Elena Delle Donne, the first-round 2013 draft pick for the Chicago Sky (the city’s WNBA team), and the second overall draft, is 23, with a slender six-foot-five frame. A star basketball player at the University of Delaware, the recent grad had been in Chicago for less than a week when, last Monday, she threw out the ceremonial pitch at Wrigley Field.
Before the pitch, Delle Donne hung out by the home dugout with her older brother Gene, visiting from Delaware. Wearing a Cubs cap and jersey with her Sky number, 11, she tucked her fingers in the pockets of her jeans and waited. Baseball, she says, is not her sport. “There’s always a few nerves,” she said, eyeing the pitcher’s mound. “Mainly, I don’t want to look stupid.”
“Imagine there’s a basketball net behind the plate,” suggested Stephanie Perleberg, the Sky’s media coordinator.
With 20 minutes left until the Cubs’ game against the Rangers began, the Wrigley stands were mostly empty. For the Sky staff there with Delle Donne, it must have been a familiar sight. The team has struggled to draw attention. After seven seasons, they are the only WNBA team that has never made the playoffs—the league only has 12 teams, and 8 go to the playoffs each year. Unless you are the Cubs, that record would make it hard to fill the stands in any sport.
When the Cubs president, Crane Kenney, strode down Wrigley’s finely-graded warning track to greet Delle Donne, someone joked that he was promoting the competition—the WNBA season begins in late May and runs through the bulk of baseball’s regular season. “It’s great to have her here,” Kenney replied with a grin, sounding unconcerned.
The Sky’s own executives are counting on Delle Donne to draw attention to the team, and finally end their post-season drought. She’s a skilled shooter from the field, and her height is rare and astounding. She was already 6-5 at age 17, when a story in the New York Times speculated that she could be the LeBron James of women’s basketball.
As the announcer at Wrigley reeled off her impressive career scoring stats, Delle Donne trotted out to the mound. She barely paused before firing off an overhand pitch. Straight over the plate, ankle-level—a sinker.
“You pitched it clean,” Kenney congratulated Delle Donne as she returned from the mound. The Sky contingent filed into seats a few rows back from the Cubs’ on-deck circle. The game began, and Delle Donne reviewed her performance.
“It felt like I had to aim down,” she said, explaining the low pitch. “Standing on the mound, you feel pretty high above the field.”