At Thursday's 8 a.m. team meeting, Bears coach Matt Eberflus surprised players with a special announcement.
Instead of conducting their final OTA practice of the offseason, players, coaches and staff were going to board six buses and head to Wrigley Field for a team-bonding event.
"We were all excited," said tight end Cole Kmet. "Everyone's been working for awhile now. Everyone's been working really hard, and to get a little break and do some team-bonding at Wrigley Field was very special. We had a lot of fun."
Once the Bears arrived at the Friendly Confines, players and coaches were split into 10 teams that competed in six events. The stations included cup stacking in the Cubs bullpen, batting practice under the right-field bleachers, throwing foam-rubber baseballs at targets in right field, Wiffle ball along the left-field foul line, cornhole in the infield and a home run derby.
"We planned this awhile back," Eberflus said. "We had nine OTAs and we wanted to take one of those just to do a team-building day. We spent a lot of hours organizing it, but it's well worth it because it's all about bringing the guys together, coaches and players."
NFL teams often hold team-building events on their final day of voluntary workouts in lieu of practicing. In past years, the Bears have conducted bowling and golf events.
The idea for Thursday's outing came after Eberflus threw out the ceremonial first pitch and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during a Cubs-Pirates game April 23. He also wanted to incorporate Wrigley Field because it was the Bears' home for 50 seasons from 1921-70. He showed highlights of the Bears at the iconic stadium at Thursday's team meeting.
“When you have laughing, smiling, and the competition’s there as well, that’s a great way to bring a football team together.” -Bears coach Matt Eberflus
Upon their arrival at Wrigley Field, the Bears toured the Cubs locker room and entered the playing field through the Cubs dugout. They were greeted by a scoreboard message that read: "Welcome Back." All players, coaches and staff members received a Cubs hat. The Bears' contingent included chairman George H. McCaskey and general manager Ryan Poles.
Eberflus made sure that the teams included players and coaches from both sides of the ball.
"We had O-line with D-line and DBs with receivers," he said. "We mixed the coaches together, too. It was an opportunity to get to know guys on the other side of the ball and different parts of the team that you wouldn't normally be grouped with."
The excursion accomplished exactly what Eberflus was hoping it would.
"It was great," he said. "When you have laughing, smiling, and the competition's there as well, that's a great way to bring a football team together."
"It was a blast," added Kmet, a Chicago area native and lifelong Cubs fan. "I grew up coming to games here, and to be able to be on the field and take in this whole experience was a lot of fun."
The team that won the event was comprised of quarterback Justin Fields, offensive lineman Sam Mustipher, receivers Velus Jones Jr. and Chris Finke, defensive lineman Angelo Blackson, linebacker Charles Snowden, defensive backs Jon Alexander and BoPete Keyes and kicker Cairo Santos.
The highlight of the day was the final event: the home run derby, which consisted of one participant from each team. Kmet won the event with three home runs—all into the left-centerfield bleachers. The third-year tight end was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2020 draft after playing both football and baseball at Notre Dame.
"I had a feeling I could square one up and get one out," Kmet said, "but I didn't know how I'd feel until I got to the box. I felt pretty good."
Fields and fullback Khari Blasingame both belted two home runs, while tackle Teven Jenkins hit one on his final swing. Jenkins' blast was the longest of the day—and the only one that cleared the bleachers and landed beyond the left-field wall on Waveland Avenue.
"It felt great," said Jenkins, who played baseball through high school. "Today was a lot of fun because I got to bond with my brothers, and I also got to do one thing I've always wanted to do, and that's hit a home run in a big-league park."
Bears players and coaches headed to Wrigley Field for a team bonding event which included competitions such as batting practice, whiffle ball and home run derby inside the Friendly Confines.