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Maggie Hendricks

Wrigley's peanut-free suite clears way for one fan's special day

Big League Stew

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Though not always successful on the baseball field, the Chicago Cubs have a track record of making fans happy and filling Wrigley Field. And they're taking an extra step Monday night to satisfy a group of fans who usually can't enjoy the Friendly Confines in person.

Yes, for the first time in team history, the Cubs are hosting a group of fans who are allergic to peanuts in a special suite that will be peanut free.

The group will include my niece, Breanna, who hasn't been to a game since 2001 because of her allergy.

That the mere presence of peanuts makes a ballpark completely off-limits to a certain group of people is often hard for some to understand. During Friday's game, Cubs announcer Ron Santo exhibited a lack of knowledge when he laughed and poked fun at the peanut-free night.

"Wait, why don't they just not eat the peanuts?" Santo said. "They can't even be around it?"

No, Ron, they can't. A Cubs fan innocently enjoying a bag of peanuts nearby can be fatal to someone with peanut allergies, so the group attending Monday night's game are getting a once-in-a-lifetime treat after years of requesting the Cubs consider such an outing.

The night is going to be very special to Breanna, who is a fifth-generation Cubs fan. She was raised to love the team — no matter their faults — since she was an infant. When she was younger, we tried to take her to Wrigley for a few games, but by the third or fourth inning, her eyes would start to swell and hives would pop up on her skin. The last time we were there, we sat in the general admission bleachers and relocated our seats twice in hopes that it would lessen some of the effect. We still had to leave in the fourth inning for fear that my niece would run into some serious trouble.

As Breanna has grown older — she's 20 now — the allergy has worsened. Just the smell of a peanut can cause Breanna to have an anaphylactic attack in which her throat swells and closes up. Once an attack starts, she needs a shot from an Epi-Pen and a trip to the emergency room to keep from dying. Going to a Cubs game has become too much of a risk, so she usually sits at home while the rest of our family attends games.

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Still, Breanna has never been discouraged by her allergy or given up on the hope of seeing the Cubs in person again some day. Starting when she was 11, she wrote letters to the Cubs every single year. She asked them for a way to attend the game. She told them how she loved the players, how she wanted to be able to see a seventh-inning stretch and maybe even get to sing "Go, Cubs, Go" at the end of a winning game. She didn't want any special treatment, other than a healthy and safe environment to watch the games from. The Cubs always sent kind responses to her emails, but they said banning peanuts was out of the question for a ball park.

This year, with the Ricketts family now owning the team and looking for different ways to reach out to fans, their stance has changed. Three weeks ago, I received an overjoyed call from my niece, who is now a junior at the University of Northern Iowa.

"I'm going to a Cubs game! The Cubs emailed me and they're making a peanut-free section! I'M GOING TO A CUBS GAME!"

Breanna didn't care that the Cubs are a million games out of first place, or even that they recently traded away her favorite players, Derrek Lee(notes) and Ryan Theriot(notes). Like the Seattle Mariners and a few other teams have previously done, the Cubs were finally recognizing that she and many other peanut-allergic fans (including some who started a Facebook group earlier this year) wanted to see a game. Though peanuts will still be allowed in the rest of the park, the suite will allow my niece to stay for all nine innings for the first time in her life.

Breanna is hopeful that the Cubs will repeat their gesture a few times a year in the future, but there's no way she's going to pass up this game. Even though her classes at Northern Iowa began last week, she's making the 500-mile round trip to attend her first game in person in over nine years. All while not having to worry that a trip to the emergency room — or worse — will be added to the cost of the ticket.

Hopefully Ron Santo and others will now be able to see the magic — and not the humor — in that.

Maggie Hendricks is a Y! Sports blogger and a life-long Cubs fan. Read more of her work on Cage Writer.

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