If Roy Wood Jr. were allowed to make a change as commissioner of Major League Baseball, he would encourage more at-bats and personality in the game.
“It’s a simple change,” he said while sitting in Section 124 of Wrigley Field during the Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game on Sept. 9. “I love bat flips. I love K-struts. I love sneaker designs. Cool bat pictures during the Home Run Derby. This should be a normal thing.”
“If a player wants to show off, if a player wants to dare to show even a little bit of fun playing this game…” Seiya Suzuki’s voice trailed off as he stepped into the batter’s box in the second inning.
Comedian Wood was in town with his 7-year-old son Henry to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning. It wasn’t the first time he led the crowd in song. In fact, Wrigley Field is his favorite place to experience a baseball game.
He said Chase Field in Phoenix has the best food. Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City has the best ballpark experience. But it was a perfect 70 degrees in Chicago that Saturday; The sun was hot, the shade was cool. The wind was blowing left and right. It was the kind of day he hoped to share on the basketball court with Henry, who wasn’t into baseball yet.
Wood, a Cubs fan since he was a young boy in Birmingham, Ala., said he was the only sports fan in his house. Although his father, Roy Wood Sr., once hosted a weekly radio show with Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Wood Sr. “he was never really interested in sports.”
“My father’s only alliance was with Black people,” Wood said. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen my father watch a single organized sporting event. My mother never watched sports.
“Ernie Banks was an integral part of the city in the sense that he was the Black man who did extraordinary things on the white side of the city. And we’re still in the early days of baseball’s integration. So my dad looked at Ernie Banks as a bridge to the Black experience in a sport that was still very, very white — still very, very racist at the time. “I think if it was any other player he probably wouldn’t even have done that.”
WGN-TV turned Wood into a lifelong baseball devotee. His choice was between the Cubs in the afternoon and the Atlanta Braves in the evening on TBS. The Cubs won because watching the Braves too often would mean cutting too close to bedtime.
Wood’s love of baseball led him to play the sport. His high school team, the Ramsay Rams, played at Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the United States—an opportunity that many baseball enthusiasts would be excited about.
Wood said his hometown isn’t very interested in baseball, and many aren’t even aware of the state’s rich history in the sport. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Tim Anderson hail from Alabama, and Rickwood was home to the Birmingham Barons and Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro leagues.
“We never imagined growing up playing high school baseball in a stadium as historic as Rickwood,” he said. “We were never really told about it. We were taught a lot about Black history, but we were also taught about all the struggles and strife. The black experience in baseball is one of division and optimism.
“So when they renovated Rickwood for the Ty Cobb movie in 1992, it became a great place to play. The grass was like butter, the soil was perfect.
In June 2024, Rickwood Field, St. It will be the site of the regular season game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. Field of Dreams game in Iowa.
Baseball was a “safe” sport for Wood. “No one was picking on you on the baseball team,” he joked.
Today, baseball remains that arena for Wood, who describes him as “calm, normal.” When most people around him tune their televisions to news networks, he’s watching MLB Network or listening to a game. This is his white noise. He can think and get things done with a game playing in the background. There’s no need to engage or interact with it; it is for him.
Chicago Tribune Sports
A daily fitness newsletter is delivered to your inbox for your morning commute.
Wood keeps up to date with the Cubs, including those in the minor leagues. While he was excited about this new version of the team, he was disappointed when World Series veterans began leaving in 2018.
“They’re fun to watch,” he said. “When you add in people like Brennan Davis and Pete Crow-Armstrong, we’re almost at a stalemate, which is a good problem to have. There have been some pleasant surprises, and as long as you’re young, you’ve got a chance. And youth is affordable. But I really wonder if (Cody) Bellinger stays.”
The Cubs had lost eight of their last 10 games entering Tuesday and were tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the National League’s final wild-card spot.
“Nobody would have expected them to be more than third or fourth in the league,” Wood said. “At the All-Star break they said, ‘Okay, we’re just looking at the pieces we need to get ready for next year.’ And then we went out like a bat out of hell. “It’s like, ‘Oh, wait a minute.'”
The team’s future looks promising to Wood.
“We’re still looking at everything we can do next year,” he said. “Even though it’s over today, it’s impossible not to look back on this season with a wealth of optimism about what the core pieces are and what we’re putting together right now.
“All you need in baseball is one hot hit and you’re a world champion. But I think this season is already a win for Cubs fans. Cubs fans are a bunch of Eeyores and always sad. “But I think we’re in a good place and it’s not false optimism.”