April 9, 2015
By Renee Peggs
It may not have been the World Series but it felt pretty close when the Chicago Cubs’ Class A affiliate, the South Bend Cubs, hosted the University of Notre Dame baseball team Tuesday, April 7 at Four Winds Field in an exhibition fundraiser. Half the night’s proceeds went to the South Bend Center for the Homeless, while the other half went to the Pete Frates #3 Fund.
Each of the four winds seemed to deliver bitter lashes around and through the small clusters of fans, huddled together and bundled in heavy coats, hats and blankets. But the Michiana faithful had more than enough enthusiasm for their teams.
“This game is huge!” exclaimed Nancy Murton, proudly sporting her Notre Dame baseball jersey. “I love the fact that people are coming out to support a local college against a professional team that hasn’t proven itself yet. You’d think all the fans would be Cubbies but the Irish definitely have the home-field advantage here tonight.”
Twelve-year-old Kyla Carrico, a student at Bristol Elementary, said, “Notre Dame isn’t just about winning, they play for fun.” Her family members are huge fans of the Irish (“except for my grouchy older brother”) and go to all the games at Frank Eck Stadium on campus. The exhibition game was Kyla’s first visit to Four Winds.
One couple, Joni and Tyler Rice, were so excited about the match-up that they undertook a five-hour round trip in order to catch the game. “We’re big Cubs fans and big Notre Dame fans,” said Tyler, “and it’s our oldest son’s 16th birthday today: he was on the marquee earlier. Especially for charity, to have all of this come together — Notre Dame, the Cubs, the South Bend community — shows the heart of all these entities. For the college players to have this kind of exposure and experience up against professionals is something that will hopefully give them an edge through the rest of the season.”
Even Swoop, beloved mascot of the erstwhile South Bend Silver Hawks, was aflutter with excitement. He didn’t say much, but his enthusiasm was unmistakable.
“This game is important for several reasons,” explained Cubs owner Andrew Berlin. “First and foremost, all the proceeds go to charity. That’s the good news. Everything going on here tonight benefits local folks in need. Plus in terms of Midwest icons, it doesn’t get much bigger than the University of Notre Dame and the Chicago Cubs. It’s a dream-team of brands coming together on one baseball field.
“The symbiosis between the University and our team here is important for both entities. Faculty come here from all over the world; if they’re deciding between South Bend and another school in another city, they want to know that there are things here for their families to participate in. We provide that. Notre Dame and its constituents are a great customer of ours — we appreciate the business but we also really appreciate the support.
“Our team’s mission and its obligation with respect to the residents of our community makes it important for us to be good neighbors and to open our doors. We’d love to see more of the Notre Dame students out here and we’re working with University personnel to figure out how to make that happen. We’re happy to be in the same neighborhood and we love being here.”
Cubs team president Joe Hart concurred.
“The biggest thing is that these are both hometown teams. Notre Dame has always been a great partner of ours and was actually instrumental in bringing the Cubs here in the first place. This [game] is something that we want to offer to the South Bend community and that allows for both programs to give back to all the folks who support us.
“Operationally, it helps us as well to have a soft opening so our brand-new crew members can get their feet wet without 6,000 people standing in line waiting for a hot dog. This is a great way for them to have a trial run before our sold-out season opener.
“I’m sure our guys don’t want to lose to the college guys but Notre Dame is also really competitive so we should have a really good match-up every year. It’s a really exciting event in our book and one we definitely hope to continue.”
For Mike Marchand, the game created a convergence he would never have imagined. “This is spectacular! To bring together the teams that are the favorites of almost everyone in this town? It doesn’t get any better!”
As a lifelong Michiana resident, Marchand voiced a common dilemma among game attendees: which team to root for. “I hope it ends in a 10-10 tie,” he said. “As a Four Winds Field employee and a 2001 Notre Dame alum, I can’t honestly think of a better outcome… or at least not one that I can go on record sharing without losing my job or betraying my alma mater!”
Sean Chiszar faced a similar struggle. “I watched this stadium being built,” he reminisced. “My high school friends and I would come down here and check out the progress. But growing up a baseball kid, I looked to Notre Dame as the only game in town at the time. I wasn’t a Red Sox fan, but I sure knew Carl Yastrzemski played for the Irish.” (Editor’s note: Yastrzemski attended Notre Dame for part of his freshman year before signing with the Red Sox.)
Before playing center field for Franklin (Indiana) College, Chiszar was chosen to raise the American flag — the first time the Stars and Stripes ever flew over Stanley Coveleski Stadium — and actually played in the very first game held at the Cove. In the summer of 1987, South Bend’s two American Legion posts christened the stadium, with Chiszar and his Post 50 teammates defeating Post 357.
The historic ballpark continues to inspire hopes and dreams for the fans it welcomes.
Fourth-grader Emilia Zwart loves coming out to Four Finds Field with her family, but chose to cheer on the Irish in the exhibition match-up. “I want Notre Dame to win because that’s where I’m going to go for college someday,” she offered confidently. “My mom works at Saint Mary’s so I get a free scholarship to Notre Dame. I think. I want to be a teacher like her.”
Although the Irish fell to the Cubs (5 -3) in seven innings, the spirit of Notre Dame was undaunted among her players. Senior infielder Kevin DeFilippis (Homer Glen, Illinois) admitted that “this is the first time I’ve ever heard Go Cubs, go! and been a little bit upset … But this is what we’re all out here trying to work toward,” he said good-naturedly. “There’s more than a few of us who are huge Cubs fans, and to get to come out here in front of our fans and the city and play against this club that we’ve idolized since we were kids, it was just an unbelievable opportunity.”
Sophomore teammate Kyle Fiala (Carmel, Indiana) noted a significant difference in the DNA of the two teams: “At the collegiate level, and especially for us as Notre Dame students, there’s such a strong sense of togetherness and even family. Once you leave that behind, it’s pretty much every man for himself: you could get called up tomorrow or sent down tomorrow. Your own individual performance in any game is about playing for a spot. Realizing that definitely makes me want to appreciate every minute of the atmosphere and relationships of my time at Notre Dame, and take nothing for granted.”
Their coach, Mik Aoki, had nothing but praise for the event, the players on both teams and the venue.
“We got to play some of our guys who have been leaders for the younger kids but who maybe haven’t gotten a lot of game time, and it was great to give them that opportunity and to honor the way they have supported the culture that we nurture on our team,” said Aoki. “The South Bend affiliate has always been very gracious to our team in welcoming us to their facility. I look around here and see the mark that Joe Kernan left, and now the touches that Andrew Berlin has put on it, and it’s just such a great venture and a great way to unite and even revitalize the community of South Bend. It was an honor to play here tonight.”
Honor. Excellence. Tradition. Community. Together, Notre Dame and South Bend knock it out of the park.