As a lifelong baseball enthusiast, I was thrilled when it was announced in March of 1985 that a baseball stadium was being built in downtown South Bend and that a minor league team was coming to town.
The enthusiasm remained even when it was announced the South Bend team would be affiliated with the Chicago White Sox. My interests at the Major League level belong to the crosstown Chicago Cubs.
Despite the affiliation with the White Sox it was fun and entertaining to attend games at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, as it was called then.
One of the best times was going to see future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, who was down for a rehab assignment from the White Sox.
Attendance was good in those days when the team was associated with the White Sox. Once that relationship ended and the South Bend club became connected with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team was re-named the Silverhawks and interest and attendance began to decline.
Things changed for me and a lot of baseball fans in the area when it was announced back on Sept. 25, 2014, that there was going to be a new Major League team aligning themselves with South Bend and that team was the Chicago Cubs.
South Bend team owner Andrew Berlin made the announcement to a packed room at the South Bend Chamber of Commerce office. I had the good fortune to cover the press conference for the paper.
“We are now The South Bend Cubs,” Berlin said. “Affection for and loyalty to the Chicago Cubs goes back generations in this community. We’ve listened to fans throughout the region, and this is a name that we know they are thrilled about.”
Cubs President Theo Espstein was also there for the announcement. Berlin is a wealthy man, who I have been told would like to own a Major League team some day, but you really get more of a common man feeling around him.
Again when it was my good fortune to attend the press conference unveiling the new logo and merchandise for the SB Cubs I had a chance meeting with the owner.
When approaching the elevator to go up to the stadium level at Four Winds Field the doors started to close. Thinking I would just wait for it to come back down, a hand suddenly appeared and the doors opened revealing Berlin standing there.
We had a brief conversation on the short ride, but it left me with the lasting impression that the man truly cares about the people who were going to be fans of his team.
Berlin put a lot of money into improvements at the stadium to make it a nicer place for fans and the people responded by coming out in droves.
The team just announced that an all-time South Bend franchise record 347,678 fans were in attendance for the recently completed season.
“We want to thank the amazing fans who came from a hundred miles in every direction to Four Winds Field all summer long,” Berlin said in a team press release about the new record. “To have reached this new milestone means that the work we’ve been doing to make this a place where families and young people enjoy themselves night after night is working. To all of us at the South Bend Cubs, it’s confirmation that this really is a place where everyone comes to play—and not just the professional team down on the field. But, we’re not done; there’s a lot more to come.”
Jeff Rea, President of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, said in the same press release, “When it comes to South Bend sports stories done by regional and national publications, they’re not solely about Notre Dame football anymore. Now, they’re about the South Bend Cubs and Four Winds Field. Whether it’s the New York Times article about our baseball synagogue, Inc. Magazine about the success of the team, or the Chicago Tribune’s story about Theo Epstein throwing out the first pitch at Four Winds Field, the South Bend Cubs under the leadership of Andrew Berlin and his team President Joe Hart have had a huge and permanent impact upon this city. Everyone here is grateful for it.”
The team also established a new benchmark of 58 percent for stadium sellouts at Four Winds Field for a single season. Forty home games were sold out this year.
“We had over 5,000 tickets sold on average per game,” Hart said in the same press release. “Just a few years ago, the average was less than 1,800.”
The record attendance of 347,678 has been reported to the offices of MiLB (Minor League Baseball) and officially places the South Bend Cubs in fifth place for attendance among all 16 teams in the Midwest league.
The attendance was great in 2015 and Berlin apparently thinks it can keep going in an upward direction. In one of his press conferences, he talked about how he would love to have to add an upper deck to Four Winds Field.
Wouldn’t that be something?