WRIGLEYVILLE — Wrigley Field will be allowed expanded capacity beginning Friday, with 60 percent of seats now available for fans, up from a 25-percent restriction because of COVID-19.
That means about 25,000 people can now watch the Cubs — and hear their new, history-making public address announcer Jeremiah Paprocki.
Like most college seniors, Paprocki had been trying to figure out what to do when he graduates. But he doesn’t have to worry now after getting called up to the big leagues.
Paprocki, who will graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago in December, took the mic as the voice of Wrigley Field earlier this month. At 21, he’s the youngest and first Black announcer in the team’s history.
“Both of those are such an honor,” Paprocki said. “Just earlier this year I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with graduation coming?’ But now, I’m working my dream job.”
Paprocki became interested in PA announcing as a kid going to basketball and baseball games with his family. Paprocki’s mom raised him to be a Cubs fan and would take him to at least two games a year, he said.
“But the announcer really stuck out to me at Bulls games, where I’d hear the former Bulls announcer, Tommy Edwards, say the iconic ‘and now …’ part of the Bulls intro,” Paprocki said. “That really stuck for me.”
With Edwards’ booming voice putting the bug in his ear, Paprocki tried his hand at the craft reading the daily school announcements at CICS Northtown Academy in North Park. That led to his second gig in the business.
“I eventually started announcing for our school sports teams, and was announcing for the girls basketball team when a referee approached me at halftime and encouraged me to continue announcing at UIC,” Paprocki said.
While still a junior in high school, Paprocki announced Division 1 college sports for the UIC Flames, which he continued through his own time as a student there.
Paprocki learned of the Cubs’ opening while on spring break in Miami, he said.
“I saw when the former Cubs PA announcer [Andrew Belleson] announced he was stepping down earlier this year, so I was aware they’d be looking for somebody and kept a lookout,” Paprocki said.
Paprocki was about to head to the beach when he learned the team finally posted the job opening, so he put his plans on hold and applied, creating his audition video on the spot with his mother helping behind the camera.
He announced his first starting lineup when the Cubs faced the Washington Nationals May 17.
“I’ve always dreamed of getting this job at a young age, but now to actually have it is unbelievable,” Paprocki said.
So far, the new gig has been a dream, Paprocki said. It’s taught him the importance of preparation and how to handle being an announcer in a higher-pressure setting than at college games.
Paprocki said he is proud his accomplishment “has brought so much positivity to the African American community.” He’s heard from other aspiring Black announcers who have told him “they’re inspired to continue pursuing the job without being discouraged by age or race.”
The best part of the job is hearing his own voice booming from Wrigley Field’s speakers, he said.
“It’s a wild reminder of how far I’ve come,” Paprocki said. “It’s a reminder to keep pushing for your dreams and work hard at everything you do.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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