Chicagoland has more than its fair share of local heroes, the kind who are beloved for their first choice of career pursuits, and then secondly for their love of where they first achieved fame. Carl Giammarese, founding member and current lead singer of The Buckinghams and Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears had the chance to join in the Chicago Cubs celebration of the 1960s on July 11, 2014. On July 15, Carl Giammarese shared some of his memories, exclusive photos, and video from the event for examiner.com readers of a weekend best described as “a bucket list event” to be sure.
Ask singer/songwriter Carl Giammarese what he loves most, and his first answer is: “performing music around the country as a founding member of The Buckinghams, singing hits including “Kind of a Drag,” “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and “Susan,” just some of their songs that used to light up the phone lines of Chicago’s WLS Radio, WCFL Radio, and WGN-TV with the request, “More, more, more” in the 1960s.
Now, if you ask Carl what his second-favorite loves are, he said he’s “evenly split between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cubs.” He’s also a Chicago Blackhawks fan who also follows the Chicago Bulls when he can, so it’s safe to say he’s an all-season Chicago sports junkie. As such he’s had the opportunity in 2005 to sing at Cubs’ 7th Inning Stretch with legendary DJ Dick Biondi, singer/songwriter Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor and singer Ronnie Rice, formerly of the New Colony Six. That they did the stretch with ukuleles is another story altogether.
But for 60s weekend, Carl had the chance to throw the first ceremonial pitch at the Cubs 3:05 p.m. opener vs. the Atlanta Braves was “definitely a dream come true” for the singer. The Cubs had made him a special jersey with the number ‘67’ (the year “Kind of a Drag” went to #1 on the Billboard charts) and “Buckinghams” lettered on the back of the shirt.
In preparation for the day’s events, the week before, Carl put down his guitar and picked up his baseball and glove and asked his brother-in-law, Keith Roberts, to catch for him. “Keith and I worked out and my cousin, Jerry Elarde, watched us and gave me pointers. Then I practiced some more at a ball park by my house.“ After all his preparation, Carl deemed himself ready. Of the experience, Giammarese said, “It was a great honor for me to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field. It reminded me how far I’ve come since my first experience walking into the park.”
Like many Chicagoans, Carl had grown up watching the Cubs as part of a father-son tradition of going to Wrigley Field and spending time there, or watching the games together at home, along with his younger brother Victor. Giammarese said, “When I was a kid watching on black and white TV, they probably only used two cameras. It was kind of grainy and distant looking. Then when I was about 12, I made my first trip to Wrigley Field. I still remember walking up the stairs and all of a sudden, there it was, in living color! All the green, the ivy, and the blue uniforms. I was in heaven!”
A few years had passed since his first trip to Wrigley Field, but this past weekend was the trip of a lifetime for Carl and his wife, Barbara, for this special day, shared with Gale Sayers. Giammarese said, “I obsessed whether I could throw a pitch all the way over home plate, but in the end I did. Thank God, too, because I’d have never lived it down if I'd failed!”
True, that, given the thousands of his fans and The Buckinghams’ fans on Facebook who offered early, advance encouragement for his endeavor. Carl continued, “Walking out to that mound, being introduced and having everyone cheer was a very special moment that I will savor for a lifetime. Thank you Chicago Cubs for the opportunity, and thank you to fans of The Buckinghams for your support.”
Say it out loud: Chicago Bears. Da Bears. Two names that rush to mind likely include Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, whose friendship as players on one of the greatest teams in NFL history is more legendary than the games they played. Inspiring movies, then, starring Billy Dee Williams and James Caan, described the lifetime friends the two Bears backfielders shared. In addition to being an NFL Hall of Famer, Sayers is also a retired executive and philanthropist, two more reasons Giammarese says he admires his fellow southpaw.
Still as inspirational a story today as it was back in the day, famed writer Nicholas Sparks and business colleague Theresa Park have acquired Gale Sayers’ life rights and memoirs: “I am Third” and “Sayers: My Life and Times.” Together with Michael Costigan, Deadline Hollywood recently reported that plans are underway to produce a new feature film of the Sayers-Piccolo friendship.
“The opportunity to meet and share a trip to the mound with the great Gale Sayers was another dream come true,” said Giammarese. “Last time I was this excited was many years ago, when I had the chance to meet and visit with the great Walter Payton, another of my heroes, during a Cubs radio broadcast.” “Things like this don’t happen every day, and sometimes you just want to freeze that moment in time and hold onto it forever.” Fortunately thanks to photos from the Cubs and video by Buckinghams Advance/Production coordinator, Susan Rakis, Giammarese will be able to remember his special day for years to come.
For Sayers and for Giammarese, the weekend’s activities also go to support the premise that no matter what fame, sold-out arenas or fields, video spotlights or print headlines may come the way of those involved in worlds of classic rock entertainment and professional athletics, there’s nothing quite like being able to throw out a pitch in the town that helped you develop your identity as belonging to part of Chicagoland. That’s just a small part of what the Chicago Cubs organization and professional baseball has meant to both of these individuals.