History, Religion, and Baseball: An Unexpectedly Awesome Weekend with the South Bend Cubs

There’s little in life I enjoy more than a day at the ballpark, especially when I can spend that time with my family. Beyond the game itself, I relish the immersive experience of being there and taking in all the little sights and sounds woven into baseball’s tapestry. And while Wrigley Field is at the pinnacle for me, it’s hard to beat the simple pleasures of a minor-league setting.

The parks, crowds, and prices are smaller, allowing you to be a little more closer and maybe to enjoy the game — again, more the Platonic ideal of it rather than the actual contest on the field — in a different sense. That was the case for me this past weekend, when I took my kids to South Bend to catch a pair of games.

It was something of a homecoming, since I’d been to what was then just Coveleski Stadium back when it was first built. Because it was only about an hour away, we’d go there to see the South Bend White Sox and Silver Hawks (they changed the name to better reflect a change in affiliation and the local history of Studebaker automobiles). One of my great regrets in life is narrowly missing Bo Jackson when he played there while rehabbing his way back to the bigs.

It had been at least 20 years since my last trip to the Cove, so it felt like a good time to pack up the kids and head north. We typically make a road trip to see the Cubs and/or one of their affiliates each summer, taking some time to experience a new city in the process. I wasn’t really expecting much from South Bend if I can be totally honest, but it delivered in a big way.

As a born and bred Indiana native, I know all about Hoosier Hospitality and it’s something I should be accustomed to. But whether it was being something of a guest in my own state or just that the people in South Bend are different, I can’t say that I’ve ever come across a friendlier collection of individuals.

We visited the Potawatami Zoo (which is small enough to see in two hours and cheap enough for that to be okay) and then headed over to the Studebaker National Museum and the History Museum — which has an exhibit on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League — for good measure. As with the zoo, you could spend as much or as little time as you want in these places; they’re not cost-prohibitive and they’ve got a little something for everyone.

If you’re planning to head to South Bend to see the Cubs of the present and future, I highly recommend visiting any and all of those attractions. Call me a nerd or whatever, but I think it’s important to have some context for the town you’re visiting, some understanding for how and why it is what it is. Not that the zoo offers much insight as it were,but lions and tigers are cool.

I would also direct you to eat at PEGGS on Michigan St, just about half a mile from Four Winds Field. They’re open for breakfast and lunch and the staff there is as great as the food. If you’re looking for a drink and a bite before the game, check out South Bend Brew Werks. The walls are adorned with art inspired by 80’s pop culture and the beer selection is excellent. Wash down the spicy brisketwich with a Happer’s Haze if you go.

As for the ballpark, it’s hard to beat $7 parking and $13 tickets right on the dugout. There’s not a bad seat in the house and they’ve got several group seating areas and suites if you’re looking to organize some kind of outing.

Coming up on July 26, they’ve got a Craft Beer Night that will feature tons of local brews at a really reasonable price. The $40 VIP tickets give you the opportunity to sample 60 different beers, plus all-you-can-eat/drink hot dogs, chips, cookies, pop, and water. Oh, and you get to go to the game as well. Sounds like I planned my trip too early.

Even if you’re there on a normal night, they’ve got a solid craft selection. In addition to the macro standbys, you can get several different Bell’s offerings and a few other locals options. Because the park is much cozier, it’s easy to check everything out before making your choice.

They’ve got a splash pad for the kids, plus a big section of inflatables that I ended up spending a lot of time in over the course of games on Saturday and Sunday. I’m still not sure why my son wanted to run around on those things as hot as it was Sunday afternoon, but I guess the heat doesn’t bother 9-year-olds quite as much.

Speaking of, we got to go out on the field for a little catch prior to Sunday’s game, which you can see in the featured image above. Our own Todd Johnson was there at the game in an official media capacity, so he was snapping away and sent me that pic after the game. Little things like that are what make minor league games different.

There’s also being so close that you can hear a fastball tick a batter’s jersey from your seat. Or sitting behind home and staring down the third base line and having your daughter ask about what specifically would constitute a fair or foul ball. Or walking out to buy Kona Ice from a stand that lets the kids add their own flavors, the aftermath of which is where the spray from the splash pad comes in handy.

One really unique feature Four Winds boasts is the Cubs Den store, a retail shop housed beyond the left field wall in a renovated Jewish synagogue. My favorite part of that store, in addition to the sweet gear, is a reimagined Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that hangs above the checkout line. I’m not sure whether there is a greater symbolism to the iconic Catholic image adorning the walls of a converted synagogue, but I dig it either way.

And besides, baseball is more or less a religion for some folks and it was a Sunday.

Team owner Andrew Berlin has some big things in the works even further beyond the outfield walls, too. He’s putting $23 million into the Ivy at Berlin Place apartments, dual buildings that will feature comprehensive sound-proofing along with shatter-proof glass. You know, in case Jackson comes through again.

Atop the building in left is a rooftop deck similar to what you’d find at Wrigley, featuring space for up to 300 fans and equipped with a full bar, food service, and grandstand. The apartments themselves are still in the construction phase, but the rooftop has been open since June.

Oh, we actually saw some baseball while we were there. Catcher Miguel Amaya was away from the team due to his participation in the Futures Game, but we did get a look at 2018 top draft pick (No. 24 overall) Nico Hoerner. The Cubs had moved him up from short-season Eugene just a few days before and was at short and batting third in both games we attended.

He hadn’t given us much to cheer about until late in Sunday’s game, when he dug in with two out and the bases empty.

My favorite part about this clip is hearing my son say, “Get out, get out, get out” like a miniature (and much less annoying) Chris Berman, then hearing my daughter lament, “I wish the bases were loaded.”

You may not be able to see from the video, but it’s 405 feet to center in South Bend and that’s not a short wall. Hoerner’s built more solidly than I had expected and he’s got some pop in that bat, something the Cubs must have felt they could unlock. After hitting only two homers in 232 at-bats during his final season at Stanford (none in his last 181 ABs), he’s now popped that many in 49 at-bats as a professional.

Not a bad way to end the weekend, even if it did take us about 30 minutes in the blasting AC of our van to stop sweating. We left tired and in need of a shower, but it was well worth that and more to spend a couple days in South Bend at the ballpark and everywhere else. Big thanks to Chris Hagstrom-Jones and the rest of the SB Cubs’ staff for ensuring that was the case.

If you haven’t done so already, get yourself up to Northern Indiana for a game or two. Heck, do it again if you’ve been before. And tell them I sent you. Not that it’ll get you anything other than a quizzical look, I just want to see if anyone would actually try to drop my name.

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