EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of Cubs spring training history articles I wrote when it appeared the lockout could cancel more spring games.
Now, of course, we have baseball, but by gum, I wrote these so you’re going to get to read them, even on game days. This is the third of five Spring Training “Today in Cubs history” articles. Hope you enjoy.
Country music singer Garth Brooks is a huge baseball fan. He’s convinced several teams to allow him to play briefly for them in Spring Training games, all for charity (see below). This includes the Padres (1999), Mets (2000), Royals (2004) and Pirates (2019).
In the first of those stints, Brooks played a game against the Cubs at HoHoKam Park in Mesa Monday, March 22, 1999. I attended this game and recall it well. Brooks played left field, wearing uniform No. 77. At the time he was just 37 years old and still looked pretty athletic.
The Tribune’s Fred Mitchell described what happened:
Garth Brooks was hitless in two at-bats Monday, but the country music star-turned San Diego Padres left fielder was a big hit with the 9,628 spectators at HoHoKam Park when he stayed after the game to sign autographs and talk to fans.
Brooks, who had his first hit of the spring Sunday against the White Sox, bounced a ball up the middle in the sixth inning that Cubs shortstop Jose Hernandez gloved and fired to first base for the out.
“I got robbed,” said Brooks. “The guy snow-coned it and made a good play. The shortstop was a little confused when I went to congratulate him. He was sweet.”
I remember this play well. Hernandez absolutely made an outstanding diving stop on Brooks’ grounder up the middle to throw him out. Otherwise Brooks would have had a single off Steve Gajkowski, a career minor leaguer who had been a spring training invitee for the Cubs in 1999. Gajkowski, who had pitched in nine games for the Mariners in 1998, posted a 3.73 ERA with nine saves for Triple-A Iowa in 1999 and then the Cubs let him go.
As for Brooks, his spring training appearances were all for a good cause:
Brooks has said that he used his time with various baseball teams to promote his Teammates for Kids Foundation. Founded in 1999 to provide financial assistance to charities for children, Teammates for Kids asks professional athletes to donate a predetermined amount of money based on their game performance; Troy Aikman, Anthony Munoz and Larry Walker are among the more than 3,000 professional athletes who are a part of the organization. In 2019, Brooks participated in spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Teammates for Kids.
Brooks’ appearance against the Cubs in a spring game happened 23 years ago today, March 22, 1999. He went 0-for-2 and the game wound up in a 7-7, 10-inning tie.