It might be a few years before Jackson O’Connor asks his father to “Take me out to the ball game,” but this Sunday morning he can watch 20 “guest conductors” sing that iconic song in a “SportsCenter Featured” piece his dad was working on the day he was born (July 3, 2013).
Producer Mike O’Connor enlisted Chicago native Jim Belushi to voice-over the feature (debuting on the 10 a.m. SportsCenter and also airing on Baseball Tonight 7 p.m., ESPN), which focuses on celebrities and athletes who’ve carried on Harry Caray’s legacy the past 15 years since his death: singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field. (Watch preview clip here.)
“We liked Jim for the voice because he wasn’t just some Hollywood guy, he is as big a Cubs fan as there is and truly represents the voice of Cubs fans,” O’Connor said of the actor/comedian. “I asked Jim if he was interested in serving as the voice of the piece, rather than being interviewed for it, and he was in. The key was in the presentation of the script, which is where ESPN.com writer Wayne Drehs came in. In [Feature Manager] Drew Gallagher’s words, we asked Wayne to take it and, ‘Chicago it up.’ Wayne [whose Twitter bio includes "Cubs geek"] set the tone with his writing, and Jim had some leeway to make it his own.”
For the recording studio, Belushi recommended Parr’s Audio on Martha’s Vineyard where he lives. Normally, O’Connor would have been there personally, but who wants to visit an exclusive island off Cape Cod in July?
“I decided to do it over the phone knowing that my wife, Rebecca, could have the baby any day,” O’Connor said. “I was connected with Jim so we could communicate, I could listen in, and we could discuss wording and tone as he went. Jim was great to work with — he was committed to doing it well and gave us several variations to choose from.”
“Jim was an absolute pro in the studio and has more personality in his voice than anyone I know,” said Jim Parr, the studio’s owner. “His obvious love for the Cubs came out in the session, and there was a bunch of fun repartee between Jim and Mike back in Bristol that should make for a pretty entertaining piece.”
Singers in the piece include Bill Murray, Ozzie Osbourne, Eddie Vedder, and Bozo the Clown, while Jeff Gordon, ESPN’s Mike Ditka, Ernie Banks, Caray’s grandson and Atlanta Braves’ broadcaster Chip Caray, and long-time Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy are among those interviewed.
“The timing of the piece is tied to this season’s policy change at Wrigley to include celebrities and athletes who are Cubs fans or have Chicago ties rather than out of towners,” says O’Connor, a native of Farmington, Conn. and 2003 graduate of Western New England College.
And although immersed in Chicago Cubs tradition, O’Connor claims his week-old son is already a Yankees fan, just like his dad.
Editor’s Note: The St. Louis Cardinals visit the Chicago Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN.