As a singer, Derrick Brooks proved to be a heck of a football player
Derrick Brooks sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on Wednesday, and that's exactly what he did with his intrepid group of travelers, the Brooks' Bunch. As part of the ongoing 'Brooks Bunch 2003 and Beyond' Tour, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker took 29 students to Wednesday afternoon's game between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers.
Before that trip to historic Wrigley Field, however, the group visited another famous Chicago location, where the best seat in the house is on the couch next to world's most famous host talk-show host.
The Harpo Studio, where Oprah Winfrey films her show, was the most anticipated destination for many of the youngsters on this year's Brooks' Bunch tour, which will visit four cities (New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Tallahassee, Florida) and countless hot spots during an 11-day trip.
Led by Suzanne Hayward, one of the show's producers, the Brooks' Bunch received a guided tour of Oprah's set and offices. They sat in the audience seats, checked out the pictures of Oprah and her celebrity guests, visited the green room and saw the show's staff in action. Hayward gave the students a lesson on the show's production and the nine different production teams that make it happen.
"The pictures of the celebrities were my favorite part," said 17 year-old Aisheeda Benjamin of Armwood High School. "It was fun because I saw Maya Angelou, who's my idol, and Nelson Mandela and Will Smith."
Also discussed: Oprah's recent trip to Africa, her favorite interview subjects (Nelson Mandela and Sidney Poitier), topic ideas and production horror stories. Hayward, who told the students that boxes of tissues are placed under the audience seats during the show, revealed that the studio even includes a staff spa and a movie preview room.
The most important part of the tour for the young ladies of Brook's Bunch was learning that Harper Studios, one of the most successful businesses in the world, is a female-driven company.
"A lot of times you hear, 'It's a man's world,'" said Benjamin. 'But it's cool to see that women can be in charge of everything."
The traveling party went directly from Harpo Studios to Wrigley Field to catch the afternoon game. Upon arriving, Brooks and the students were whisked onto the field for a group photo opportunity. Some of the students earned the special privilege of sitting in a special Cubs suite with Brooks and getting their picture taken on the field with all-star outfielder Sammy Sosa.
Brooks also took a tour of the Cubs' clubhouse, where he met manager Dusty Baker and several of the Chicago players, chatting them up like they were old friends. Brooks accepted their congratulations on the Buccaneers' Super Bowl Championship and wished the Cubs luck breaking their own 95-year drought.
During his tour, Brooks ran into Dunedin High School's Ryan Harvey, who was making his first visit to Chicago after being picked by the Cubs in the first round of Major League Baseball's recent draft. Harvey, who took batting practice earlier in the day and (according to his mother) hit 10 out of the yard, was pleasantly surprised to see the Buccaneer great at Wrigley.
"It's pretty funny," said Harvey. "I had to travel all the way to Chicago to meet Derrick Brooks."
After Brooks and Harvey exchanged well wishes, Brooks signed some autographs for the fans and headed to his suite to prepare for his big moment.
"I've seen some SportsCenter highlights of some not-too-great moments from 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'" said Brooks as he settled in. "Hopefully I can go out a do a good job."
Prior to his singing engagement, Brooks stopped by the Cubs' radio booth to visit with announcers Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. Brooks talked about this year's journey and January's Super Bowl victory, then moved over to the WGN TV booth to speak with announcers Skip Caray and Steve Stone.
When the time came for Brooks to sing, the All-Pro linebacker responded like a true champion, belting out a hearty, if tuneless, version of the classic baseball song. At the end, Brooks tossed his visor into the stands and, in true Harry Caray fashion, said, "Let's get some runs!"
The Cubs would get just one more run that afternoon, enough to force a 6-6 tie at the end of nine. However, Brooks failed to bring the home team any of his Super Bowl magic, as the Brewers prevailed in extra innings 12-6.
"The Cubs game was fun," said Benjamin. "It was fun seeing Sammy Sosa and seeing him run out there and do his thing and then watching Derrick sing way off-key."
Only a bit disappointed by the Cubs' loss, Brooks' Bunch headed out for an evening that featured Chicago-style pizza and a show at the Second City Comedy Club.
Another famous Chicago landmark, the Second City was the start for such comedic greats as the John and Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Mike Myers and Tina Fey. The show Brooks' Bunch went to see was called "Boom Chicago Saves the World (sorry about the mess)" and featured Suzi Barrett, Brendan Hunt, Rachel Miller, Jordan Peele and Gregory Shapiro, any of which could be the comedic stars of tomorrow.
The show touched on a number of subjects, including politics, SARS, the Matrix, internet pop-ups and an array of suggestions from the audience. The actors kept the show moving and were impressive with their quick wits and overall acting ability.
Three historic Chicago locations down, Brooks' Bunch then called it a night, needing some rest to hit a fourth (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) on Thursday.