Every minor league baseball player grows up dreaming of the opportunity to play in a major league baseball stadium. On July 7th, the Kane County Cougars and Peoria Chiefs will get the chance to play a game at Wrigley Field. They will leave their minor league world full of small ballparks, terrible food, and odd promotions. For one night, they will get a taste of life as a major league baseball player.
Back in 2008, the Chicago Cubs organization began an annual tradition of the "Road to Wrigley" game, which is a game that features one of the Cubs minor league teams at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.
The first of such games in ‘08 featured the Cubs' Single-A affiliate Peoria Chiefs against the Kane County Cougars.
On Monday, it was announced that the Chiefs will again be featured in the "Road to Wrigley" game, and their opponent would be the Cougars.
The "Road to Wrigley" game will give these minor leaguers the opportunity to play in Wrigley Field, a ballpark that is as old as it is historic.
"What an opportunity to go out and play in a big league park, especially a park like Wrigley Field," Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula said.
"There's a lot of nostalgia there, a lot of history in the area, the park itself. Just go out there and have fun, enjoy the moment, and cherish the memory."
This year's "Road to Wrigley" game will be the second game that Aaron Nieckula has managed at Wrigley. However, the Cougars' manager is no newbie to Wrigley. Nieckula is a Chicagoland native, and lives in nearby Aurora. Nieckula has been going to Cubs games at Wrigley since he was a kid. The game offers a special chance for Nieckula to return to the ballpark that he has so many memories at.
"For me personally, it's a wonderful opportunity," said Nieckula.
"To grow up a Cub fan, I'd go to a lot of Cubs games as a kid. I had an opportunity to manage at the park. I did it in '08; I had a great time with it."
The game is a dream come true for Nieckula, but the Cougars' manager admits it's all about the players. The Cougars have a good track record of producing major league baseball players, but Nieckula acknowledged that not everyone will make it to the major leagues.
The "Road to Wrigley" game offers both a sampling of the big league experience for future big leaguers, and also an everlasting memory for those who don't make it to the majors.
"Some guys on this team will play in a big league park, so maybe it's not that big of a deal," Nieckula said.
"Nobody knows who that's going to be. It's an opportunity to go out there, have some fun, play hard, and do the best you can in a big league stadium."
The Cougars have only one current player who was a member of the 2008 teams that played in the inaugural "Road to Wrigley" game: catcher Juan Nunez. However, two current Cougars were a part of the 2008 Under Armor All-American game, which was held at Wrigley: 19-year old catcher Max Stassi and 19-year old pitcher Ian Krol.
Krol said he'll never forget his first time walking into the ballpark to play a game."It was pretty sweet; everybody just had their mouths open and their eyes wide open," Krol said of his trip to Wrigley with his Under Armor All-American teammates.
"They couldn't even believe it. I couldn't believe it myself. It's every kid's dream who plays baseball to play on a major league baseball field and experience what that feels like."
That game was played in front of a decent sized crowd, but the "Road to Wrigley" game offers a chance for the Cougars and Chiefs to showcase their talents in front of a major league sized crowd. In 2008, the Cougars and Chiefs played in front of 32,103 fans. Krol said he hopes to be on the mound for that game, but regardless, he just wants to enjoy his experience.
"I heard [two years ago] there were 32,000 fans there," Krol said. "It's pretty much going to be unbelievable, even if I'm not pitching or if I am still, I'm just going to be walking around enjoying it. I'm really excited."
Like his manager, Krol attending a game at Wrigley will be nothing new. Krol was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois, and grew up as a diehard Cubs fan. Krol admitted he has been going to games at Wrigley forever, and even plans on going to a Cubs game during an off day for Kane County.
Most baseball fans see Wrigley Field as a cathedral to the game of baseball, not just an ordinary baseball stadium. The "Friendly Confines" were built in 1914, which makes it the second oldest ballpark in baseball. Wrigley has hosted some of baseball's storybook moments. Babe Ruth calling a home run, Gabby Hartnett's "Homer in the Gloamin" and Kerry Wood recording 20 strikeouts in one game.
As a lifelong Cubs fan, Krol understands that Wrigley isn't just an ordinary baseball stadium."It really means a lot to me. I'm from Naperville, I'm a hometown guy." Krol said of playing at Wrigley.
"Wrigley Field isn't just a baseball field, it's something special. I've grown up a Cubs fan my whole life, and all I really ever wanted to was play for the Cubs when I was little. It's definitely not just a field to me; it's something bigger than that."
The main objective of the "Road to Wrigley" game is to give these minor leaguers a chance to play at Wrigley Field, a place that every baseball player dreams of playing at. Every minor leaguer imagines himself making it to the big leagues, and playing at a major league baseball stadium. With the "Road to Wrigley" game, these players will get their opportunity. The game helps motivate these Single-A players to someday reach the major leagues.
"It's a really exciting moment for everyone," catcher Max Stassi said, who was taken in the 4th round of the 2009 draft. "It just makes you hungry to get there to play in a big league stadium year in and year out. It'll be a lot of fun. I'm excited."
For one game, these prospects won't be just an ordinary minor leaguers. They will get a taste of their ultimate dream. Being a major league baseball player. For one night, these players will make memories that will never be forgotten.