Home Field Advantage
That ball boy who is supplying baseballs to the umpire? Chances are he’s an Illini. Two UIUC alumnus and a current student, Matt Pontikis, ’15 ENG, Vince Virgilio, ’15 BUS, MA ’16 BUS, and Nick Anton, enjoy the honor of being Chicago Cubs’ ball boys.
“We field foul balls down the baselines to ensure a quick pace of play,” Pontikis says, discussing the crew’s responsibilities, “and bring home plate umpires baseballs when balls are hit or tossed out of play. We also make sure fans have the best experience they can have by giving them baseballs or signing autographs for young kids.”
Virgilio adds, “We wear full Cubs uniforms, so people are always interested in talking and asking questions – and of course, everyone loves to ask for a ball! I love being able to give people, especially kids, a ball because it always puts a smile on their face.”
He notes that potential ball boys need to be at least 18 years of age, have a deep understanding of the rules of baseball and be athletically inclined. “You can get some extremely hard hit balls come your way, so you need to be ready to field it so neither you nor anyone else around you gets hit,” Virgilio says. “It’s also important to have a friendly, outgoing personality.”
Both Pontikis and Anton credit Virgilio as the one who paved the way for the both of them to take on the coveted role. Virgilio was one of the original recruits when the team hosted their recruitment back in 2012. This marks his seventh season.
Despite the excitement of being a part of a Major League team, working as a ball boy is far from being a breeze. Anton, who is currently a law student at Illinois, has to balance his time and energy between both of his passions and responsibilities. “I have had to limit myself to weekend games when classes are in session,” he says.
Virgilio and Pontikis, now working professionals, recollect having experienced similar struggles. “During the school year, I would drive back and forth from Champaign to Chicago on weekends and occasionally on weekdays for some weekday night games. I rescheduled several exams and midterms around so that I could be at Wrigley Field, especially when the Cubs were in the playoffs,” Virgilio explains.
Regardless of the difficulties, the three do not seem to mind. Above all, being a ball boy is a labor of love, one that is apparent in and emanates from all three ball boys.
“I will forever be grateful for being able to live out a childhood dream and be a ball boy for a professional baseball team,” Pontikis says. “Being a ball boy is a great conversation starter when meeting people and fans all over the city. It starts a conversation where we instantly bond over the love of the game.”
Anton states that it is an honor to serve as ball boy, considering that only a few dozen people have the job throughout the MLB. “It is a big part of who I am and I take a lot of pride in doing my very best every game.”
As for Virgilio, his sentiment is clear. “It’s 100% worth it,” he says. “These opportunities come once in a lifetime.”