CHICAGO — City residents have a choice when it comes to their favorite professional baseball team. And thanks to those two teams, Chicagoans of all means and abilities also have their choice of parks and baseball facilities.
The White Sox and Cubs' charitable arms have given nearly $8 million over the years to build or spruce up baseball diamonds and facilities in and around Chicago. Despite the teams' rivalry on the field, their differing strategies on neighborhood park improvements have meant that a wide range of residents have had access to the game of baseball.
Both teams' charitable missions stem from Major League Baseball's quest to make the game available to everyone, but their efforts have manifested in different ways — even if it means stepping into each other's territory.
For the Cubs, it's giving to underserved neighborhoods. For the White Sox, it's giving to underserved kids. For Chicago and its suburbs, it means plenty of opportunity to enjoy baseball and the outdoors.
"We're placing our investments in the youths that are playing the game," said Christine O'Reilly, executive director of White Sox Charities. "It's great for Chicago that the two teams can complement each other so well."
The Cubs are newer to ballpark restoration but have recently given millions to fields across the city — even in the White Sox's backyard. Cubs Charities has given at least $4 million to local ball fields since 2014 through its Diamond Project, and has an eye toward donations in neighborhoods in need with a passion for the sport, said Mike Lufrano, director of Cubs Charities.
"We look for communities that can really benefit from that kind of field and will use it year-round — a community committed to baseball where residents are invested in seeing the field thrive," Lufrano said.
The Cubs' first project was the creation of Little Cubs Field in Humboldt Park in 2009. That served as a pilot project of sorts for the Diamond Project. Each year, the team partners with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to sort through applications for grants, Lufrano said.
More than 30 organizations applied for funding in 2017, and Lufrano said his team now is reviewing the applications as part of the selection process. Each year, the amount the team gives through the Diamond Project has grown, the team said.
The fields and groups the Cubs have given to are as diverse as the city. The charity has given to neighborhood parks like Kelly Park in Brighton Park, built a wheelchair-accessible diamond in Irving Park, spruced up fields at high schools like Steinmetz College Prep in Belmont Cragin. It has teamed with other donors like ESPN and Cal Ripken's charity, including the building of a hybrid sports field in Marquette Park.
The Cubs even gave $55,000 to the Canaryville Little League — located in the shadow of Guaranteed Rate Field — to put toward a new concession stand.
There's no competition between the two organizations when it comes to charitable giving, even if their missions and areas overlap, both teams said. Instead, the idea is to do the most they can for the people most in need.
"We are here for the whole city, and I think the White Sox are as well," Lufrano said. " The teams compete on the field, but off the field, we share a desire to improve Chicago and make our city better."
This plaque was installed on about 800 fields thanks to a $1 million White Sox donation made in 1991. [Provided/White Sox Charities]
The White Sox
The White Sox have taken a slightly different approach in recent years. All together, the team has given $3.5 million to the construction of accessible baseball complexes, neighborhood parks and a field for its inner-city youth team.
Many of those facilities are out in the suburbs, which have robust accessible baseball leagues known as the Miracle League. The White Sox have given about $1.5 million to the construction of six of those parks, including a multidiamond facility in Mount Greenwood, which cost $1 million, O'Reilly said.
White Sox Charities also has donated funds to neighborhood diamonds. Its first ever charitable donation in 1991 was $1 million to the Chicago Park District for the rehabbing of 800 fields, O'Reilly said.
But since then, the team's ballpark donations have focused on making the game more accessible to those with disabilities. O'Reilly said that mission came from team owner Jerry Reinsdorf after he saw a segment of HBO's "Real Sports" that discussed the first Miracle Field in Georgia.
"I remember he told me, 'If you don't cry when you watch this, then there's something wrong with you,'" she said.
The White Sox also have built an impressive baseball stadium connected to the Kroc Community Center in Pullman. A $1 million donation to the center helped build the stadium, a replica of the White Sox home field. (Reinsdorf's other team, the Chicago Bulls, also donated $1 million to the center.)
The team runs a baseball program for inner-city kids who otherwise could not participate in the expensive, travel-heavy world of elite youth baseball. Its home games are played at the Pullman stadium.
"It is incredibly important to our organization to be champions of the community as well as champions on the field," O'Reilly said.
The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by an entity controlled by a trust established for the benefit of the family of Joe Ricketts, owner and CEO of DNAinfo.com. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the management of the iconic team.