Hall of Famer helps open Starlight Fun Center for kids in Chicago hospital
By Mark Newman
CHICAGO -- Fergie Jenkins pitched 19 seasons in the Majors, including an eight-year stretch from 1966-73 when he blossomed as perennial 20-game winner and Cy Young Award recipient for the Cubs. He never had the opportunity to experience the postseason as a player, but the 73-year-old Hall of Famer is at the World Series as an ambassador for the Cubs, and he's making the most of this rare moment.
"It's a first for me. We got close a couple of times, '69 and '70, but the city is in an uproar," Jenkins said. "These young men can really play. It reminds me a lot of the '69 team, when we had players who were all different ages, couple of veterans. They loved to play the game, they loved to win. These guys have got great defense, they've got better-than-average offense. They have an opportunity to really do something great for the city."
Jenkins is doing his part as well, in his own way. In addition to lending his support around the Cubs' dugout, he spent Friday morning at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at a World Series community event where Major League Baseball and the Cubs donated a Starlight Fun Center mobile entertainment unit for the children there.
In a way, Jenkins finally did play for the Cubs in a World Series -- if you count playing video games with hospitalized children and giving them a reason to smile.
"The Cubs have always supported different charities, and Starlight is one of them," Jenkins said. "I think it's a big plus for an organization to be part of the city, and the city is now overwhelmed with the World Series, so it's a big plus. It's nice to see the kids. They enjoy seeing someone connected to MLB, but when you bring the games in, forget about me, they want to see the games."
Also in attendance were Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs; Mike Lufrano, Cubs executive vice president of community affairs; Laura Ferrio, RIC chief nurse executive and vice president of patient care services; Samantha Martinez, manager of e-philanthropy and community partnerships at Starlight Children's Foundation; Sharon Robinson, MLB educational programming consultant and daughter of Jackie Robinson; Vera Clemente, MLB Goodwill Ambassador and wife of Roberto Clemente; Don Cooke, senior VP of philanthropy at the McCormick Foundation; and Clark, the Cubs' mascot.
Count this as just another new experience for the Cubs and their fans, as there was no kind of MLB community platform in 1945 like there is in this modern era. But for the Cubs, it was hardly the first time they have worked with RIC, a nationally renowned facility that has been a pioneer in medical care since 1953 for some of the most difficult cases.
"We've been a partner with the RIC for more than 20 years," Lufrano said. "And during that time, the Cubs have donated more than $1.1 million to programs and causes to help.
"One of the first things we did was contribute to build the first ever wheelchair baseball park in the state of Illinois, over at Horner Park and California Park. And in those days, the RIC Cubs were one of the best teams going -- won the Wheelchair World Series for a number of years -- and I used to come and give remarks and I would say, 'Anytime you can mention 'Cubs' and 'World Series' in the same sentence, it's a good thing.' Today we get to do that not only for the RIC Cubs, for the Rehabilitation Institute, but for the Chicago Cubs as well. We're glad to be here to continue what we've done to partner with [RIC] along with the McCormick Foundation and Cubs Charities."
"Therapy can be very hard," Ferrio said. "Imagine being in a gym for three hours a day, constant, working on all types of different activities. What this Fun Center allows us to do is really integrate fun with therapeutic approaches that we have for our patients. The kids just lit up. ... You just see them come alive. We see them progress more, because they have opportunities like this to improve their health and improve outcomes."
It was a joy for Jenkins, and so is watching his longtime team finally reach this stage. In '69, he won 21 games but the Cubs were overtaken by the Mets and finished eight games behind them for the pennant.
Jenkins was asked if he has any advice for Cubs Game 3 starter Kyle Hendricks, a candidate to join him on the roll call of NL Cy Young Award winners. Hendricks made a huge improvement against left-handed batters in 2016, and he is notably among leaders in called strike percentage, benefiting from good deception.
Hendricks lasted 4 1/3 innings in the Cubs' 1-0 loss to the Indians in Game 3, and lead the series, two games to one.
"You've got to throw strikes, which [Hendricks] does. He changes speeds. He knows how to pitch. He's basically a throwback pitcher," Jenkins said. "Regardless of the wind in, out, whatever, when I pitched, you never looked at the flags. You're looking at the player you're trying to get out.
"I just think that Hendricks, he changes speeds a little bit like what I did. He's got a real good sinker, good changeup. I was in and out of the strike zone, too. I threw a lot of strikes, I didn't walk many. That's something that really helped me because I had Robin Roberts as a coach when I first came here in '67, and his theory was, 'Don't walk people, because in front of power hitters, the score's going to be a little added.' If you walk a person, they score eight or nine or 10 times in that situation. So it's not good to walk people."
In addition to touching lives in the community, Jenkins said he had parting words for these Cubs before the Wrigley Field stretch of the Fall Classic.
"I shake a lot of the guys' hands and wish them good luck, have a good performance and play well," Jenkins said. "Play winning baseball. That's it."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.