HUMBOLDT PARK — When Cubs infielder Javy Baez visited Humboldt Park Tuesday afternoon, he was greeted with hundreds of fans decked out in Cubs gear waving Puerto Rican flags.
After months of anticipation, the Puerto Rican native was honored with a street sign, "Javier 'Javy' Baez Way," along the west side of West Luis Munoz Marin Drive beside the neighborhood's namesake park.
Baez was joined by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the official unveiling ceremony near a replica of Wrigley Field known as Little Cubs Field.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) giving remarks at the ceremony. [All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
With his children by his side, Maldonado emphasized that the honor "isn't just about baseball."
"I promised my wife, Nancy, who I recently lost to pancreatic cancer, that I would continue to showcase the incredible talent of our Puerto Rican community in this great city. Javier Baez symbolizes that greatness and Nancy would be so proud," said Maldonado, who first proposed the street sign.
Like Maldonado, Baez has faced tragic loss. Both his father and sister died, one in 2004 and the other in 2015.
"Javy is such an inspiration to so many young people who have faced challenging times and tragic loss, just like my children," Maldonado said, adding that the sign will "forever be a reminder to our youth to rise above adversity and achieve personal greatness."
Born in Puerto Rico, Baez, 22, grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. Last season, the 23-year-old, who joined the Cubs in 2014, was named the National League Championship Series co-MVP.
Before and during Maldonado's remarks, the crowd was elated, with fans pushing to get closer to Baez, cheering and chanting "Javy" over and over again.
But the event took a brief turn when the Humboldt Park alderman began to introduce Emanuel and boos erupted from the crowd, which Maldonado tried to quash.
"Excuse me," Maldonado said. "We are Puerto Ricans and we learn at a young age that when we invite someone to our home — Humboldt Park is our home — that we show respect."
When Emanuel took the podium, he quipped: "I didn't know there were that many Sox fans here," prompting more boos.
Once the boos died down, Emanuel praised the baseball star, saying Baez's commitment to his family, his team and the city "speaks volumes"
"When I was growing up in the city of Chicago, it was always ... you wanted to grow up and be like Mike," Emanuel said, referring to basketball great Michael Jordan. "From now on, kids are growing up and saying, I want to be like Javy," he added, prompting cheers.
Baez, sporting his platinum blonde mohawk, gave short remarks to much fanfare before he, Maldonado and Emanuel pulled a string attached to a white cloth covering the sign, unveiling the honorary sign for the first time.
Javy Baez giving remarks at the ceremony.
After the unveiling, many fans rushed toward Baez for a chance at a photo with the baseball star. Others went straight for the gigantic cake, which was made for the occasion.
Many fans like Charlie Soto, 25, skipped work to attend the ceremony.
"This is once-in-a lifetime thing. This don't happen all the time," said Soto, who is of Puerto Rican descent and was born and raised in Humboldt Park.
"Baseball is a big deal in Puerto Rico. Him playing for the Cubs and showing up for the Puerto Ricans, that's the best," he added.
Elena Delgado, 48, brought her young goddaughter to the ceremony.
"It means a lot because he's family-oriented person. I'm very family-oriented. I would do anything for my family, just like he did," said Delgado, a lifelong Humboldt Park resident who is also of Puerto Rican descent.
Unveiling the street sign.
Fans greeting Javy Baez.