All-Stars Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto helped residents of Humboldt Park break ground for construction of Little Cubs Field in August.
Little Cubs Field will support opportunities for neighborhood children to learn and grow through baseball. In addition to 350 Humboldt Park children who currently use the fields, the Park District will work with the community to bring more youth and help encourage continued participation in baseball and softball for future generations.
The Cubs partnered with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and Alderman Billy Ocasio to raise $2 million to make this dream a reality. The field was built in cooperation with the Chicago Park District and the Parkways Foundation. The design highlights some of the well-known elements of Wrigley Field, such as a scoreboard reminiscent of the famed Wrigley marquee. Pitchers will be able to warm up in bullpens along the first and third base sidelines just like the pros. The seating will feature covered grandstand seats with a roofline like the Major League park.
Zambrano said he hoped one day, a future Cubs player who developed his skills at the Humboldt Park diamond would join the Cubs. Could Soto imagine having a ballpark that nice when he grew up?
"It would've been awesome," Soto said. "A little Wrigley Field -- I think the kids there will be motivated to play."
The Cubs also supported the Freeport Area Economic Development Foundation's construction of Little Cubs Field in Freeport, which is west of Chicago. This field is a smaller version of Wrigley Field which replicates more than 30 features of the Friendly Confines. The ivy-covered brick for outfield walls -- made from actual Wrigley Field ivy cuttings -- were planted by Marya Veeck, daughter of Bill Veeck, who planted the ivy at Wrigley Field.
The foul poles are complete with flags of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams. The park also features a replica scoreboard and marquee. Former Cubs Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith participated in events at the new field.
As families pause to give thanks this holiday season, several can include the Cubs as helping them in 2008. The team's efforts began with the Cubs Caravan in January. Two tours stopped at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Rupley School in Elk Grove Village, Wood Elementary School in Merrillville, the Boys and Girls Club in Hammond, Ind., McCorkle Elementary School and Nettelhorst Elementary School in Chicago, George Washington School and Franklin Elementary School in Park Ridge. The caravan also participated in fund-raising events for the Freeport's Little Cubs Field and the Joliet Noon Lions Club and Miracle League of Joliet.
Cubs television broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly hosted their "Len & Bob Bash" at the House of Blues with proceeds benefiting Chicago Cubs Charities prior to the team's annual convention in downtown Chicago in January.
Kasper and the Cubs front office staff also took part in the annual National Runaway Switchboard Thanksgiving Dinner this week.
The team made a big splash in April when it announced along with the McCormick Tribune Foundation more than $1 million in grants to non-profit organizations serving the Chicago area. Cubs infielder Ryan Theriot helped present the grant checks.
The Cubs fundraising efforts have resulted in more than $1,665,000 in grants to Chicago-area schools, parks and non-profit organizations in 2008.
During the season, several players visited young patients at Chicago area hospitals. In late May, Ryan Dempster, Mike Fontenot, Reed Johnson and Michael Wuertz stopped at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital. In August, Chad Gaudin, Bob Howry and Sean Marshall visited children at Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital.
In early September, patients at Children's Memorial Hospital received a surprise visit from Mike Quade, Henry Blanco and Soto. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild, WGN Radio's Corey Provus, and players Rich Harden, Jon Lieber and Daryle Ward visited patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
|"It was special for us. I'm very happy for the Cubs to do that. It's great for the community. Hopefully, more good things can come."|
|-- Carlos Zambrano|
The players also helped raise awareness by serving as spokesmen for particular causes or programs. Aramis Ramirez filmed an on-field announcement for the Chicago Public Library's summer reading program. Manager Lou Piniella and Fontenot filmed public service announcements for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Mark DeRosa partnered with Special Olympics Illinois in celebration of their 40th anniversary.
The players also greeted special guests at Wrigley Field who attended games through the Make-A-Wish program. Kerry Wood and his wife, Sarah, raised more than $360,000 for the Organic School Project through his bowling tournament in August. The couple helped serve lunches to 350 students at a Chicago school on Nov. 14. Derrek Lee also raised money for the 1st Touch Foundation through a golf outing.
Cubs Care grants support to a number of organizations committed to bringing quality sports programming to Chicago youth. Each year, more than 13,000 children and young adults participate in sports programs supported by the team. Among the programs were:
Rookie League: A partnership with the Chicago Park District, Rookie League is an introductory league for kids from 6-9. The league has grown to 96 locations with 521 teams across Chicago. Each year, Cubs Care grants cover all program costs so more than 8,000 children from neighborhoods throughout Chicago can participate in the program free of charge.
Inner City Youth Baseball: This program provides recreational activities for more than 260 kids ages 9 to 12 who live in Chicago Housing Authority developments and scattered site housing throughout Chicago. The program is operated in partnership with the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Park District. It aims to address the growing issue of the declining participation of African Americans in baseball by exposing African American youth (who make up 97 percent of the program participants) to the game.
Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities: The RBI program of the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago reaches approximately 300 mostly minority teens, ages 13 to 18, living in some of the poorest community areas in Chicago. Cubs Care grants cover all program costs so the league can provide equipment, uniforms and instruction at no cost to the participants.
The top two Junior teams and the top two Senior teams have competed on the field for the league championship at Wrigley Field. The Junior and Senior All-Star Teams then travel to the Regional Tournaments for the chance to compete in the RBI World Series in Compton, Calif. The Cubs' teams have participated in the RBI World Series three of the last four years, and have won the championship twice.
The Cubs' RBI program boasts three players chosen in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft and one selected in the 2007 Draft.
Zambrano, Lee, Dempster, DeRosa, Ward, Howry, Theriot, Piniella, Alfonso Soriano, Jason Marquis and Wood all sponsored RBI teams.
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Cubs: The RIC Cubs wheelchair softball team won the Wheelchair World Series this year. The team also won championships in 2002, '04, '05 and '06. Cubs Care grants cover all program costs.
In addition, Chicago Cubs Charities donated $150,000 to local schools working with the aldermen representing the areas around the ballpark. The money came from the proceeds of the "Police" performance at Wrigley Field and was donated to schools in the 44th, 46th, 47th and 32nd wards.
Several fans were able to attend games because of the generosity of the players. This year, Dempster and Lilly each purchased 500 tickets to help those who could not otherwise afford to attend a professional baseball game.
Dempster invited 50 people whose families were disrupted by war in Iraq to the Mother's Day game against Arizona at Wrigley Field. He started the program a few years ago and had usually hosted families on Father's Day. This year, he honored the moms in the military.
"Their mothers are over there going to war and the families are here," Dempster said. "It can be a lonely time for them, so hopefully they can come out here and celebrate Mother's Day. That's what it's all about."
Lee and Theriot met with with Chicago-area high school students through the Action Team Program, which is coordinated through Volunteers of America and the Major League Baseball Players Trust. The young people work in their own schools and neighborhoods to encourage teens to help those in need.
DeRosa and Carlos Marmol met with children who attended a Cubs game through the MLB Players' Trust "Buses for Baseball" program.
Dempster, Theriot and DeRosa took part in the Baseball Tomorrow equipment drive and collected more than 4,000 pieces of new and used baseball and softball gear. The United Evangelical Softball League and United Leagues of Humboldt Park received the equipment as well as monetary grants.
On Sept. 2, several Cubs went back to school to greet students returning to classes. Dempster rang the bell to welcome in the new school year at Blaine School and Neal Cotts made a visit to Agassiz Elementary.
The players' wives, girlfriends and families also got involved. In March, the Cubs Wives hosted their 11th annual food drive to benefit Paz de Cristo at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., and raised $12,783 and 4,000 pounds of food. At Wrigley Field in August, the Cubs wives held their sixth annual food drive and received 14,000 pounds of food and $4,800 in donations. Proceeds benefited the Lakeview Pantry in Chicago.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.