The Other Cubs' Turnaround is Just as Impressive
DAILY NORTH SHORE / DAVID SWEET
Fifteen minutes after the South Bend Cubs have finished off another opponent, Andrew Berlin walks from the owner's suite down to the field.
He picks up a black bat near home plate, close to a big bucket of Midwest League balls. One after another, he knocks fly balls into right field, as his two sons, Gavin and Cole, and a few other youngsters scurry and sometimes dive to catch them.
"This is our happy place," says Berlin, the ballpark just about empty after a Saturday-night sellout.
The joys of ownership abound for the Glencoe resident — but they are accompanied by extremely hard work that has transformed a once middling franchise and dilapidated stadium into the comeback story of the Single A minor league.
Berlin — chairman and chief executive officer of Berlin Packaging, which brings in about $800 million a year in revenues — purchased the former Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate on Nov. 11, 2011 at 11:11 a.m. Since then, it would almost be easier to say what hasn't changed at Four Winds Field. Renaming the former Stanley Coveleski Regional Field is one alteration (the Hall of Fame pitcher is now memorialized there with a statue created by Rotblatt-Amrany of Highwood). New clubhouses, better food (including prime rib in the suites), and a $1.5 million performance center that features state-of-the-art batting cages open to fans are among the bigger ones. That former Jewish synagogue just beyond left field? It's been renovated and sells team merchandise, such as hand-stitched hats. Historic Union Station that sits just beyond right field? Don't be surprised if Berlin persuades Amtrak to stop there in its route from Chicago to drop off more fans.
The switch this season to the Cubs, who are enjoying their own rebirth (Berlin is also a limited partner in the major league franchise) has spurred yet another attendance record at the 8,000-seat field, driven in part by the appearance of Cubs' No. 1 draft choice Ian Happ and by endless promotions. On this night, a 40-inch flat-screen television is given away every inning.
During the game, Berlin walks around the stadium, passing children playing in jets of water and throwing away empty cups.
"I appreciate what you've done here. It looks great," says one fan, unsolicited.
"We're not done," says Berlin, who's mulling adding a second level of seats and developing the land he owns outside the stadium ("You get a Starbucks and an Apple store, and you're good to go").
New mascot Stu (short for Studebaker, a car once made in South Bend) entertains children who enjoy the smell of his cotton-candy cologne. At the packed tiki bar in left field, parents watch their kids head down inflatable slides nearby, a setup that keeps both adults and youngsters happy.
"Andrew!" yells a group of three men. They shake hands with the 50-something owner, chat a bit and return to their drinks.
"I ran into those guys at Wrigley one day when I was wearing a South Bend Cubs shirt," Berlin explains. "We've been best friends ever since."
Enjoy the weekend.