What surely was one of the best days of Chris Warren’s life had all the makings of being his worse.
Warren, 46, of Princeton was all set to go for a bucket-day experience to meet his favorite Chicago Cub, Ryne Sandberg at Wrigley Field, thanks to a contest his sister, Mandy O’Conner, won.
However, the day didn’t go quite as planned.
On the way to meeting his sister at the train station in Mendota, Warren’s car overheated and he missed the train.
No problem, he thought, he’d just drive to Aurora and catch the Metra. He stepped outside of his car and shortly afterward got mugged.
“I was standing out in the boonies and somebody stuck something in my back and said, ‘Give me your wallet,’” he said.
By the time he got done calling the police and talking to them, he missed the train again.
“I said, ‘Hell, I’m an hour and 15 minutes from Wrigley Field. I might as well just drive,’” he said. “It was like somebody was trying to stop me from going. It really was.”
He called his sister to tell her what had just happened and said he was still on his way.
“She was like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re going to miss this.’ I said, ‘Nope, I ain’t going to get stopped. I’ve got to get there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,’” he said.
Warren made it to Wrigley without further incident and met up with O’Conner and the rest of the group who were taking part of the American Airlines Bucket List experience.
He got to meet former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, who now is an ambassador for the club, in the visitors clubhouse. Dempster is his next favorite Cub after Sandberg.
Warren relayed a story to Dempster that he was the first autograph Warren’s son, Michael, ever got.
“Ryan signed his glove that day and I told him, ‘You got to sign my hat so I can give to him,’” Warren said.
The group made their way out of the clubhouse and down the stairs that lead to the long and winding path to the dugout and field. Warren filmed their trip and took it all in.
“I’m walking down and I’m thinking, ‘How many Hall of Famers, Gold Glovers, you know, just people who have walked down these stairs,’” said Warren, who posted a video clip of the moment on his Facebook page.
“I closed my eyes and I was just imagining things, and thought, ‘Wow, I’m right there.’”
Warren’s big moment still lay ahead with the anticipated meeting with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg. However, the jinx he encountered at the start of the day followed him to Wrigley Field.
Their tour guide did not have keys for the dugout door, delaying their arrival to the field. Warren knew their time allotted with Sandberg was slipping away.
“I’m thinking, ‘You all better figure out how to open the door, because I’m going to figure a way to get around it,’” he said with a laugh.
A security guard rescued them with a key to the dugout, and when Warren made it out to the field and saw Sandberg, it might as well have been heaven.
Warren said he didn’t keep his composure very well when he met the famous Cub.
“I was shaking like you wouldn’t believe. I was trying to hold myself together,” he said. “I’ve got every card of his I could get. I’ve got T-shirts, pictures, everything else Ryno. I used to play second base and I was always Ryno.
“It was spectacular. I walked up to him and told him, ‘You’ve been my idol growing up.’”
Warren showed Sandberg the rookie card he’s had of the Cubs Hall of Famer for 25 years, seeking to have it autographed. Sandberg had other ideas.
“He looked at this, and said, ‘Where’d you get this? I haven’t seen one of these for years. I might have to keep this,’” Warren said.
Even though they had run out of time, Sandberg made sure he signed Warren’s card and played a quick game of catch with him.
“He went up and above what he should have,” said Warren, adding he saw Sandberg make a personal video for a young girl on his way through the stands.
The World Series rings that both Sandberg and Dempster wore left a big impression.
“I got to touch the rings. Those thing are huge,” Warren said. “They have to put them on their pointer finger, because they’re too big for any other finger. They’re the size of golf balls almost.”
Warren, who also entered the American Airlines contest, was glad he got to share the day with his sister and thanked her for taking him along for the ride.
“She was the one who won the contest, but she was more excited about me getting to go,” he said. “I made my sister become a Cub fan. She never liked baseball, but now she’s tuned into it. She told Ryne, ‘I’ve been a Cub fan ever since he made me like baseball.’”
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at email@example.com.