Central Illinois Cub Fan Enters Second Century
By Jeff Bossert
In his 100 years, Louis Reinhart still hasn’t seen his beloved Cubs win a world series. Last week, the team gave him – maybe – the next best thing.
The Illinois native turned 100 the same year that Wrigley Field celebrates its centennial. And the team invited him to the ballpark last week for a special honor.
A native of Champaign and Iroquois Counties, Reinhart now lives in a nuring home in Metamora, in Woodford County. He never misses broadcasts of day games at Wrigley, and his daughter Julie Harper and her husband Lynn are often in his room to watch with him.
Louie said they come from a long line of Cub fans.
“My Dad, (during) World War 2 – he went to Chicago, and was working, up in Chicago," he said. "And he wasn’t too far from Wrigley Field. And that’s the way we got kind of tied in with the Cubs, cause he went to a lot of the games.”
On March 18th, Reinhart celebrated his 100th birthday.
Just over two weeks later, through Julie’s efforts, her dad and 32 other family members made the trek to the ballpark on opening day last Friday.
Louie Reinhart (r) and a teammate for a Tuscola baseball team in 1947. (Courtesy of Joe Reinhart)
Louis estimates it had been at least a decade (but probably longer) since he last attended a game.
He can’t recall his first, but his all-time favorite players not only include familiar names like Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks, but shortstop Billy Jurgess, and Hall of Fame Catcher Gabby Hartnett – both of whom played ball in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Reinhart said from his dad’s perspective, the Cubs were the only team.
Louis Reinhart with singer and former Cubs public address announcer Wayne Messmer on Wrigley Field opening day. (Courtesy of Joe Reinhart)
Louis himself played baseball on local teams, and like the Hall of Famer Hartnett, liked catching.
“I was more comfortable behind the plate than anywhere," he said. "I felt more like home. You know, you stop and think – the catcher is the only guy that ain’t on the field. I played first base, but I liked to catch, 'cause I’m more involved in the game.”
Born and raised with five fellow siblings in Pesotum, Reinhart says when he wasn’t farming, he was involved in sports in some way. There were 40 students in his 1932 graduating class at Villa Grove High School, where he played baseball, and the size of the student body forced them to play iron-man football.
“(On) Offense – I played fullback," he said. "On defense, I played tackle. We didn’t have two teams – we had offense and defense. You just played the whole game.”
Louis turned down a scholarship to play football at Millikin University, saying two older brothers were forced to stay home and pitch in on the farm, and it was time he did his part.
Louis later raised eight kids of his own, and farmed in Buckley.
The family had 400 acres, but also had cattle, sheep, chickens and a horse named for one made popular by Roy Rogers.
“He looked like Trigger - so he had a name Trigger," he said. "And if you get on him, you better get a deep seat, 'cause he’s going to take off. But you can put 4-5 kids on him (and walk) about 300, 400 (feet) – and he’ll take the kids down there, and come back where you were," he said. "He knew they were back there, and didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
Even with a farm and family, sports remained a large part of Louis' life. Through his 30’s, he played on community baseball teams out of St. Mary Church in Pesotum, and the city of Tuscola. And after his playing days, he served as an umpire, and despite not liking basketball much, ran the clock for high school games.
Retired from farming, Louis spent more than 20 years as a carpenter, working in the Champaign area.
But baseball, and the Cubs, have been a constant through most of his life. Early this year, daughter Julie wrote Cubs ownership, not even realizing her father shared a birthday with Wrigley Field.
“Dad got a letter from (Cubs Chairman) Tom Ricketts, and he was thrilled to death with that, then a couple days after his birthday party, I received an e-mail, and they asked if he would be interested in delivering the game ball to the mound," she said.
A scheduling conflict kept Louie from taking the field at Wrigley last Friday – and turning over the ball to some Cub legends for the ceremonial first pitch.
And it was chilly – 40 degrees at game time, not uncommon for opening day at Wrigley Field. Despite the weather and 7-2 loss to the Phillies, Louis was just glad to be there.
“He had a smile on his face from the time we left, to the time we got home," Julie said.
Reinhart did receive a baseball from the Cubs with the team emblem on it, and a team jersey with his last name on it – and the number 100.
Julie said the Cubs front office hopes to invite Louie and the family back to the ballpark when it’s warmer.
Reinhart said he's ready to go back if the Cubs invite him back up. He maintains the enthusiasm of true-blue Cub fans.
"I just take the hills with the valleys," he said. "They can't win them all. Sombody's got to lose."