Stanley Coveleski was barely a teenager when he'd spend 12 hours a day working in the dark Pennsylvania coal mines. In the light, he'd throw rocks at a tin can from 50 feet away.
It was 1909 and hard to know what was more popular, the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or the game of baseball itself. Organized semipro and professional baseball teams were everywhere in America, and every boy wanted to play. Coveleski made it out of the coal mines and onto the playing field. And his arm made him the star of the 1920 World Series where he pitched three full games and won them all.
When he retired, Coveleski chose South Bend as his home. And decades later, the only stadium in America that bears his name, is Four Winds Field at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium.
Baseball in South Bend
In a region like ours, which had been built by immigrants from every corner of the globe, to play baseball was as American as you can be. The equipment was practically handed to new arrivals as they stepped off the train.
The Whitecaps, The Green Stockings, the Senators and the Gaelics, the West Ends, the East Sides, the South Ends and Centrals were all here. Dozens and dozens of teams made the national pastime a way of life here in South Bend.
The players were tough. Hundreds gathered to watch the Polish Turners beat the South Bend Goose Pastures in the 1898 Game of the Year. The local factories had so many great players, companies like Studebaker formed multiple teams. Plant Number 1, The General Office and Foundry teams would play each other during the week, then create all-star teams to play other factories on the weekend.
Fans were a huge part of these games. Ravenous, they'd show up to every game.
By the time the Singer company finished building their factory stadium in 1915, it would seat as many as 2,500 screaming fans. Studebaker's stadium held over 5,000, rivaling modern stadiums of today.
Major league teams and scouts were so impressed with our region's commitment to the game, that Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City came here all the time to play against local teams in exhibition games. And just as often, they'd take some of our local players back with them.
Icons like Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige and Dizzy Dean visited to play local players in exhibition games. When here, they took time to visit their pal Stan Coveleski, who Babe Ruth called one of the hardest pitchers he'd ever come up against. The region's fans-what teams called their "tenth man"-were one of the main reasons the All-American Girls League was so successful here.
In the 1950s, the post-war boom was slowly coming to an end in this country. The factories that once financed America's pastime, began downsizing and closing. Baseball was changing, but it wasn't going away.
For over three decades, from the late fifties to the late 1980s, there were no professional baseball teams in South Bend. But the game itself remained popular. Fans were mesmerized by national greats like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson and Chicago Cub, Ernie Banks.
By the early 1980s the popularity of minor league baseball was on the rise across the country. In 1984 several local business, community and civic leaders decided to bring minor league baseball to the City of South Bend. In 1985 South Bend Mayor Roger O. Parent met with Robert and Debbie Staley from Decatur, IL. The Staleys had recently purchased a Midwest League expansion team and were looking for a place to call home. South Bend, with its already rich history in the sport, was the perfect fit. A baseball stadium would be built in downtown South Bend on the edge of the Studebaker Corridor. The stadium would serve as a catalyst for economic redevelopment in the area and would be the first minor league ballpark in the USA to feature suites. In January 1986, a 10-year player development contract was signed with the Chicago White Sox and the Class A Affiliate would be known as the South Bend White Sox.
A Shift in Structure
Though he died in March 1984, Stan Coveleski lived long enough to know that community leaders were planning a new era of baseball in this town. And by April 1987, new team owners Eric Margenau and Jay Action from New York were working with the city and Minor League Baseball to bring the game back to South Bend.
In 1988, the City of South Bend completed stadium construction and named the ballpark Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium and the South Bend White Sox took the field for the first time. South Bend's new professional baseball team would win their first Midwest League Championship a year later in 1989.
In 1990 Alan Levin assumed ownership of the team and in 1993, the team won their second Midwest League Championship. In 1994 the team contemplated a name change and settled on the South Bend Silver Hawks as a tribute to the Studebaker Silver Hawk automobile that was once manufactured across the street from the stadium. When the player development contract with the Chicago White Sox expired after the 1996 season, the South Bend Silver Hawks announced a new affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2005, the Silver Hawks franchise won its third Midwest League title.
In 2006, amid rumors of the franchise leaving town, Joe Kernan, former Mayor of South Bend, Lt. Governor and Governor of the State of Indiana, announced his intention to purchase the team along with a group of investors. On September 16, 2006 the sale was finalized; the South Bend Silver Hawks would remain in South Bend and continue to be affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kernan, 48th Governor for the State of Indiana, grew up in South Bend. He played baseball for Notre Dame, was a POW in Vietnam, and devoted his professional life to public service in the community he grew up in. He never lost his love for the game of baseball.
The South Bend Silver Hawks celebrated the 20th anniversary season in 2007 and welcomed the four millionth fan to the stadium affectionately dubbed The Cove.
A New Era
At 11 a.m., on November 11, 2011, the Silver Hawks were purchased by Andrew T. Berlin, owner of the Chicago-based company Berlin Packaging, an investor in the Chicago White Sox and, later, in the Chicago Cubs. Upon purchase of the team, Berlin immediately committed to a lease with the City of South Bend that would keep professional baseball in South Bend for the next 20 years. Thanks to Berlin, professional baseball, was here to stay.
With a promise to return the team to its glory days, Berlin initiated a new phase of renovations at the stadium. $8 million of his own money and an additional $1.75 million from the city brought improvements and enhancements such as a splash pad, new indoor and outdoor suites and a team store located in a vacated 101-year-old synagogue that laid just the other side of the left field wall, outside the stadium. Berlin tore down the left field wall, pushed the fence out and around the synagogue, bringing it into the stadium for the first time and restoring it as the most unique team store in all of baseball.
That same year, Berlin recruited Joe Hart to be the new president of the Silver Hawks. With more than 15 years of baseball experience, Hart had just been named the Florida State League Executive of the Year before his relocation to the Midwest.
It was the 25th year of professional baseball in downtown South Bend, but it was also a new era for minor league baseball. Fans wanted more than just baseball out of their stadium experience. The Berlin team knew it, and set out to create the best fan experience in all of baseball.
In that first 2012 season under Berlin's ownership, the franchise increased its attendance by 68% over the previous year. The following year, the five millionth fan walked through the gate.
In 2013, Berlin announced an agreement with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, owners of Four Winds Casinos, for naming rights to its field which will now be known as Four Winds Field at Stanley Coveleski Stadium. As part of the agreement, a permanent bronze memorial bearing the name and likeness of Stanley Coveleski was commissioned and installed at the main entrance.
Go, Cubs, Go
On September 25, 2014, with his family by his side, Berlin announced the team would change names from South Bend Silver Hawks to the South Bend Cubs, leveraging for South Bend one of the greatest brands in baseball history. The announcement of the four-year contract was made in downtown South Bend, and brought to town Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, and Jason McLeod, Chicago Cubs Senior Vice President, Scouting and Player Development.
This announcement marked a significant turning point in the franchise operation and in the economic redevelopment of the area surrounding the ballpark.
- On April 9, 2015, following a ceremonial first pitch thrown by Theo Epstein, the South Bend Cubs took the field and played their first game on newly placed natural turf, which had replaced the stadium's existing artificial grass.
- In May 2015, the South Bend Cubs Performance Center (later renamed the 1st Source Bank Performance Center) held its grand opening. At 17,000 square feet, the world-class training facility would be a place where amateur and professional ball players could train side by side, year-round. Berlin makes no small plans for Four Winds Field. By investing his own money to build the Performance Center he committed long-term to current and future athletes of the beloved game.
- Later that year, the South Bend Cubs helped celebrate the city's 150th birthday with $1.50 game tickets. The 2015 season ended with historic attendance numbers, including 40 home-game sellouts. Ballpark Digest named the South Bend Cubs their Team of the Year, and the MiLB presented the team with the John H. Johnson President's Award, its highest achievement.
- The next year was another marked by more franchise milestones. In June 2016, Berlin announced a rare, early contract extension, solidifying the Chicago Cubs' relationship with South Bend through the 2020 season. Other highlights of the 2016 season included more attendance records and special celebrations surrounding the November 3, 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series win.
- In March 2017, Berlin broke ground on a $22 million mixed use residential housing complex to be called The Ivy at Berlin Place. The three-building complex is adjacent to Four Winds Field and features amenities similar to those found across from Wrigley Field, including rooftop seating that overlooks the ballpark.
- In June, Four Winds Field was voted Best Class A ballpark in the country by Ballpark Digest. In August 2017 the millionth fan came through the gates at Four Winds Field in just three seasons as a Chicago Cubs affiliate team.
- In June 2018, the United Federal Credit Union Rooftop opened atop building #2 of The Ivy at Berlin Place to fans. Positioned just over the left field wall at Four Winds Field, 300 fans can watch the game from grandstand seating.
After three decades of waiting, 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game took place at Four Winds Field on June 18. For the first time in baseball history, after nine innings and still being tied 3-3, the game was decided by a Sudden Death Home Run Derby. All-Star Chris Betts, who won the Home Run Derby contest the night before, would win it again giving the East Team the victory.
South Bend’s fourth championship would come at the end of the 2019 season in dominating fashion, going 7-0 in the post season.
Professional baseball right here in South Bend, in a setting so unique a family can picnic over the right-field wall, returns its sense of American promise. Today, it remains one of the most wholesome, entertaining and family friendly experiences you can possibly have. It is a group-friendly, date-friendly, company-friendly and wholly enjoyable experience for everyone. All at the best stadium in America: Four Winds Field at Stanley Coveleski Stadium.