Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts jokingly promised that the team would keep up its winning pace if guests at Thursday night’s Bricks and Ivy Ball helped top $2 million for charity.
“We just went 10-for-11 — (the players) said if we get to two million bucks we’ll go 10-for-11 again,” Ricketts said at the ninth-annual gala at Navy Pier, themed this year as a “Night Under the Stars.”
Considerable star power notwithstanding, Ricketts didn’t quite get to his desired total. The event raised $1.65 million for Cubs Charities.
Last year, the Cubs raised $1.8 million for youth baseball fields and fitness-related programs for at-risk kids. In 2017, donations reached $2.2 million.
This year Cubs Charities has emphasized its Diamond Project, tasked with renovating baseball and softball fields and funding kids’ baseball and academic programs across the city.
Archer Manor Little League recently received $185,000 for new lights, a scoreboard, dugouts and bleachers. Morgan Park High School was granted $87,380 for renovations.
In January, the team and nonprofit partner Good Sports delivered $110,000 in new sports equipment to 110 Chicago schools.
On Saturday, a renovated Dawes Park ($65,000) in Auburn Gresham will be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
1. Addison Russell was there, days after his suspension was lifted.
Still relatively fresh off his return from a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, it was uncertain if Russell would attend.
On Thursday, he received a mix of boos and cheers in his first game back at Wrigley Field.
But when Cubs analyst and charity night co-host Len Kasper announced his name, the infielder took the stage, high-fived kids from the team’s youth baseball programs and received only applause — like all the other Cubs players.
Players weren’t made available for interviews Thursday, which has been standard in recent years for the event.
Cubs President Theo Epstein said before Wednesday’s game: “I think he knows it’s a long road back to earn people’s trust.“
Russell told reporters he has been making strides with therapy. “It's a long road ahead and there is no finish line, but I'm committed to this,” he said.
2. Joe Maddon paid tribute to Ken Ravizza.
Ravizza, the sports psychologist who worked with Maddon as his mental skills coach for the Rays and Cubs, died in July.
Maddon ticked off a top 10 of Ravizza’s favorite mantras.
“Here’s the off-color one — and I can just hear him saying it — Have a good (crappy) day,” Maddon said. “It's not always going to be perfect, and that’s what you have to understand.
Other Ravizza-isms the Cubs manager cited:
“Be present, not perfect.”
“Attitude is a decision.”
“The time is now, the place is here.”
Maddon is a master of pithy, poignant sayings, and the more you listen to Maddon, the more you hear Ravizza.
3. One gala attendee has ties to the White Sox Fan in Chief.
Michael Strautmanis, an ardent supporter of the Cubs’ charity efforts, became a Cubs fan not long after his family moved to Uptown, within a couple miles of Wrigley Field. “As I got older I realized being an African-American Cubs fan in Chicago was too rare of a thing and frankly made me more of a Cubs fan.”
One of his first jobs as a high school student was selling T-shirts outside Wrigley. Strautmanis now works as vice president of civic engagement for the Obama Foundation, which means the big boss, former President Barack Obama, roots for his crosstown rival.
“I remember one time we were at the White House and he was getting ready to throw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game and he came out and slapped on that White Sox cap and gave me a look and pointed his finger at me there,” said Strautmanis, who was Obama’s deputy assistant in the White House. “You know, he was letting me know who he is and being true to his fandom.
“What can I say? He was the leader of the free world at the time. I just had to take it.”
When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, “I had at least a world championship to put in his face,” Strautmanis said. “(But) you know what was nice about it is he reached out; he was really happy for me. … There were a few Cubs fans on his team and he was nice enough to reach out to a few of us.”
4. A high school softball player wanted to test herself and got much more in the bargain.
Lake View High School junior Alexandra Nevarez joined the Cubs and Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program last summer in part because her teammates did too. But she also saw an opportunity to test herself under pressure.
“I just wanted to improve the player I am and improve myself in a way,” said the 17-year-old outfielder from Belmont Cragin. “If an occasion arises … that panics you during the game, I want to know where I should go and where all the plays should be at.”
Because of her involvement in softball, she said, she got to attend her first professional baseball game last year. “When I saw them warming up I started crying because it’s always been a dream of mine to see them play live,” Nevarez said.
Last week, Ryan Dempster and mascot Clark the Cub caught her off guard when they presented her with a $20,000 college scholarship at school.
“For them to surprise me like that and award me such a big amount, that really sets a foundation for my future … I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” she said.
Nevarez said she still can’t fathom why the Cubs Scholars program picked her as one of eight recipients.
“I quite honestly don’t know what they saw (in me),” she said. “When I came out of the interview, I was like, ‘I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it,’ because I didn’t feel very confident. That’s one of the reasons I love the program even more is because they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
5. The grass is not necessarily greener on this side of the calendar.
Vice president of community affairs Mike Lufrano didn’t need this spring’s cold and wet weather to further convince him of the need for artificial turf on youth sports fields.
“If we can do more turf fields, weather like this in March and April, the fields drain easier, they don’t puddle up, you don’t need as much maintenance and you can play sooner,” he said. “And so kids that are waiting to play now and can't because the weather floods the field won’t have that problem.”
“They are safe places to play in 60 neighborhoods across the city and the more you can use them in March and April and then, of course, all summer, when the weather is nice, the better.”
6. Jim Miller, but not that Jim Miller.
At least one reporter eyes got his hopes when he read that Jim Miller was going to conduct the live auction during the ball.
Sure, it’s plausible that the former Bears quarterback, who has worked extensively in TV and radio, might try his hand at the fast-talking art form. But no such luck here.
This Jim Miller is owner and founder of Chicago-based Charityauctioneer.com and has worked various events for Cubs Charities as well as events for Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo.
That’s not to say Auction Jim couldn’t throw a decent 7 route when pressed.
7. Speaking of auctions.
It always will to be hard to top former Cub Matt Szczur’s painting of then-teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, which sold for $35,000 two years ago.
There was less fanfare for this year’s collection, which included a signed Bears helmet by Allen Robinson, a picture of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder before taking the stage at Wrigley and a David Ross jersey (and, yes, he was at the gala.)
Perhaps one of the most interesting items was a collection of baseballs signed by each of the five living presidents: Yes, that includes Obama and President Donald Trump.
There is also an ongoing online auction and as of Friday morning, the top bid was $1,410 for Anthony Rizzo’s game-used broken bat from the game against the Dodgers on April 23. The bidding for that piece of memorabilia and others ends Sunday.
8. Everyone works for Cubs Charities, but technically no one works for Cubs Charities.
The team’s foundation has no dedicated, full-time staff, cobbling together human resources from various departments, according to Lufrano.
“The Cubs employees donate all of our time to support Cubs Charities’ efforts, so it reduces the expenses that Cubs Charities (and other programs) has and allows more of those dollars to be used in the community,” he said.
Lufrano estimated that between 150 and 200 employees volunteer 3,500 hours.
9. On Sunday, the Cubs’ attention turns to cancer awareness.
On Sunday, the Cubs host their annual “Pink Out” game at Wrigley Field, where breast cancer survivor Kristen Hall will serve as honorary bat girl. That morning, Rizzo and his mom, Laurie, will co-host the launch of the 22nd annual Komen Chicago Race for the Cure at Montrose Harbor. Rizzo also serves as honorary chair.
Rizzo’s grandmother died of breast cancer just two weeks after his own battle with Hodgkin lymphoma went into remission. She was one of the inspirations for Rizzo’s foundation, which raises money for research and financially supports families of child patients.