WRIGLEY FIELD — The clangs of metal bats replaced the wood cracks typically heard at Wrigley Field on Monday, as Chicago high school kids got to borrow the city’s most famous field to decide their city champion.
For Lane Tech starting pitcher Josh Katz, it was about staying focused despite the famous surroundings.
“I told myself, ‘Stay in the moment, just throw a strike and get the job done,’” the junior said. “I saw the bleachers and kind of that smell of walking into Wrigley Field. It was incredible.”
Katz made his moment — and his day off of school — count. Before throwing the game’s final pitch, he took a second to soak it all in. Then he polished off a 114-pitch complete game to best Brooks College Prep, 2-1, for the city championship.
It’s the first time since 2018 that the Chicago Public High School League hosted its baseball championship at Wrigley Field because the pandemic restricted access to the Friendly Confines and the White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field, said CPS sports communications manager Joey Gelman. The game will once again rotate between Wrigley and the Guaranteed Rate.
Students, parents, supporters and educators walked into Wrigley on Monday and got a free pick of any seat. Headshots of the players towered above the field on the video board, and instant replays ran like they would after a Seiya Suzuki home run or a Kyle Hendricks payoff pitch.
Cubs videographer Kelly O’Malley lugged around his usual camera as kids clamored to be on the jumbotron.
“You can see the joy on these kids’ faces, maybe it’s their first time here, and they’re all just smiling and waving,” O’Malley said. “It’s a high school game, but the staff tries to treat it as much as possible like a Cubs game.”
Brooks cheerleader Tanyia McClure said she’d never been to Wrigley before Monday’s championship. She was now sitting in the first rows near home plate.
“It’s a really fun experience, because I was on the jumbotron and everything,” McClure said. “I haven’t been interested in baseball, but I’m going to start coming because of this.”
In the seats down the opposing baseline, Lane junior Ljubo Pejovic wore a hat shaped like a squid and goofed off with his friends. The two sizable crowds agreed only on booing mutual rival Whitney Young.
“I’m just here having fun. I haven’t been able to come to Wrigley in 10 years,” said Pejovic, pointing up to his old seats in the nosebleeds. “Today I just feel the Lane spirit.”
Drew Henderson brought his wife and two young daughters to the game, and wore his Cubs’ Javier Báez jersey, “because it just felt right,” Henderson said. Lane first baseman Jack Tzur gets his haircut at Henderson’s barbershop.
“I just wanted to come out and support, because we’re all a community out here,” Henderson said. “Baseball is one of those sports in high school where you don’t have a lot of people come out, but at Wrigley, it’s the proper platform for these kids. They get a taste of that high of playing in the bigs.”
Lane catcher Zach Shashoua said he’s been best friends with his pitcher, Katz, “since basically birth.” The two grew up playing together in Hamlin Park. Sharing a hug with Katz in the middle of Wrigley Field after the win was “indescribable,” Shashoua said.
“When we first walked out here on the field it was surreal. But you can’t let the moment get too big for you,” Shashoua said. “We’re just playing baseball.”
Lane players raised the trophy and second baseman Nick Lagges brought his grandma onto the field.
“It was awesome. I saw she was tearing up a little bit, that made an impact on me,” Lagges said. “Of course there’s butterflies when you’re playing at Wrigley.”
The Brooks players got a final round of applause from their fans who made the South-to-North Side trip. Sergio Ayala, dad of Brooks infielder Andy Ayala, continued to hold up his sign as Lane celebrated: “Ese Es Mijo” — That’s My Son.
A lifelong Cubs fan, Sergio Ayala said he’s proud to have watched his son play at Wrigley.
“This is amazing, I’ve never felt this way before,” Ayala said. “I’m going to tell him I love him.”
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