Polish Heritage Night at Wrigley Field

Polish Heritage Night, First Time at Wrigley Field, sponsored by PEPSI — by Raymond Rolak

CHICAGO– PEPSI and ‘Chicago Cub’s Charities’ helped the Chicago based Polish American Association to raise over $12,500 at the first Polish Heritage Night at Wrigley Field. Purchase, New York is the home for PEPSI headquarters.

Almost 34,000 turned out to enjoy the game and pregame festivities which included the high energy of ALIZMA. The violin trio did not disappoint.

The PAA sold Cub’s baseball caps with the Polish flag on the side for $5. All the proceeds went to the PAA for their programs. The PAA provides social services in the Chicago area. Besides PEPSI, PNC Bank was also a keynote sponsor for the evening.

Those that came late missed the jazzy renditions of the Polish and American National Anthems by vocalist Agnieszka Iwanska.

Everyone seemed to join in the celebration. The San Diego Padre broadcast team of Dick Enberg and Mark Grant highlighted their telecast back to California with Polish American baseball anecdotes. “Stan Musial was the first inductee into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame,” said Enberg. Grant was impressed with Enberg’s history recall. “I try and vote every year,” added Enberg. It should not be surprising as Enberg is a baseball history buff and always peppers his broadcasts with old tidbits of baseball information. Before the game, the Central Michigan University alumnus (1957) also bragged about former CMU quarterback Dan LaFevour, now playing for the Chicago Bears.

Grant, a former pitcher, fondly told stories about Danny Ozark. Ozark was his manager in San Francisco in 1984. The deceased Ozark was a NPASHF inductee this year.

Also, before the game, Cub’s Coach Allan Trammell was impressed with the entertainment and reminisced about Polish night at old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. “We used to tease Dick Tracewski our longtime coach. I have Polish-Philadelphia roots and this brings back memories of my mom’s cooking. It is hard to find good stuffed cabbage in California,” said Trammell.

Students from the Polish Saturday School in Chicago were the honor guard for the pregame anthems. Aleksandra Krystek of the Polish Consulate and Jadwiga Pytlik-Kacik of the Polish Saturday School choreographed the music and flag protocol. It went off without a glitch.

Zygmunt Matynia, Consul General of the Republic of Poland and Gary Kenzer, Executive Director of the PAA were scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitches. Also, Stan Kaczmarek of the Cub’s was supposed to do a special toss before the game but the music ran long. No one complained as ALIZMA was rocking the house. They boot-scooted and energized old Wrigley Field with both Polish pop songs and American Country favorites. The Polish triplets Aleksandra, Izabela and Monika, were a big-big hit.

In the concourse and near gate F, volunteers from the PAA and Cub’s staff were selling the Polish Flag-Cub’s hats. Almost 2,500 were sold. Krystyna Grell and Beata Cohmiak did a brisk business selling hats and also passed out baseball instruction cards printed bilingually for rules enhancement and ‘rookie’ attendees.

With people still mingling outside of festive Wrigley Field, the San Diego Padres did the home team in, 1-0. The Cubs had a disaster of a first inning and never recovered. It has been a rough year for the loveable ‘Cubbies’. They have 10 rookies on the roster and after the game they traded slugger Derek Lee to the Atlanta Braves. They are over twenty games under the .500 mark. It looks as if the rebuilding has started.

The Levy Restaurant and Catering Company provided Polish style dinners at the ‘Sheffield Grill’ and there was Polish offerings throughout the Wrigley Field concession stands.

Chicago Black Hawk broadcaster Ed Olczyk sang the traditional Wrigley Field, ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the 7th inning stretch. The still enthusiastic crowd stood and joined in as the established tradition demands. Most stayed to the end, there was a chance in the bottom of the ninth. Alas, the home team went down still, 1-0. The loveable Cub’s.

John Pachlowski and Michal Jaworski of TVN-24 did a television feature for Polish TV and the Chicago Sun-Times highlighted all the Polish-American baseball players in the NPASHF, including Jenny Romatowski. She is another Polish-American Wrigley Field baseball connection. You can look it up.

Other Major League Baseball teams that hosted Polish Nights this year are the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and the Pittsburg Pirates.

There is a baseball training center in Kutno, Poland which has hosted the European Little League Championships.

Raymond Rolak is a Michigan based sports broadcaster.