There was a moment during the seventh inning stretch that was symbolic of the afternoon as a whole. Over the stadium speakers we heard it was time for the Northwestern t-shirt toss. Of the roughly 70 fans that made up the peak attendance, just more than 40 remained. Many of us were students or employees of the teams. This left a small group of paying fans scattered between the first base and third base bleachers.
A young woman from the athletic department came out of the press box and went down to the far end of the third base bleachers. As she moved toward home plate, she seemed to make eye contact with every paying fan and waited to see if they would put their hands up. Every fan that put their hands up for a shirt received one.
This pattern: eye contact, pause, hands, t-shirt, continued up the first base line until seemingly every paying fan who wanted a t-shirt had one. The numbers were so perfect, I would not have been surprised to hear that they counted the fans before loading the bag full of shirts. Today was about celebration, and Northwestern made sure that everyone went home happy.
This message was not lost on the players. The very first pitch thrown at the renovated Rocky Miller Park was a strike from Brandon Magallones. In the bottom of the first, Zach Jones and Jack Mitchell each hit two run homers to give Northwestern an early 5-1 lead. A third home run for the ‘Cats off the bat of Joe Hoscheit was one of the 15 hits that Northwestern amassed on their way to a 9-5 victory. To cap it all off, Grant Peikert struck out the last Milwaukee Panther, a fitting end to an afternoon of revelry.
Signs of the joyous atmosphere surrounding this game were evident throughout. Twenty minutes before the game, staff members were talking to each other about how beautiful the field looked and how much easier the deforestation would make finding foul balls. The new surface looked beautiful when the afternoon sun broke through a mostly cloudy sky (the sun also negated some of the chilling effect of powerful winds blowing out to left field).
While the scars of an ongoing construction project can be seen all around the stadium, the playing surface looks like it was worth the investment. As part of the game’s festivities, the two primary donors that launched this renovation effort came, just in time to see Jack Mitchell’s home run in the first. Chris Collins and Jim Phillips were with the benefactors and stayed just long enough for a photo opportunity in front of the renovated field before heading back to work, presumably building on the recent recruiting success. After the second inning, Coach Stevens came out to the bleachers for another photo opportunity with the generous donors, though he will not get an opportunity to experience the full benefits of the renovation, as the project will continue past his retirement at the end of this season.
I would like to take a moment, though, to celebrate the star of today’s game. Ten minutes before the game began, a tenacious little girl asked her mother to be quiet because she was trying to pay attention to the action. In the second inning, the same girl sang along to Zach Jones' walk up song, "My Name Is" by Eminem. During the t-shirt toss, a lapse in her hand-eye coordination resulted in a brief shirt/face encounter. In the eighth inning, Northwestern made their most intelligent move of the evening, awarding this girl with fan of the game, a distinction she clearly earned.
Northwestern christened the renovated Rocky Miller Park with a fun afternoon of prizes for all and a win for the ‘Cats. In fact, their biggest mistake on the afternoon was pinch-hitting for Reid Hunter in the fifth and depriving us of more opportunities to listen to his funky walk up song, "Guns Are Drawn" by The Roots. With their record now at 12-26, NU will host UIC on Wednesday before opening their Big Ten home schedule against Ohio State this weekend.