Chicago baseball fans wanted

By Sean Stillmaker

Baseball season has begun, and Chicago will take some time to unite the sport’s most vital element—its fans.

Baseball fans are welcomed to join the second annual Play Ball, Chicago, an event celebrating the state’s major and minor league baseball teams on April 2 at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington St., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A singing contest will be held, and the winner will sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” at the 7th inning stretch at the Road to Wrigley game.

The Road to Wrigley game, which debuted last year, is one game between two minor league teams at Wrigley Field.

Last July, more than 32,000 fans watched the Peoria Chiefs and the Kane County Cougars play. The gathered crowd shattered the Midwest League attendance record. The game, however, was suspended due to rain. The Peoria Chiefs got a 9-8, 12-inning win the next day at O’Brien Field.

Ten to 15 randomly chosen people will compete in the contest, singing with Gary Pressy, Chicago Cubs organist since 1987. Pressy will be one judge, and the other two have yet to be determined. The remaining judges will probably be a former Chicago Cubs player and a member of the local media, said Timothy Bimmerle, program manager of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

“You’ll audition for [thousands] of people on Daley Plaza, which would be enough for me,” Bimmerle said.

Teams participating at the event are the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Kane County Cougars, Windy City Thunderbolts, Joliet Jackhammers, Schaumburg Flyers and Gary South Shore Rail Cats.

“Baseball fans in Chicago are pretty hearty folks,” Bimmerle said. “Especially being a northern city where opening days are filled with snow, sleet and cold.”

A variety of other activities will be offered to attendees, including a chance to meet current players and members of the participating teams.

There will be three speed pitches for attendees to see how fast they can throw a baseball, one batting area to practice hitting and prize giveaways. The prizes include former Chicago Cubs player Ryne Sandberg autographed memorabilia, baseball seat cushions and similar paraphernalia.

The event will also “go on the technical side of baseball,” Bimmerle said, and have a Nintendo Wii home run derby contest, sponsored by National City Bank.

Also featured at the event will be the Picasso sculpture decked out with a specially constructed baseball hat featuring the city’s major league teams’, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, logos on it.

The hat was first featured last year at Play Ball, Chicago, and the Cubs rally that took place. The hat would have also been featured at a Sox rally that was supposed to take place, but because they made the playoffs so late and had to play on the road in their first series, “it couldn’t happen,” Bimmerle said.

“Of course we wanted to have a Sox rally,” he said. “Our boss being the No. 1 Sox fan.”

Play Ball, Chicago drew a big crowd last year despite the rain, Bimmerle said. The crowd that gathered was very evenly split between Cubs and Sox fans, he said.

Although the Cubs/Sox series are fiercely fought, the enormous rivalry between the two teams is media driven and too hyped, said Howard Schlossberg, a sports reporting instructor at Columbia. Though, there are advantages to having a two-team town.

“In the long run, economically, it’s good,” Schlossberg said. “Every day there’s a game, there’s a trickle down economic effect for the neighborhoods, for the whole city in terms of tax revenue, tickets and business.”

Columbia journalism student Nick Orichuia also sees a benefit from having two teams. “It gives it a little salt and pepper feeling, people can discuss it at bars, it’s a good rivalry,” he said.