Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: It's not a a stretch to like the Cubs' seventh-inning singers

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

One of the bigger arguments I’ve had with my peers back when I covered the Cubs was what the organization was doing with the seventh-inning stretch.

My first year on the beat was 1998 and Harry Caray had died in February. Harry, who was the popular Cubs announcer who bellowed “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” for years during the stretch, was known for not being able to sing well. That’s what made it fun and iconic.

When it comes to trying to find an act to follow Caray’s, John McDonough (now the big boss of the Blackhawks) and his crew in the Cubs marketing department came up with this idea to let guest celebrities sing during the stretch. Dutchie Caray, Harry’s wife, was the first.

Since then, so many guests have leant their voices to the cause – some with success and some with notoriety.

My brethren in the press box thought it was cheap and tacky. I usually frown on gimmicks like this, but for some reason I liked this one.

 Gary Pressy of Palos Hills has been the organist with the Cubs for 29 years and never missed a day of work in his life, so he has been there for many of Harry’s warblings and for every sweet and sour note from the celebrities.

Talking to him about his career for the front page story in the Reporter reminded me of so many things I liked about the stretch.

(bullet) My top memory came on a humid night in August, 2001.

I was walking down the press box hallway during my sixth-inning stretch and former Bears legend and pro rassler Steve McMichael, who was ticked off that Cubs baserunner Ron Coomer was called out at home plate, looks at me and said “I’m gonna have some speaks with that umpire.’’

Knowing the man known as “Mongo” was going to sing during the stretch, I told my beloved brothers in the press box “I know you clowns don’t like the seventh-inning stretch, but you should watch this one – it might be pretty funny.’’

Well, it was a part of history. McMichael told the crowd of 40,000-plus he would have “speaks” with  home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who was already hot under the collar from hearing from both the Cubs and the Colorado benches about balls and strikes. Angel did not look angelic as he turned around and ejected McMichael.

McDonough said that at that point, he felt “queasy” about what went down. (One wonders how he felt when he got that call about Patrick Kane a few weeks ago.)

As soon as the ex-Bear got the thumb, Mongo had a few comments and laughs before leaving.

“Did you see him down there? He got all sensitive and (bleep),” McMichael said. “I didn’t threaten to kick his ass. Mongo’s back in town. You know the Andy Frain security guards ain’t man enough to get me. You can’t be insecure and be a home-plate ump for God’s sake. Somebody get a [wrestling] promoter and get some money. – I’ll take him at the [Allstate Arena]. ‘’

It’s believed that McMichael is the only person in a press box to be ejected from a Major League Baseball game by an umpire. 

Fun stuff.

(bullet) Speaking of rasslin’, I was able to chat with Randy “Macho Man” Savage and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper during separate stints at the yard. Both were cool. Both are now dead.

(bullet) Before Cyndi Lauper sang, I saw her in the press box cafeteria sitting by herself. She wore this sun dress and she really didn’t look her best. She kind of looked like she could hang out with the “Myrtle Manor” gang.

The next time I saw her was for an ad for her coming torch song tour and she was all glamour-ed up and wearing a fancy black tight dress.

What a difference.

(bullet) The first time Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder  sang in the seventh, I got to meet him before the game and we talked about music for about 10 minutes. He had just come off presenting my favorite group, the Ramones, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also sung a number with Bruce Springsteen at the United Center a few nights before.

Wiseguy that I am, I mentioned I had a bootleg of him singing with Joey Ramone and I said “Wow, so, you got to sing with Joey Ramone and Bruce Springsteen – someday you are going to make it big.’’ He actually got a chuckle out of that.

That day, he sang the song and it wasn’t until a few years later that I downloaded it for my iPod and instead of singing “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” he sang “Buy me some [word that sounds like ‘peanuts’ but is a male body part] and crack.’’

I don’t think anyone noticed that day. Years after I discovered his sly shenanigans, I heard someone on the radio replaying it and laughing it up.

(bullet) Cheap Trick sang it one year and since they sang in the room next to the press box, I was one of the only people watching the show while my mopey brothers had their heads buried in their computers. Rick Neilsen made eye contact with me and gave me the thumbs-up. I gave him the thumbs up and I’m sure it made his day.

(bullet) I don’t know why, but seeing Beaver Cleaver (actually actor Jerry Mathers) as a grown up man was cool and it should have been creepy.

On the flip side I thought back in 2000 that seeing Donald Trump up close would be cool and it was creepy. 

Ah one, ah two...Pressy plays 2,300 straight Cubs games

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


When the presidential election reaches a boiling point and if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two who are fighting it out for the nation’s top position, there is a good chance they won’t have much in common.

But if you look hard enough, there is at least one common connection between the two and it involves  a Palos Hills musician.

Cubs organist Gary Pressy, who has been playing music at Wrigley Field for 29 seasons, is the guy who accompanies celebrities when they sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretches.

In 2000, Trump performed the iconic song and even though no one knew that 15 years later he would be making a bid for the presidency, he was booed heavily.

In 2012, Secretary of State Clinton also joined Pressy for the tune.

“Does it get any better than that?” Pressy said. “I played with two people who could be the top two combatants going for the White House.”

Pressy won’t reveal who he would vote for. Heck, he won’t even give an opinion on who the better singer was.

“I’ll stay away from that,” he said. “And I wouldn’t want The Donald to say ‘you’re fired’ to me.’’

Pressy has never been told “you’re fired” by the Cubs. He has had 29 one-year contracts with the team and on July 4, played his 2,300th consecutive game.

He’s been there for the good and the bad and has played numerous songs but one he has been itching to play is Queen’s “We Are the Champions” after the Cubs win a World Series.

The 2015 version of the Cubs is young, talented, likeable and has a knack for thrilling come-from-behind victories. They just went through a scorching month of August where they beefed up their record rather than faded. It’s likely they will earn a wild-card playoff berth.

Meanwhile Pressy is there to entertain the crowd through historic wins and blowout losses.

The St. Laurence graduate has a great streak going and said he never came close to not making it to work.

“Knock on wood, everything had gone pretty well,” he said. “I got the job on April Fool’s Day in 1987 after doing a few games in 1986. It’s been great.”

Pressy said there are only a handful of club employees who have been there longer than he has and that roughly 50 percent of Major League Baseball teams use an organist.

Wrigley Field went through a fancy facelift and a left-field video board has taken his job of providing the Cub’s walkup music away. But he’s still busy.

“I think there is more organ music playing at Wrigley Field than any other ballpark,” he said. “For pregame music, I’m banging away for an hour or an hour and 10 minutes straight. During the game, I’m going little ditties for the crowd. I’ll play walkup music for the other team’s players.’’

And of course, there is the seventh-inning stretch…

Celebrities took over after legendary announcer Harry Caray died in 1998. Caray used to open the song bellowing “Let me hear ya! Ah one…ah two…ah three… and then sing an off key rendition of the song.

It’s been awhile since the stretch made news but early on Pressy accompanied Mike Ditka when he went into his whirling dervish version, Jeff Gordon when he sang off key and called Wrigley Field “Wrigley Stadium,” Steve McMichael when he got thrown out of the game for addressing umpire Angel Hernandez before singing and Ozzy Osbourne for his mumbling, bumbling rendition.

Those were some of the more colorful renditions that made national news.

Pressy was able to meet everyone from politicians to astronauts to entertainers.

He said the Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon and international star Gloria Estefan were the nicest to him but his favorite celebrity  was former Boston Celtics basketball great Dave Cowens.

“I am a Celtics nut and it was a great chance to sit with him and talk for 10 or 15 minutes about the great Celtic teams of the past,’’ he said.

Pressy’s family moved to the Palos Hills in 1991 and his 91-year-old mother, Virginia lives with him.

She is able to get to an occasional game at Wrigley Field and she is one of his biggest fans. Pressy, a huge fan of the old TV show, “The Honeymooners,” joked that his mom is like Ralph Kramden during an episode in which Kramden bought a television set and prepared to watch a show with a bag of snacks.

“She has the popcorn and all the chips spread out all over the place and watches all of the games,” he said.

And the Cubs have been watchable all year.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in September but right now, the team is having fun and that’s a reflection of the manager – Joe Maddon,” Pressy said. “It’s great that we will have some meaningful games in September.’’

-- Exhibit highlights stories of displaced people from WWII era

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

An ongoing exhibit at the Balzekas  Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Road in Chicago,  brings to life the stories of  thousands of World War II-era “displaced persons” from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, many of whom came to the southwest suburbs after fleeing their homelands.

Called “No Home to Go To, the Story of Baltic Displaced Persons, 1944-1952,” the exhibit shows through photos and donated memorabilia, from luggage to clothing, how they kept their cultures alive while waiting in displaced persons camps mainly in Germany and Austria, until getting permission to settle in the United States and Canada.

Rita Janz, the director of the museum, explained that the Baltic states were independent between 1918 and 1940, when their countries were invaded first by Hitler’s Germany and then Stalin’s Soviet Union. Nazi forces invaded the Baltic states first, and then Soviet forces took over. Fleeing Soviet domination, and possible deportation to Siberia, hundreds of thousands of people fled westward to Germany toward the end of World War II.

“A lot of people thought that they would just have to leave for a short time, and they could return when independence was restored after the war. But that was not the case,” said Janz.  She pointed out that when the Iron Curtain came down after the war, and the Baltic states were absorbed into the Soviet Union, few people who left wanted to return.

According to statistics, after the Allies defeated the Nazis, some 200,000 displaced people from the Baltic states were living in “DP camps” in Germany, and perhaps 100,000 more living in cities and towns.  They were all largely dependent on “CARE” packages from the United States to supplement their food rations. Janz pointed to one photo in which Campbell’s soup cans are evident among the food donations.

When the Allies divided Germany into zones run by the U.S., British, French and Soviets, Janz said the displaced people felt lucky to be anywhere but the Soviet zone, because people there were repatriated to their home countries, or sent to Siberia.

The exhibit includes a wealth of photographs showing all aspects of their lives, from the cramped quarters they were living in, to their efforts to keep their languages and cultures alive any way they could while waiting for permission to leave. National costumes made of curtains and other materials available in the camps are on display in the exhibit, along with everything from personal documents to a box of sugar that a fleeing Lithuanian family took with them when they left home.

Many educated women who may have been doctors and dentists in Lithuania, were taught how to be seamstresses in the camps so they could find jobs in the United States and elsewhere.

           The exhibit also includes a display of the luggage that the refugees brought with them from their home countries, and took with them when they eventually resettled in the United States and Canada. One steamer trunk is labeled with an address in Orland Park.

                Among those displaced persons who eventually settled in Chicago, coming to the already thriving Lithuanian community around Marquette Park, was Valdas Adamkus. His high school  class photo, taken while he was in a DP camp in Germany, is featured in the display. Adamkus worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before returning to an independent Lithuania in the 1990s, where he served two terms as president.

                The exhibit also points out that Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who served two terms as president of independent Latvia, also spent time in a displaced persons camp in Germany before immigrating to Canada. The parents of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the current president of Estonia, also were DPs who left their country in 1944.

                Stanley Balzekas  Jr., the museum founder who said he is now 91, said it is important to tell the stories of the displaced persons. He noted during a recent visit to the museum that his parents came to the United States in the years before World War I. But he saw the DP camps firsthand when he served with the US armed forces in Germany during World War II.

So many items have been donated to the exhibit that they cannot all be all shown at once.  So it is going to be “re-installed” during a ceremony at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, with many new items put on display.

The museum, which also includes an exhibit that tells the stories of the Lithuanians who remained at home during World War II to fight the occupying forces, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Janz said the Displaced Persons exhibit is expected to be open through next year. A traveling exhibit has been to Washington, D.C., and plans are in the works to bring it to New York City.

CR health inspections may be conducted by Cook County

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

      Health inspections, and the possibility of turning that responsibility over to Cook County, was discussed at Tuesday's Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting—but trustees assured concerned residents that no decisions were imminent.

     At the invitation of Trustee William McFarland, George Papadopoulos, assistant director of health services for Cook County, explained the county’s role in health inspections.

    “We’re technically only responsible for unincorporated Cook County, but we also handle health inspections for 32 municipalities,” said Papadopoulos.  He said that Palos Hills, Palos Park and Palos Heights are among the communities that use the county services.

“The cost is $100 per inspection, and we generally do two inspections per year, roughly every six months,” he added. He said all establishments that serve or sell food are inspected, from mini-marts to large grocery stores and restaurants. Nursing homes and other facilities that serve food are also inspected he said, noting that municipalities are not generally charged for follow-up inspections done to ensure that all corrections are made.

He said that state law requires that the inspections are done by people holding the LEHP designation of licensed environmental health practitioner.

Papadopoulos said fees were last raised in 2002, from $60. He said that in 1993, when he joined the department, the fees were $40.

                “The program is done to help suburban municipalities, but the fees don’t actually cover our costs,” he said.

                He said that if Chicago Ridge were to contract with the county, “We would perform inspections on your behalf, and send you quarterly records. They’re actually your records anyway.” He said that aside from the quarterly records, the county officials do not usually notify municipalities about every inspection done, unless there are major issues that would require a business to be closed.

“Our goal is not to close businesses,” he said, adding that the county does not actually have the large notification stickers that the city of Chicago’s health department posts on businesses that are temporarily closed for failing health inspections.

“The goal is to get the problems solved. If you want to put up a sign saying closed for repairs, that is OK with us,” he said.

When resident Lynn Barker asked if the village was seriously considering contracting with the county for health inspections, McFarland said that nothing will be done immediately anyway.

“It was just an exploration of what is out there,” said McFarland. “I’d like to do a lot more research on this.

                Currently inspections are done by Rick Ruge, the village’s part-time health inspector, and Barker and several people in the audience commented that the job should remain within the village.

The cost of inspections currently works out to be about $65 per inspection, village officials said, but Trustee Frances Coglianese said cost savings would be realized if the village billed the businesses, as many communities do.

                Barker responded that the business licensing fee should either cover the cost of the inspections or be lowered if they are going to be charged, and Mayor Chuck Tokar pointed out that the typical business license fee of $100 basically does cover the inspection cost now.

                “We have tons of questions. At least I do,” said Trustee Amanda Cardin.

 McFarland said after the meeting that he would be against passing the inspection cost on to businesses. “We need our businesses. I don’t want to scare anyone away. There will be a lot more to come on this (before the current system is changed),” he said.

A good sign -- football is back

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


This weekend, thousands of area fans will be heading out to stadiums to watch the start of the 2015 high school football season in Illinois.

And they won’t have far to go.

Seven of the 10 area schools in the Reporter-Regional area will host opening games and the other three are not terribly far away.

Just four of the 10 games are rematches from the 2014 opening week.

Brother Rice hosts Michigan power Brother Rice out of Bloomfield Hills. Last year, the Michigan squad beat the Crusaders 40-34 but that convinced members of the Chicago team that they could play with the big boys and they went on to knock off Loyola, Mt. Carmel and St. Rita to earn a tie for first in the Catholic League Blue. The visitors are ranked 16th in Michigan by the MLive website and had a 33-game winning streak snapped last year in a Division 2 Regional game.

Evergreen Park hosts Lake Station (Ind.) and last year the Mustangs held a 14-0 early lead when rain and lightning postponed the game to Saturday and they didn’t miss a beat, completing a 55-13 victory.

Shepard hosts Niles North in Palos Heights and hopes to avenge a 49-14 road setback from last year.

Chicago Christian hosts Westmont and last year, the Knights opened the season with a 56-34 road setback.

The other six games will feature teams not as familiar with each other.

Marist plays Mount Carmel at Soldier Field and it promises to be a tough game for a RedHawks team that missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007. The Caravan won 12 state titles and last year went a disappointing 5-4 in the regular season and was in danger of missing the regular season but won three postseason games and reached the Class 7A semifinals before bowing to eventual state champ Providence.

St. Laurence, which qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last year, had opened the past two seasons with the historic Battle of Burbank against Reavis but this year the Vikings will battle Benet.  The up-and-down Redwings have gone 1-8, 11-2, 6-4 and 6-4 the past four seasons.

Richards heads to Frankfort to take on Lincoln-Way North, a team that has gone 24-8 the past three seasons. Two weeks ago, the Lincoln-Way school board voted to close North after the school year so this figures to be an emotional season for the Phoenix as they prepare for their final campaign.

Oak Lawn hosts Lane out of the Chicago Public League. Lane was 4-5 last year. Area teams played four Public League teams in the two weeks of 2014 and won all four games by a combined score of 135-6, including Oak Lawn’s 49-0 rout of Kenwood.

Stagg, which opened its season with Hillcrest the past two years, switched up and will host Minooka this year.  The Indians were a power from 2009-2011 but the past three seasons they have failed to finish with a winning record. Stagg is hoping to avoid its 10th straight losing season.

Sandburg, which opened the past two seasons against Lincoln-Way Central, visits Naperville North. North was 2-7 last year but had made it to the playoffs 17 straight years prior to that including a Class 8A state title in 2007. It was North’s first losing season since 1983. Sandburg made it to the playoffs six straight seasons but fell short in 2014.