De Ferrans Friendly Confines
July 9, 2003 | 11:17 P.M. EST
“Remember how we were sweating because of the heat earlier?” de Ferran asked with one out in the top of the seventh inning with the Florida Marlins batting. “It’s turned to a cold sweat.”
But, just two outs later, de Ferran stood in the WGN Television booth high above the famed baseball field in north Chicago with a near-capacity crowd awaiting his first note of the traditional song.
“Hey … Gentlemen start your engines!” De Ferran screamed. The crowd, stunned for a just a moment, roared when De Ferran broke into song.
“Let’s sing it. Uh one, uh two, uh three,” he screamed, with arms waving through the air. “Take me out to the ballgame …”
The crowd joined in, and 30 seconds later, the anxiety and nervousness were over. De Ferran ended the song, with a huge smile, and he held the final note until it turned into an excited scream. The Wrigley faithful went wild.
“Not bad, huh?” de Ferran said with a grin as he left the WGN booth.
No question, the IndyCarTM Series driver who sat through one of his first Major League Baseball games looked like a pro.
“He had great energy, and it looked like he was having fun,” said Joe Rios, coordinator of special events and entertainment for the Cubs. “Usually, I’m the one who gets nervous. I’ve had many guests tell me, ‘Hey, you’re making me more nervous than I was before I got up here.’ But I never want any of the guests to make fools of themselves. As long as we prep the singers properly, then we know it will work. With Gil, it really worked.”
Marlboro Team Penske driver De Ferran joins a long list of celebrities who have served as guest conductors. For many years, legendary Cubs play-by-play announcer Harry Caray sang the song to the cheers of thousands. But when Caray died in 1998, the Cubs opened the famed “Seventh Inning Stretch” singing responsibilities to various celebrities.
Actors such as Tom Arnold, James Belushi, John Cusack, Mel Gibson, Cuba Gooding Jr., comedian Jay Leno and other celebrities such as Dick Clark, Donald Trump and Jimmy Buffett all have been guest conductors. But none of the numerous performances were as bad as former Chicago Bears player and coach Mike Ditka, who struggled through the song several years ago.
“At first, Gil was a little nervous, but after he talked with the players before the game, I think he felt better,” Rios said. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, there’s no way you’ll be as bad as Ditka.’ They were laughing, and I really think it loosened him up.”
De Ferran and the rest of the IRL IndyCar Series drivers will return to the Chicago area Sept. 7 for the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.