Sixteen teams from Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa played in a tournament at Little Cubs Field in Freeport this Memorial Day weekend. It's the eighth Pee Wee Classic since the field opened, and the diamond is the closest to-scale replica of Wrigley Field you can find.
At least, that's according to its owner Denny Garkey.
The field was built in 2007, but it took about a year and a half for Garkey to lay the first brick -- which, he says, is not bad. That time frame included forming a nonprofit organization and getting permission from the Chicago Cubs to use their logos and to actually build the replica.
Garkey thought it would take years to get that kind of authorization, but he got a call only two days later from the marketing director, who said it was a great idea and the Cubs would like to help in any way they can.
Which they did. They provided things like some ivy and seats from Wrigley Field, along with the dirt the teams were playing on during the Pee Wee Classic.
Dye said some of the kids on his team thought they were going to hit a home run, but he had his doubts. Regardless, he just wanted the kids to enjoy themselves.
"It's just for fun," said Ed Dye, one of the coaches for a team in the Quad Cities. "It's not as strict as some other tournaments can be, or as tough."
But sure enough, Dye's son Trevor and fellow teammate Andrew Christenson -- both eight years old -- hit home runs minutes after Dye said that. And, like in the major leagues, both were met by their whole team at home plate to congratulate them.
Garkey still has a full-time job working from home as a fraud investigator on top of the 15 or so hours he devotes to Little Cubs Field per week.
Not only does he volunteer, but about 95 percent of the labor that went into building this field was free. That work even won a few bricklayers national awards.
Garkey said they all weren't even Cubs fans or knew the first thing about baseball, but they were all "community fans."
"They wanted to get involved in something that was good for their community," Garkey said.
New developments on the field continue, including bleachers in the outfield -- much like at Wrigley Field.
"All bleacher bums welcome," Garkey said. "In fact, for a $100 donation, you can become a bleacher bum, your name on a plaque, your name on a small little seat plate that'll put you in the bleachers on one of the seats."
Garkey says he's already sold about 85 bleacher bum seats, and the developments also include a web camera overlooking the field 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- also donated by a business in the community.
Since the field's groundbreaking, Garkey has been interviewed at least 100 times for his so-called "crazy idea."
Garkey says Little Cubs Field was made with the Little Leaguer -- and kid at heart -- in mind.
Fun Facts About Little Cubs Field:
- When owner Denny Garkey was selling caricatures for permanent bleacher bums under the scoreboard replica for $100, actor Bill Murray heard about it and ended up buying one.
- The only Whiffle Ball bat ever signed by former Cubs player and announcer Ron Santo is on display within the Little Cubs Field gift shop.
- A brick layer who helped build Little Cubs Field left a little good luck charm on the last brick in left field - a penny. He also happened to be the grandson of one of the brick layers who built Wrigley Field and who left the same good luck charm in the same spot. The Wrigley Field grounds crew was never able to find that penny.
- The picnic area next to the field was an Eagle Scout project. It was completed in less than two years.