Wrigley first: Fan leads during stretch

Wrigley first: Fan leads during stretch

CHICAGO -- Twenty-two-year-old Dustin Eglseder is living a dream.

Six months after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, the die-hard Cubs fan from Guttenberg, Iowa, sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," in front of 41,271 cheering fans at Wrigley Field during Saturday's Cubs-Pirates game.

Eglseder was named the winner of the team's Ultimate 7th Inning Stretch Competition before the game, and he became the first fan to serve as guest conductor of the celebrated song.

"I looked up at my group of friends that were here and my family, and when I heard my name, my heart just dropped," Eglseder said. "That was the craziest feeling I've ever had in my life. But I made sure, the first thing to do was to thank the other nine contestants. They've been awesome, and each one of them deserved it just as much as I did."

Eglseder was one of 10 finalists who were on hand for Saturday's game. The contest began with 2,700 contestants, and the final group auditioned before a celebrity panel of judges on Aug. 27. The panel's vote, along with more than 150,000 online votes from fans at Cubs.com, determined the winner.

Saturday's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity culminated what has been a long summer for Eglseder. After dealing with shoulder problems for several months, he was diagnosed on March 1 with stage IV Osteosarcoma, an unusual type of bone cancer that affects approximately 400 Americans every year. He now has a 14-inch-long scar that stretches from just above his right elbow to above his right shoulder, a permanent reminder of where, on May 31, doctors replaced the bone and muscles with a metal rod. He has gone through several stages of chemotherapy, and he can now move his hand and elbow, but can no longer extend his arm outward.

But the former third baseman fought through it, and had a secret weapon to help his recovery: The Chicago Cubs.

"I really do feel like I owe a lot to the Cubs because of what I've been through," Eglseder said. "Spending time in the hospital, it wouldn't have been the same without getting to watch them every single day. I don't think it would have gone as smooth as it did, and right now I'm recovering from everything. "I don't have to go back to the hospital for another three months, and I really feel like I owe it to the Cubs."

Eglseder hopes to return to college at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in January, and currently works as a non-profit supervisor. Adorned in a personalized "Eglseder 07" Cubs jersey and blue Cubs hat, he sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" like a veteran.

"That was so wild," Eglseder said after singing. "I didn't know if everyone would be just singing it and high-fiving their buddies, or if I'd actually be getting looked at. It seemed like all 42,000 people had their eyes on me. It was awesome. An experience of a lifetime, that's for sure."

Among the Wrigley crowd Saturday were Eglseder's family and friends, most of whom drove more than five hours to Chicago Saturday morning with the hope of seeing him sing.

"It was a pretty exciting feeling from the get-go," Dustin's father, John Eglseder, said. "I was a little teary-eyed when they first announced his name. It's great for him. He deserves it."

In addition to singing, Eglseder received a replica trophy of the Harry Caray statue that stands outside Wrigley Field. He is scheduled to appear live on "Good Morning America" on Sunday, and he has become somewhat of an instant celebrity.

"I hear all the time about people that don't even know me, but they were so touched by my story, and they told everyone they knew," he said.

One aspect of Eglseder's story that is special to him is that he grew up a Cubs fan thanks to his grandfather Howard Vorwald, who passed away July 28. He still inspires Eglseder, who proudly keeps a picture of his grandfather -- of course wearing a Cubs hat -- in his wallet today.

"We couldn't go out to ballgames, because [my grandfather] was never really healthy," Eglseder said. "Ever since I could walk -- he only lived a few houses down from me -- I remember walking into his house, and he'd be laying in his bed, but he'd have the TV on in the living room, and he'd just blare it. I'd hear Harry Caray announcing, you could hear it from outside. I just remember going there, eating cookies and sitting on his bed with him listening to Cubs games."

Eglseder has a great feeling about this year's Cubs team and sees them making the playoffs, perhaps even a run at the World Series. If that were to happen, Eglseder guaranteed he would be back in Chicago, cheering them on once again.

"I would feel like I was part of it, not only me, but my grandpa and our whole story," Eglseder said. "How many people have been Cubs fans in the last 100 years, and wanting to see it happen?

"If it happened," he said as he trailed off in thought, "I would feel like I did something special."

Marc Zarefsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.