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Chicago Cubs Ownership Fumbles With Robert Redford Appearance

The Chicago Cubs announced this morning that 74-year-old actor Robert Redford will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day next week in an afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Almost immediately afterward, the sound of Scooby Doo yelping, "Huh?!" echoed throughout the Cubs blogosphere and Twitterverse. And almost immediately after that, several Cubs fans suffered torn ligaments as they tried to make the stretch that would connect Redford to the North Side ballclub.

The obvious answer, of course, is "The Natural" -- the 1984 film in which Redford played the titular character (man, I love writing the word "titular") who gets his first big break with the Cubs and later finds his baseball mojo at the Friendly Confines. But that was 27 years ago, and few people would consider "The Natural," as great a baseball film as it is, to be a Cubs movie. It's no "Rookie of the Year," I'll tell you that much.

No, the real, present-day connection between Redford and the Cubs is a little less, shall we say, mystical. The two-time Oscar award-winning actor/director will be in town to promote his latest directorial effort, a historical drama entitled "The Conspirator" due for release on April 15. And it was financed by American Film Co., which is owned by none other than ... wait for it ... Joe Ricketts -- father of Tom, Todd, Pete and Laura Ricketts, the owners of the Cubs.

Now, on the one hand, I don't think fans should make too big of a deal of this. We are, of course, talking about the ceremonial opening pitch -- something that happens so fast that many (most?) fans don't even notice it occurring even if they're in the ballpark. And I would guess those tuning in on TV often fail to catch the ceremony as they gather their requisite snacks and kick the dog off the couch.

But, based on the reactions I observed online, and even my own gut feelings about the move, I fear that the Redford Decision could go down as another fumble in the early history of the Ricketts Ownership Group. For starters, it's Opening Day, a veritable holiday for many of us baseball enthusiasts obsessives. If there was ever a day to keep the focus squarely and solely on the history of the Cubs and the celebration of the game in question, this is it.

Having a Hollywood actor/director shilling for his latest film -- even a well-respected figure such as Redford -- just doesn't sit right. And the fact that the Ricketts family has a financial connection to the film in question, well, that muddies the waters even further. Because, whether they like it or not, the new Cubs owners will now face charges that they're putting business connections over respect for the game and the history of the team. Yeah, that's a bit melodramatic; but there's no getting around the queasy feeling that Redford's apperance is ill-timed and questionably conceived.

On the bright side, the team also announced today that Ron Santo Jr. will be singing the Seventh Inning Stretch. Everyone's hearts and minds will be on the glaring absence of Ron Santo Sr. in the radio booth, and maybe the team thought that giving his son the more visible, audible honor of singing the stretch is more appropriate than having him throw out the first pitch, which, as mentioned, many fans don't even notice. So that's nice.

But still ... couldn't Redford do his thing in Game Two? Or Three? How about having one of Santo's teammates throw out the first pitch on Opening Day? Or one of his grandchildren? Or having Ron Jr. throw out the first pitch and then play a recording of Ron Sr. singing? Geez, there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

I know, I know ... it's the Pirates and neither of the latter two games in the series will have the cache of Opening Day, especially if the weather is bad. Yet I can't help feeling that the better thing to do here -- from a historical perspective, from an "honoring Ronnie" perspective, from a fan's perspective -- is to set aside Opening Day for Cubs baseball, not Hollywood opportunism.