ROSCOE VILLAGE — Now-retired Cubs great Kerry Wood had an idea to build a baseball stadium for Chicago's student-athletes seven years ago. On Thursday morning, with wife Sarah and a host of dignitaries at his side, Kid K finally broke ground on Kerry Wood Cubs Field.
The planned $5 million, 1,100-seat stadium, located just behind Lane Tech High School, is the first on the city's North Side to meet Illinois High School Association standards, making it eligible to host statewide tournaments. The state-of-the-art facility is expected to be ready for spring ball.
"I'm excited to get more kids playing baseball in the city," Wood said.
The ball park was funded through contributions from the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Cubs Charities, Wood Family Foundation, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and Turner Construction.
"We came at the right time. It's awesome," said Logan Williams, a member of Lane Tech's freshman baseball squad.
His team currently uses Horner Park as its home field.
"The infield is patchy," he said. "There's divots in the outfield."
"They're not the best fields," Gerald Ingram, one of the coaches at Simeon Career Academy, last year's city champs, agreed. "I wish we had this back when I was playing."
Brett Bildstein, Lake View High School's head baseball coach, takes his team to the suburbs to practice on higher quality diamonds. "You don't have people playing soccer in the outfield," he said, noting that few Park District diamonds are closed off from dogs, Frisbee players or wandering toddlers.
The lack of an IHSA-regulation field also meant that come tournament time, city teams were forced to play home games on their opponent's turf during sectional and regional rounds.
"This will balance the playing field," said Dean Stavrakas, head varsity baseball coach at Lane Tech. "More from a pride perspective, we're no longer a second-class citizen."
"It's really going to help us show we are amazing athletes," added Walter Nolan-Cohn, first baseman for Lane Tech's varsity team. Nolan-Cohn was chosen by Lane's administrators to represent the school among the groundbreaking's slate of speakers, alongside Wood and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.
He stepped to the podium with a speech Wood judged worthy of a mayor. "The city may not have the facilities that the suburbs do," said Nolan-Cohn, "but the city has talent as good if not better and this field will help us prove it."
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), whose office also helped bring the stadium project to fruition, took a broader view of the ball field's importance.
"You have 1,100 kids start tee-ball" in the ward, he said, with waiting lists for the youngest ballplayers. By eighth grade, those numbers drop dramatically, not only due to diminishing interest in the sport, but also the drain of families leaving the city for the suburbs. It's crucial, he said, for the city to match the suburbs' facilities.
"We have to convince people the city's just as good as the suburbs," he said. "I would love to bring a national tournament to the ward and show that Chicago can be a Little League Baseball mecca."
When not in use by Chicago's high school teams, Kerry Wood Cubs Field, which is technically part of Clark Park, will be operated by the Park District, open to recreational leagues and the general public. Jim Coffman, president of the Welles Park Parents Association, which operates baseball programs at various parks on the North Side, can't wait to get his teams under the Cubs Field lights.
"Kids can learn so many life lessons from baseball," he said. "Hard work pays off."