Laima (pronounced Lime-a) Day joined the Cubs in 2015 along with other rookies like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Of course, her name doesn’t start with a “K,” she’s not 20-something and she doesn’t boast a quick bat or great arm. She wasn’t a draft pick and doesn’t rate the same pay scale as Mssrs. Bryant or Schwarber.
Nonetheless, Ms. Day was a Cubs rookie last year on a team of guest service ambassadors. That means she does whatever it takes to help give every Cub fan a first-class experience at historic Wrigley Field.
The ambassadors do more than their predecessors, the Andy Frain ushers who worked the aisles at Wrigley for decades. That service ended back in 1996. The ambassador program is new, started in 2010. Rather than serve only as an usher, Ms. Day is more of a utility player, pitching in at every position. Sometimes she ushers. Sometimes she’s at the gate taking tickets, sometimes at the first-timers booth. She settles seating disputes, reunites parents with their children, manages traffic flow in the concourse or, most often, simply interacts with fans because, like them, she’s a fan, too. A lifelong fan.
As a kid in Cicero, Ms. Day and her older brothers used to take the L to Wrigley. She remembers the three of them splurging on a 5¢ scorecard that they took turns filling in. By eighth grade, the school yearbook asked, “Will Laima ever stop talking about the Cubs?” As an adult, she moved to Evanston and in time was taking her son to games at “the friendly confines.”
Today, Ms. Day rides her bike or the ‘L’ to more than 50 games a year. And she gets paid to do it.
She dresses for games much like a fan, wearing full Cub gear provided by the team – the blue and red jacket, hat, T-shirt and backpack. Most important, and what sets her apart from a fan, she also wears an ambassador ID tag around her neck. She is the one who gets to answer what she calls that all-important question: “Where’s the bathroom?” She tells fans where to find hot chocolate, a Bloody Mary (new this season), a bison burger and vegan or gluten-free foods. Whatever comes up, she tries to help. Often, she says, it begins with the simple question, “May I help you?”
“One of the most humbling experiences,” she recalls, “was escorting a blind man out of the ballpark after a game. The park was jam-packed, people everywhere, crunched together, moving towards the exits. And I was guiding him out in the madness that he could not see. A season ticket holder, he’s at almost every game. He can’t see a thing but loves being in the grandstand with other hopefuls. Now that’s what I call a Cub fan.”
It’s easy for Ms. Day to strike up conversations with fans. She is trilingual. She speaks English and Lithuanian as both of her parents were immigrants to the U.S. But she also speaks baseball – infield fly rule, a ball with eyes, a one-hopper, a rope, a balk, a cellar dweller. She knows baseball and spends time with fans reeling off trivia and sharing stories of bygone days – of sportscasters Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray, of Wrigley Field without lights, of former players like Manny Trillo, Ms. Day’s personal favorite. She says she still gets a thrill when she sees Billy Williams or Ryne Sandberg at the game.
Of course, memories of Cubs past come along with the heartache of dreams frustrated by a 108-year dry spell. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. They last won a pennant in 1945 but fell to the Tigers in the World Series, a humbling loss due, legend has it, to the famous Curse of the Billy Goat. The Cubs rare appearances in playoffs have been agonizing, spoiled by quirky plays – a ball squirting under first baseman Leon Durham’s glove, a fan reaching over the left-field wall into foul territory to grab a ball that outfielder Moises Alou might have caught.
No wonder generations of Cub fans have been gripped by the wait-til-next-year mentality, and Ms. Day is not immune to that group optimism. Even during her interview for the job as ambassador, Ms. Day says, “I told them I was ready to work from opening day to the last day of the World Series and every day in between. That’s why I got the job.”
In her everyday job, Ms. Day is an integrated marketing and communications professional. After her mother had a stroke, she became self-employed so she could serve as the main caregiver. That change, Ms. Day says, enabled her to have a more flexible schedule, which then made it possible to fulfill her dream of working for the Cubs. Ms. Day also teaches spinning and aqua fitness at McGaw YMCA.
She played some softball as a kid but specialized in volleyball, playing on a travel team and making the high school varsity. She knows about teamwork, practice, and persistence. That’s why Ms. Day does not have a favorite Cub any more. “It’s all about the team, the ensemble,” she says.
Last year on opening day, she told a fan, “I’ll meet you back here in September.” They shook hands on it. Come September, in the middle of the playoffs, that fan searched her out in the stands so they could shake hands again at the hope that had become a reality. “We believe,” she says.
Again this season, Ms. Day worked the home-opener, roaming the mezzanine along the third-base line. She says she wasn’t bothered when the Cubs, typically an offensive powerhouse, were being no-hit by the opposing pitcher until the seventh inning when the Cubs turned the game around. “We believe,” she says again.
Asked, “Is this the year the Cubs win it all?” Ms. Day doesn’t miss a beat before answering with an emphatic “yes.” This woman is a Cubs’ ambassador – and a diplomat.