Musick: Snow joke, Wrigley will be ready

CHICAGO –If you love baseball, you’ve heard of Cubs greats Ron Santo and Billy Williams.

How about Chris Fritsche? Have you heard of him?

No? The name doesn’t ring a bell?

Sheesh. And you call yourself a fan.

A funny scene unfolded Monday outside of Wrigley Field, even if no tourists stopped to snap pictures with their cell phones. To the left sat a statue of a young Santo, baseball in hand, ready to snap a throw across the diamond. To the right sat a statue of a lean Williams, following through with his sweet swing, watching a hit take flight.

And in the middle sat the living version of Fritsche, of Wauconda, who parked his semi truck squarely between the statues and waited for his next short-distance haul. He was one of dozens of workers who worked to help prepare the 100-year-old stadium for its April 4 home opener, a massive project that seemed at least as daunting as morphing a last-place team into a World Series contender.

“It’s like Noah trying to get the ark ready in two days,” Fritsche said with a laugh. “That’s about how I would describe it to you, brother.”

Except, instead of loading animals two at a time, Fritsche and his fellow workers spent most of their afternoon unloading piles of snow 30 cubic yards at a time.

Perhaps you’ve heard. It snowed a lot here this winter. Mother Nature apparently was mad at somebody –maybe she took exception to Dale Sveum’s firing? – so she dumped about 79 inches of snow (and counting) to make all of us suffer.

Here’s the thing, though. Baseball season arrives every spring, regardless of how pleasant or how painful the winter has been. You need a clean field to play baseball, and if you’re in the business of filling seats, you need those seats to be clean, too.

So, next thing you know, you’re calling a bunch of contractors and subcontractors. Because somebody has to get the park ready before the team returns from spring training in Arizona.

“It’s been a mess,” said Eric Clark, a retail worker who has watched crews prepare the stadium from across the street at Wrigleyville Sports. “Seeing it finally starting to come into place is amazing.”

Give a small slice of the credit to Fritsche, whose day started when he left his house at 4:30 a.m. for the long commute to the North Side. Fritsche’s shift didn’t start until 8 a.m., but he wanted to beat the inevitable, insufferable traffic jam into the city.

The plan worked as Fritsche arrived about 6 a.m. and had two hours of downtime before his work began. When it did, he started a long day of driving in circles.

The pattern went like this: Crews cleared piles of snow out of the stadium and dumped them on to the sidewalk along Sheffield Avenue, just below the right-field bleachers. Then more workers used shovels and front-end loaders to scoop the piles of dumped snow and lift them into Fritsche’s trailer.

When the trailer was filled, Fritsche pulled west on Addison and headed toward a nearby lot where he could dump the snow. Most of it was dirty brown and frozen into large chunks, resembling something like baseball gloves for giant snowmen.

After Fritsche dumped the snow, he returned to Wrigley for another load. All told, he and his coworkers estimated that they hauled 20 to 30 trailers’ worth.

Not bad for one day’s work.

Now, as for the painting and the sodding and the stocking and the staffing and everything else that needs to happen before the Cubs’ home opener …

Fritsche smiled.

“They’ve got a lot of work to do,” Fritsche said. “But they’ll get it done.”

•Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.