For those who'd rather I just cut to the chase, you can find out the very basics here and a little longer story here (notice the name on the caption above my story...strange). Also, all the pictures (with captions) are on my Facebook page, here.
For those interested in the longer version, this unlikely story begins on May 21st. Like a normal, relatively die hard Cubs fan, I was surfing on cubs.com and saw a story mentioning that the Cubs and Toyota were giving away a car (coinciding with the installation of a new, controversial Toyota sign above the left field bleachers), but you had to sign up during a game at Wrigley between May 25 and 30. I had no plans to be at a game during that time period, so I forgot about it. The following Sunday, a friend of mine offered me tickets to that Thursday's game (May 27 against the Dodgers). I decided I would go to the game and take Foster and Grace, and I also invited my friend Graham. The game was very exciting, a taut 1-0 pitchers' duel won by Ted Lilly. We stayed till the end and as we were walking out, I saw the "Fan Services" window out of the corner of my eye and for some reason, remembered that giveaway. I said to Graham: hey, you want a Prius? He obliged and we walked over to the window and I asked about the Toyota giveaway. The guys behind the counter didn't seem to know what I was talking about-- they had to sort of look around for the sheets, but they eventually found them and we filled them out. But I honestly wouldn't have been surprised had they thrown them out after we left. I immediately forgot I ever signed up for it.
Fast forward to Monday, June 7th. I get a phone call from a number I don't recognize and a woman named Jennifer tells me I've been selected as a semi-finalist for a "sweepstakes"-- I start to get annoyed when I hear this word, thinking it's some scam. I wonder how she's gotten my phone number-- then she says Toyota Prius and Wrigley Field. I remember signing up for the drawing, and start listening a little more intently. The deal is that I have a one in six chance of winning a new Toyota Prius but I have to be there Saturday afternoon the 12th before the Cubs-White Sox game. I realize that my plan was to leave Saturday morning to fly to Texas in order to rent the vans for the high school Mexico team that will be leaving later that afternoon. She tells me she'll have to move on to another contestant. So I tell her to give me a minute to see if I can make it happen. I call the van company and they tell me I can do everything remotely. I then realize that I can change my flight to the later flight (with the full team) at 5:30. However, they don't even know whether they'll have the event, which I surmise later was because they had to wait until the Chicago City Council approved the sign. I actually streamed the city council meeting live on Wednesday to see if they would vote on it, because if they didn't approve it, the whole thing wouldn't happen. They approved it, and Jennifer called me back Thursday morning to tell me it's on.
I asked my friend Bob to join me for the game (I got 2 tickets to the game) and my co-trip leader Steve advised me to make the whole thing a surprise for the team, just in case I won. The other cool piece of this is that my 12 year old Kaila got invited to the game by my sister-in-law and niece, so she took the train down with me, and she even got to meet Sean Marshall before the game.
So Bob and I get to go inside the offices and the other six contestants and their guests are waiting. We introduce ourselves, share our stories, and watch the US-England World Cup game (see below).
They come in and draw our names out of a basket, which was the order that we'd draw our numbered baseballs out of a bag. I drew 2nd, and drew ball number 1. We then moved onto the field, but not before seeing a Prius drive onto the right field warning track. Our guest Cub shows up in the person of Ryan Dempster (he would be drawing out the winning ball) and turns out he's one of the nicest guys you could ever imagine. I chatted him up about the Blackhawks, knowing he's from Canada and a big hockey fan.
Then it's time for the drawing. Now the deal is that I really wasn't nervous at this point, because I honestly did not think I was going to win. A one in six chance to win is...well, it's better than one in a hundred, but still, as my friend Peter pointed out, if someone told you you had a one in six chance of living, you'd be pretty bummed out. So I received the whole experience of going to Wrigley as the gift, pretty darn certain that that would be the end of it.
The moment for Ryan to draw came, and again, I wasn't nervous. I was ready to cheer for the person that won. He drew out the ball, and did a great job of hiding the number. Then he revealed the number: 1. This was my immediate response:
Life immediately jumped into "surreal" mode. It was like an out of body experience. I remember staring at the red warning track gravel, as I doubled over. I walked over to Dempster, who offered me a handshake, but the only appropriate thing to do at this point was to hug him.
Kaila was a good ways away with my sister-in-law Chris, and they hadn't announced my name yet but she could see me hugging Ryan. Chris turned to Kaila and said: "Your dad is hugging Ryan Dempster-- I think he just won the car." The contestants began to congratulate me and I immediately had the thought: "this is definitely a dream. I'm going to wake up any minute." I hear someone on a cell phone talking to the press box: "Syler Thomas, S-Y-L-E-R." I then hear my name announced over the PA. I look to see Kaila and jump up in the air to celebrate with her from afar. I took my picture with Ryan Dempster, and they then invited me to get in the passenger seat to be driven off the field. The guy inside was very nice and congratulatory, and it still seemed way too hard to believe. I got out of the car once it left the stadium and found out later that that was actually my car, not a proxy but the real thing. I didn't take a good look at it except to note that it's white (Blizzard Pearl to be exact). Bob and I walked back into the Cubs offices to get the paperwork, and new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts walked by. In a "why not" moment, I stopped him, introduced myself, and thanked him for the Toyota sign since it meant I got a new car. He was very nice and let me take a picture with him. I also met Cubs chairman Crane Kenney who was equally friendly and congratulatory.
I know I should have been more prepared for it but I honestly couldn't have been more surprised had someone stopped me on the street and told me they were giving me a car. I spent the next two hours in shock, calling various family members. My mom called before I could call her, saying: Well I guess since you haven't called me yet, you didn't win. I responded: Not necessarily. "Freaking out" would be an understatement. Same goes for my sister.
Our flight to Texas was delayed to the point where I got a ride from Chris, who took me right to the airport, with just enough time for me to run to the gate as they were boarding, and I told the abbreviated story to the incredulous team, who all thought I was in Texas.
I absolutely loved being able to immediately step on the plane and head off to one of my favorite weeks of the year, taking my youth group to build homes with Casas por Cristo in Acuña, Mexico. This might sound like a cliche but winning a car really was the second most important thing happening that day, which is probably why it was such a shock.
I almost forgot this part of the story (which my mom thinks is the best part): I had been driving a '93 Toyota Camry with 187,000 miles, with no A/C and no radio. I actually love the car, and was kind of sad to sell it. But I did. AND...you know who bought it from me? My friend Bob who was at the game with me. Worked out well.
Picked up the Prius 2 weeks ago. Here it is, first night on my driveway.
The Cubs logo does come off, and will eventually. (In case you missed it above, all the pictures worth sharing are on my Facebook page with comments, accessible here.)
Heidi's comment about the car was the best. "You have loved the Cubs for so many years. Now they've loved you back." The Cubs may never give me a World Series championship. But they gave me a car. For now, that will have to do.