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'Cursed' ball simmers in Chicago
02/21/2005 10:23 PM ET
CHICAGO -- It's not yet 6:30 in the morning. The world is dark and cold, hardly the best time to honor the best-known proponent of daytime baseball.

But there they were, scientists, cooks, marketing gurus and TV talking heads, standing around a stove Monday morning watching the "essence" of Harry Caray drip into a beaker that would be then added to a nearby pot of spaghetti sauce.

Such is life in a cursed town.

"I guarantee you Harry wouldn't be here," said a bemused Dutchie Caray. "He would never wake up this early."

For the second consecutive year, Harry Caray's Restaurant is trying to bust the "curse" that has haunted the Cubs since their 1908 World Series title.

The cursed talisman in question is the baseball that bounced off Steve Bartman and into infamy (Actually, it bounced into the hands of a lawyer who sold the ball to Harry Caray's president and managing partner Grant DePorter for $113,824.16) in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, an old-time harbinger for a 21st century collapse.

Last year, the restaurant blew up the ball in a much-publicized exorcism. But that didn't work as the Cubs missed the playoffs.

This year they took the remaining innards -- mostly loose string -- cleaned it, boiled it and infused it with Budweiser, vodka and some herbs and spices. And, oh yeah, they shot a laser beam through Caray's glasses into the large mixing vessel to capture his essence.

Said essence -- actually condensed water made from the vapors of the boiling concoction -- is being added to a signature marinara sauce to be served to willing Cubs fans at Harry Caray's in Chicago and Rosemont, Ill., over the next four days, culminating at 7 p.m. CT Thursday in the seventh annual worldwide toast to the late broadcaster.

The restaurant hopes to serve about 4,000 plates of this sauce, donating all the proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

"We'll make the last doses more concentrated if there's any left," DePorter said. "I'll eat it myself if I have to."

Harry Caray's corporate executive chef, Paul Katz, created a special sauce specifically for the event. Unlike the normal marinara sauce, it contains rosemary, thyme and thick garlic. He added some "special spices" that give it a mesquite flavor.

"Since the ball was blown up, I thought the essence should be smoky," Katz said.

DePorter came up with the sauce idea after asking for e-mail suggestions from Cubs fans on how to end the curse. Hundreds said he should put the ball into spaghetti sauce or mix it with Budweiser. So he did both, kind of. He quickly realized he couldn't actually add the ball to the sauce, so he assembled what he called the "A-Team" of scientists to figure out the safest, most curse-killing way to do it.

Northwestern chemistry lecturer Eberhard Zwergal was in charge of the distillation and also brought the small laser.

A man of science, Zwergal could also see the spiritual value to this process.

"The symbolism, I hope, inspires the fans," he said.

DePorter also brought in nutritionist Krista Wennerstrom from Thorek Hospital in Wrigleyville. Two summers ago, she watched her peers X-ray Sammy Sosa's bats, looking for more cork.

He also had a pair of sports curse scientists, Boston's own David and Leigh Harter, examine the DNA structure of the ball's remains to determine its level of cursedness.

"They said Group 1 was high in curse," DePorter said, examining the DNA printout. "They're going to examine it again on Thursday to see if it's gone."

While the Boston Red Sox got rid of their postseason curse the old-fashioned way, DePorter took a little credit for their win, noting his director of marketing, Beth Goldberg Heller, brought some remains of the ball to a Red Sox game last summer.

"Last year when we blew up the ball we invited Sox fans, and some flew in, sat in the front row with all of their Red Sox gear on," DePorter said. "They asked us to bring a piece of the ball to a game. And (Heller) did in the middle of the season and that night they took off."

After blowing up the ball and doing this pseudo-voodoo experiment, what's next for the remains?

"I don't think we'll need to do anything more (next year)," DePorter said confidently. "The curse will be lifted and the Cubs will win the World Series."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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