Chicago’s Little League champs can teach Cubs a lesson or two

“We got lucky, we got a rain delay right during your championship game, and our entire team was gathered around the TV set, hanging on every single pitch, they were 12 years old themselves, cheering you on. When you turned that double-play to end it, they were celebrating like they had just won the World Series.” – Cubs President Theo Epstein speaking Wednesday at the Millennium Park event celebrating the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars.

The Chicago Cubs will be honoring Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, winners of the U.S. Little League title, at Wrigley Field on Labor Day as it kicks off a six-game homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“The Little League team that captured the country’s hearts this month will meet the Cubs during batting practice, be recognized on-field before Monday’s game, throw a ceremonial first pitch and lead the 7th inning stretch from the field,” the Cubs announced on Friday.

This is a positive step. Not so much for those 12- and 13-year-old kids. But for the Cubs. The Major League Cubs can learn a lot from those Little Leaguers.

Those boys can teach the big leaguers lessons about poise, teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and true grit. They can teach them about winning – something that’s been sorely lacking on the North Side for a very long time.

You build a foundation for winning from the bottom up. It’s not always easy. You can find cracks in the foundation. But you have to believe in what you are doing. When you find those cracks, you mend them.

Jackie Robinson West is not a one-year wonder. It has a long-standing baseball tradition, built by the late Joseph Haley in 1971 and now carried on by his son William. It has been one of the most prominent area programs for years, winning 23 state titles. They advanced to the first round of the 1983 World Series, and returned in 2014, defeating Nevada, a team that had routed them in the preliminary rounds of the Little League World Series 13-2, by a 7-5 score, becoming the first Urban Initiative team to win a U.S. title.

When Theo Epstein took over as Cubs President in 2011, he began rebuilding the Cubs, much like Joseph Haley built Jackie Robinson West in 1971. Epstein wanted to build a new foundation. At every level of the Cubs organization, from the minor leagues to international development, to spring training, to the big league level, you are starting to see the fruits of Epstein’s labor.

In speaking at the Millennium Park rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, Epstein spoke of the Jackie Robinson West legacy.

“Tens of thousands of kids you have impacted,” Epstein said. “You haven’t just waited around for kids to sign up for baseball. You’ve gone into the schools. You’ve gotten kids off the streets. You’ve gotten them playing the game and learning valuable lessons about competition and about life. And that all manifested with this glorious championship.”

Cubs fans watching the U.S. title game at Wrigley Field on TV sets during a rain delay erupted in joyful celebration (see video capture at http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/08/jackie-robinson-west-wrigley-field-reaction). It was as close as they’ve ever come to a championship at their ballpark.

On Labor Day, those same Cubs fans will get chance to cheer that Jackie Robinson West All-Star team in person. Let’s hope that the Cubs players are paying close attention to the lessons those kids can give them and that one day those Cubs fans will be able to cheer for their own championship team.

Randy Richardson is the author of CHEESELAND. An all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY, was released by Eckhartz Press on Opening Day.

Photo: Governor Pat Quinn at Jackie Robinson West Victory Rallies, Chicago, IL—August 27, 2014 / Pat Quinn / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Alteration: None