front-row seat at Wrigley Field, Bartman deflected the ball 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.

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.

''It's like the ring from 'The Lord of the Rings' and we're kind of like Frodo, trying to get it over with,'' Deporter said.

Bartman, who has made no public statements since issuing an apology in October. He did not plan to attend, a family friend said.

So much has been made of the ball's fate that even German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, was aware that something was happening involving the Cubs, if perhaps a bit confused about what.

''I very much hope that thing about the National League championship is going to play out the way you want it to,'' he said.

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