South Bend Cubs Looking to Enhance Experience
South Bend Tribune / Al Lesar
Notre Dame football coaching icon Lou Holtz often spoke about staying on top being much more difficult than getting there.
Andrew Berlin recognizes the situation, but refuses to let it be an issue with the South Bend Cubs.
Heading into their second season, the South Bend Cubs are on top of the Minor League Baseball world. Last year’s record-setting attendance, top-shelf fan experience, and being voted No. 1 among 160 minor league teams was a great beginning.
But, remember, it was just a beginning.
"Getting to the top requires a different set of behaviors," said Berlin, the owner who brought the Cubs to town. "You're driving toward a certain goal. Once you get there, you have to innovate every year."
"Tactically, you're executing with precision and discipline to get to the top. To stay at the top, open and creative imagination is required for that."
In other words, standing pat isn't an option. Complacency isn't in Berlin’s vocabulary, and thus has been removed from the equation anywhere around Four Winds Field.
"I'm not a complacent guy," Berlin said in an understatement.
While workers busily scurried around the ballpark Thursday, now with 27 days left before Opening Day, Berlin gave some updates of plans and dreams for the upcoming season — and beyond.
He said work on the proposed apartment/retail structures planned to be built outside the ballpark on the left-field and center-field areas will begin in the fall. A party deck that will accommodate 200 people, attached to the Performance Center in right field, should be ready soon.
A new kitchen, with the aim of making better food and keeping the concession lines shorter, is up and running. The Cubs' clubhouse has been renovated. The walls of the visiting clubhouse are no longer pink. New lockers have been installed, and even the special-order pink toilet paper has been removed.
Turkey burgers and funnel cakes will highlight the new items on the ballpark concession menu. There will be more than 100 new items in the team store. A 7-foot Stu doll, the likeness of the South Bend Cubs mascot, will be raffled off during the season. No word whether Swoop will get equal treatment.
Berlin emphasized that he and his staff have taken comments from the public very seriously. They are always looking for feedback.
One recurring theme that has come from the suggestions has been the fans' interest in getting to know the ballplayers on a personal level. Even though, by its nature, minor league baseball is a transient business, South Bend fans can become invested in a player while he's here, then follow him on the path to Wrigley Field.
"With the advent of the internet, you can track these players and their stories as they move through the system," Berlin said. "(Fans) want to get to know these players; they want to create an emotional connection.
"They know these guys are some of the best in the farm system. They know the Cubs have one of the most powerful farm systems in the business."
Just don't expect anyone to take a bow anytime soon.
The work has just begun.