Photo of Chris Paciolla courtesy of Jamie Paciolla
As the amount of daylight decreases and the calendar rapidly approaches the end of the year, it’s a sure sign that we are approaching the December holidays. For my family, we always celebrated Christmas, but for some of you, that may be Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or a different holiday.
This time of year always makes me a little more reflective and sentimental as I think of those holidays of the past. Some of my personal favorite memories include making cookies with my mom, going with my dad to pick out our Christmas tree (but usually ending up with something that reminded my siblings and me of the one in the Peanuts Christmas special), and spending the holiday with a house full of people and enjoying the company of a big family.
I checked in with a number of players from the Cubs minor league system and asked them to share a favorite tradition or memory they have of the holiday they celebrate. The stories they shared ranged from traditional to quite amusing.
It probably won’t be a surprise that family time was a common theme for many of the players.
Pitcher Jordan Wicks recalls an annual family trip to Florida to spend time with his grandparents.
Recent draftee Andy Garriola remembers the holidays as the one time of the year when he had the chance to reconnect with all of his cousins as that was the only time they were were able to get together.
For Matt Mervis, it was also trips to Florida that he remembers as he always had fun.
Daniel Palencia fondly recalls the time spent with his family.
Catcher Casey Opitz didn’t identify one specific Christmas growing up that was so memorable but shared that it was special because it was some of the only times his whole family was together. Casey has two brothers who played professional baseball and a sister chasing her dream which meant they were gone most of the year except for around the holidays, so they always made the time count when they could.
Moises Ballesteros is making new memories with his family members in his new home as they decorate and start new traditions.
Bryce Windham’s favorite Christmas memory was getting his first dog. Bruno was a Boxer who was named after Cinderella’s dog.
Cole Roederer shared the holiday memory from when he was younger and the whole family would come to their house to open gifts. In his family, before you graduate high school, the whole family gets you gifts (“it’s awesome“) but after graduation you buy gifts for others. After the gifts were opened, Cole and all the younger family members would go upstairs to the family room and have video game tournaments which is one of his favorite memories.
Max Bain and his family watch Christmas Vacation every year while decorating the Christmas tree. For Max, this has provided memories throughout the years that are long-lasting. It’s the first thing he thinks of when thinking of the Christmas holiday.
James Triantos recalls the annual tradition of walking through the town to view the Christmas lights and watch the light displays created by the local members of his hometown.
For outfielder Owen Caissie, it’s going out with his family and cutting down a tree each year.
Former Cub Chris Clarke (recently selected by Seattle in the Rule 5 draft) had ordered a four-iron golf club as a gift for himself for Christmas. His brother discovered this and swapped out the brand-new club and replaced it with his old 4 iron. When Chris opened the gift, he was surprised, but had to look happy and grateful to his grandparents even though he knew someone was pranking him.
Chris Paciolla – Spoiler Alert for Young Readers
For 2022 draftee Chris Paciolla, he has a favorite, but also not so favorite, memory of Christmas. When he was a young child, he walked downstairs in the middle of the night and found his parents putting gifts under the tree. Some of those gifts were from the jolly man in the red suit and this raised a lot of questions in his mind about Santa…..
Tis Better to Give than to Receive
I also asked the players if there was a significant gift that they had given to someone else and got some heart-tugging responses.
Moises Ballesteros was able to give his parents a home and fulfill their dream of having their own house.
Casey Opitz and his siblings recreated their mom’s favorite pictures from when they were kids and created a photo book out of them. It was incredibly fun to do for all of the siblings and their mom still has it to this day and pulls it out every Christmas Eve.
Daniel Palencia gave one of his baseball gloves to his little cousin last year and the boy was so happy that he began to dance with joy.
Bryce Windham and his fiancé Annie are going up to the childrens hospital in Ann Arbor this year and delivering a bunch of toys for the kids.
James Triantos gave his family a puppy. He brought the dog home last year and everyone loves him.
Chris Paciolla spoke of the most meaningful gifts he has given are gifts that fuel the recipient’s love for baseball. He’s been fortunate enough to use his success to bless others who aren’t fortunate enough to have the gear to play the game we all love.
Max Bain feels he hasn’t given his most meaningful gift yet. “A lot of the gifts I’ve given people are tangible. They’re material. That’s the nature of being young and purchasing gifts for people around you. I believe the eventual opportunity to gift an experience to people important to me, that’ll be the most meaningful gift” said Bain. “Giving them a night out or something along those lines and allowing them to share that with someone close to them or someone they love, that’ll be significantly more meaningful and more memorable for them as opposed to anything I could buy that’s tangible.“
Feature photo of Max Bain courtesy of Nicole Bain
I hope you’ve enjoyed a peak into some of the off-field memories and traditions of a few of our Cubs minor leaguers that they graciously shared. My personal wish for each of you is that you may have a blessed holiday and I hope you get to spend quality time with those you hold dear!