Etha, Erik, Henry & Lu with the Ernie Banks statue before the game
I took my four boys to Wrigley Field last night when the Cubs played the Dodgers. With a limited budget, I only take the boys to one game each year. We haven’t gone the last two years because the team was so bad then, but with top prospects like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, I thought it would be fun to see these exciting rookies…especially for the boys (ages 4, 6, 8 and 14). My boys are HUGE Cubs fans. They know the players just by their faces…even my little boys! It’s a “skill” I used to have as a young boy myself but I never mentioned that to them. I guess where you’re big fans, you’ll naturally be able to do that, but who knew these little kids were so perceptive about the players?!
Anyway, my wife & I decided to take them early to the park to see the Cubs take batting practice. From some web sites, I found that the Cubs would take BP from 5:05pm (when the park opened) until 5:35pm, followed by the Dodgers from 5:35-6:20pm. So I left work early (after getting in early) and met the kids at Wrigley (my wife dropped them off) just before the park opened.
We headed in and discovered there is a “Cubs Corral” where kids 13 and under can watch BP on the field instead of in the stands. You have to get a sticker at the Fan Services booth but they were out; the stickers act as admittance tickets. However, the helpful Fan Services attendant advised me to ask the Cubs Corral ushers if there might be extra stickers. We did, and there were.
The kids entered the Cubs Corral but the Cubs finished BP shortly thereafter. I didn’t notice the time but it seemed really short…like around 5:20pm instead of 5:35. The Dodgers took the field.
Cubs Corral kids watch batting practice at Wrigley Field
If you haven’t attended batting practice before at Wrigley, it’s quite a scene. I’ve taken the kids to Cubs games before but never early enough to watch BP, so they’ve never seen how major league players do batting practice.
When I was a kid (in the 80s), I went to a few Cubs games early enough to watch batting practice and it was nothing like it is today. Back then, there was simply a BP pitcher, the cage, the batter, some other players hanging around the cage waiting their turn, and some other players in the outfield shagging balls. That was it.
Today, there are multiple stations going on, with two infielding groups getting their infield work done while the batter is hitting, a coach hitting fly balls to an outfield group in right field, and another screen in center field to protect shaggers collecting balls into a bucket. A lot of activity, but even here, the shaggers aren’t doing much and are often talking to each other instead.
Well, the Cubs high-tailed it after their BP was done and didn’t sign any autographs for the kids at the Cubs Corral. Not surprising but a little disappointing. My boys hung out there and watched the Dodgers hit. The most impressive Dodgers display was by Matt Kemp, who hit four into the bleachers in one of his short stints in the cage. Some of the other kids in the Corral were calling for Kemp to sign. Initially, he didn’t want to, saying something to the effect of “Why should I sign autographs for you?” About 15 minutes later, he came over to sign, though my oldest son told me he looked rather reluctant. The kids also got autographs from some other Dodger stars, including Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez.
Cubs catcher John Baker walks by
My boys got bored watching the Dodgers and left the Corral. I asked an usher if we could go to the left field wall to get some Cubs autographs and he said, yes, if we went to Aisle 110 or beyond, we could try there. By the time we got to Aisle 110, the Dodgers were finally finishing up batting practice (it was indeed around 6:20pm). After waiting about 5 minutes, a few Cubs trickled into the dugout. The first out of the dugout was John Baker, who would be catching that night. He didn’t look in our direction, nor walked close by, so my kids didn’t even bother calling out to him.
Tip: stand behind your kids, not with them so that players see the kids and not an adult. I’ve read that players are turned off by adults trampling over kids trying to get an autograph so I want to make it look clear that it’s my boys who want autographs and not me, which is true.
Next out was Tsuyoshi Wada, the Cubs’ starting pitcher that night. My kids started to call out to him at the same time a Japanese girl ran up to the wall and yelled something in Japanese to him. She took off her scarf and Wada looked back at her, not breaking his stride. He nodded at her, ignored us, and kept walking. The girl put her scarf back on and left, so I presume she wanted him to sign her scarf but obviously no success.
About five minutes later, Chris Coghlan walks by with a bat. I don’t recognize him but my kids do. In fact, Coghlan is Henry and Ethan’s favorite Cubs player (at the moment), so they start calling out to him. He walks away, ignoring us as he heads towards the gate door under the bleachers in right field, which is where the indoor batting cage is.
Well, this has been pretty disappointing so far. My oldest son asks if we should go to our seats. I’m always the optimistic type, so I say, “No, there’s nothing to do in our seats now anyway, so we might as well keep waiting here.” Besides, we’re the only ones here at the wall and it’s an amazing view—so close to the players!—, so why hurry to leave?
Just a minute or two after that, Chris Valaika comes right up to us and asks if he can sign something for us. Our kids are excited and he signs my four kids’ items (three baseballs and a fielder’s glove). We thank him and he walks away. What a nice guy! Very cool dude. Much respect for making my kids’ night as our first signer when everyone else to that point blew us off.
Jorge Soler signs my son’s glove
About another five minutes after that, Jorge Soler walks out onto the field. We’re all pretty excited but he’s not that close to us—standing around the foul line—and with his back to us. Soon, he faces us and my kids eagerly call out to him. He smiles and walks up to the boys—and signs their stuff! Wow…super cool! At this point, some other, older kids rush up for autographs but Soler leaves. Not sure if it was because the number of seekers was getting too big or what.
Ryan Kalish signs for my boys
Shortly after that, Ryan Kalish, who was called up in September ostensibly to take over injured Ryan Sweeney’s spot and would be starting in center field tonight, comes over and my boys ask him to sign their stuff. Again, other kids have come up and are asking for autographs as well. By now, the ticketholders of the seats by the wall arrive but they graciously let us stay there while they wait in nearby seats.
Chris Coghlan walks by again to stretch on the field, and again my boys are calling out to him. “Mr. Coghlan! Mr. Coghlan!” No response, so I yell out to him, “Chris, you’re my kids’ favorite Cubs player!”, which I mentioned before was true. Still nothing.
Soon, Mike Olt comes by and my kids happily ask for his autograph. He signs for us too. He would be tonight’s starting first baseman. My kids talk about Olt a lot at home.
Javier Baez comes out on the field and my kids are eagerly calling him. It’s honestly really cute to hear their little voices calling him. “Mr. Baez! Mr. Baez!” But he doesn’t respond.
My four boys watch Jorge Soler and Javier Baez during the National Anthem
Now it’s the national anthem. My youngest son, who’s only four, doesn’t know any better so he continues to call Baez so I have to teach him that during the national anthem, we need to be quiet and listen. After the anthem, my kids keep calling for Baez—and he comes over to sign! And he signs for my boys first. How cool is that?
Javier Baez signs autographs for my boys
We thanked the seat ticketholders for letting us hang around in their seats to get autographs and headed to our own seats.
When we all got to our seats, I asked my oldest son if his view of Coghlan was lower since he wouldn’t sign an autograph. To his credit, my son said no. I too don’t have a lower view of Coghlan (or Wada or Baker for that matter), though I must admit I have a much higher view of Valaika, Soler, Kalish, Olt and Baez. The Cubs ended up losing the game (some questionable managerial decisions by Rick Renteria, but that’s for another post) but the boys went home on a really high note b/c they got those autographs—so happy you would think the team won.
In the end, we got five Cubs’ autographs, including Soler and Baez! Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are out, as well as Alcantara, but I’d call tonight a smashing success for autographs. We even got Kemp, Puig and Gonzalez as a bonus.
I really think we got those autographs b/c those squeaky kids’ voices calling for the players is so cute and irresistible :) And also, I think we got those autographs b/c of persistence. Being patient and waiting, even when it seemed hopeless. Isn’t that a metaphor for life?
In general, I think Cubs players, especially the stars, are great to the fans and don’t act stuck up. A few years ago, my oldest son and I waited in the parking lot after the game and Matt Garza (then the ace of the pitching staff) came over to sign autographs. Not sure if Theo Epstein encourages the players to do it as part of “The Cubs Way”, but that fan-friendly quality helps endear the players (and the team) to the fans. And it made my boys’ night.