The right-field gate opened, and as Erv Schreiber stepped onto the crushed dirt track at Wrigley Field, a wall of sound struck him.
Nearly 41,000 fans screamed, whistled and clapped, gathered in cathartic celebration to once again recognize the Chicago Cubs first World Series title since 1908. The team would receive their championship rings that night, presented to them by Schreiber and 19 other diehard fans.
But as they made their way into the stadium for the ceremony April 12, the group found themselves caught in the middle of the joyous maelstrom.
“It was surround sound,” the 86-year-old southside Indianapolis resident said. “To see all of these fans up and clapping, all these happy faces. When they say ‘homefield advantage,’ I know what they mean now.”
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Schreiber, dressed in a commemorative jersey with “Ringbearer” across the shoulders printed in gold, presented a championship ring to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The ceremony was yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience in a year that’s been full of them for Cubs fans.
Schreiber had been chosen for the honor by the team after his grandson, Paul Schreiber, created a short video outlining his fandom. Grandfather and grandson traveled together to Chicago the morning of April 12, and the opportunity to have this experience together made it that much more memorable.
“He’s why I’m a fan. It was a lot less to do with the thrills of the event and more watching him, knowing the 80 years of sticking with something and not getting anything from it,” Paul Schreiber said. “To finally kind of have that happen and share it with him, to have a special celebration to cap it all off, there were a lot of onions being cut all day long.”
On the second floor of Schreiber’s home is the “Cubs Cave,” a temple to the team that’s meant so much to him over the years. Everything is emblazoned in the iconic C logo of the Cubs — blankets, mugs, decals.
Panoramic views of Wrigley Field are mounted on the wall. Framed photographs of his trips to Wrigley Field cover the walls. An inscribed brick from the paver walkway around Wrigley Field and a mug full of ticket stubs are all arranged around a framed autographed jersey of Ron Santo, the Hall of Fame third baseman.
“That’s the treasure there,” Erv Schreiber said.
Set on a small table is a bottle of champagne with a commemorative Cubs label. A friend had given it to him in 1984, when it looked like the team would finally be making it back to the World Series before ultimately losing in the National League Championship Series to the San Diego Padres.
Erv Schreiber had held on to it all these years, waiting for a reason to celebrate. When the team clinched Game 7 in November, he popped the plastic cork, poured it into plastic cups and took a sip.
“We could hardly get the wire around the cork open. There was no pop, no fizz. But Paul said, ‘Grandpa, we have to have a toast.’ So we got three glasses, and it was like vinegar,” Erv Schreiber said. “And yet, I said it was the sweetest drink I ever had.”
Growing up in the 1930s, Erv Schreiber became hooked on the Cubs as a young boy. He would listen to games on WGN radio, following along with every pitch.
He would make his own scorecards to keep track of the game, and spread out on his family’s living room floor. The day after a game, he would get his family’s copy of the Chicago Tribune, and cut out action photos and box scores to keep in a scrapbook.
When he was 8 years old, Erv Schreiber attended his first game at Wrigley Field. His father took him to see the Cubs play the Cardinals as centerfielder Hank Leiber slugged three home runs that afternoon.
He had gone through decades of small victories and ultimate heartache before reaching the pinnacle of fandom last year.
“You want to know what faith, patience and hope looks like? Here it is. I’m a Cubs? fan,” he said. “I hung in there. If you’re going to root for the team, you have to go all the way, with all of the ups and downs. Eventually, it will pay off.”
In the winter, the Cubs presented fans with the opportunity to be part of the World Series ring ceremony. Organizers asked fans to submit videos — no more than 1 minute long — on Twitter illustrating what the championship meant to them.
The team would select the 20 most impactful stories and invite those fans to be on the field on April 12, presenting the rings to players and coaches.
Paul Schreiber, a 2005 Center Grove graduate who works as a video content producer for BLASTMedia public relations agency in Fishers, asked his grandfather if he could make a video of him for the contest.
“With his story, and with how likeable and magnetic he is, and his history of loyalty and passion, it was everything he was asking for,” Paul Schreiber said. “If I couldn’t get him to win, maybe I should find a new career.”
Erv Schreiber had already become a viral sensation after a video of him celebrating the World Series win circulated in November. In the video, he sheds tears and hugs everyone around him as he repeats “I got to see ’em win it!”
The final submission focuses on the different items in the Cubs Cave, and the memories Erv Schreiber has of the team over the years.
“The most difficult part was getting it to one minute long, taking all of his history he has and passion for the team, and boil it down,” Paul Schreiber said. “Otherwise, it was pretty easy to point the camera at him and let people see him shine.”
Despite the moving message of the video, Erv Schreiber wasn’t confident in his chances of winning.
“Just think of all of the Cubs fans throughout the country. What chance did I have?” he said.
But in March, the family gathered together around Erv Schreiber’s dining room table and presented him with a letter with a Cubs letterhead. He had been chosen to be one of the ringbearers.
“It didn’t even dawn on me the first time I read it. They yelled at me to read it again, and then it hit me. You’ve got to be kidding me,” Erv Schreiber said.
The month leading up to the ring presentation ceremony was a blur, as he was interviewed by numerous television stations and news outlets. He became a media sensation, dubbed “Grandpa Erv.”
On the day of the game, Erv and Paul Schreiber traveled to Wrigley Field, where Cubs representatives brought them into the ballpark and prepared them for the fanfare.
“He was joking that he’d hire me as his agent or handler, because all of these news crews had fallen in love with him, so there were multiple crews that made it up to Chicago, and I was trying to coordinate when everyone wanted to meet up with him,” Paul Schreiber said. “It was kind of funny.”
Leading up to the game, they toured the field, looking at renovations done to Wrigley and taking in the aura. Erv Schreiber received a commemorative jersey and hat, and after grabbing a hamburger at a nearby restaurant, they gathered back for the ceremony.
Walking around Chicago, people actually recognized Erv Schreiber from the viral video of him celebrating after the World Series.
“One of the comments was, ‘Grandpa Erv, you gave us an opportunity to know what it would have been like if our grandfather had been alive.’ That was humbling to me, to think that, here I was, getting to experience it live that they won after all of these years,” he said. “And now that I have the opportunity to share that joy with all of these other people, who didn’t even know me.”
As they waited for the festivities to start, Erv Schreiber was able to meet some of the other fans chosen to be ringbearers. One was a 90-year-old man who he bonded with over the memory of the game-winning homer hit by Gabby Hartnett in 1938. Another was a young woman with spina bifida who plays baseball in a league for children with disabilities.
Together, they gathered with the team to pass out the rings.
“After all of those years, to be on the field and see all of these players. To be part of the whole thing was really awesome,” Erv Schreiber said.
The mementos from that night, including pins, the hat and the jersey, have been carefully arranged in the Cubs Cave. The intense rush of the evening has mellowed out into more of a glow. Erv Schreiber knows that it’s something he’ll never be able to forget.
“I kind of come down from cloud nine a little bit, and then someone asks me a question or wants to talk about it, and all of the excitement builds up. I’ll take every minute of it,” he said.
Home: Southside Indianapolis
Favorite Cubs player: Ron Santo
Earliest memory of the Cubs: “When I was 3 or 4, I remember listening to the Cubs on WGN radio sitting in the living room floor.”
First trip to Wrigley Field: July 4, 1939; the Cubs lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4.