Nine years ago, Kris Bryant wasn’t a baseball superstar (though major league teams no doubt had their eyes on him). He was just a kid, enjoying the summer before his sophomore year at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas; he wasn’t even driving yet.
That summer of 2007, he had his brother drop him off at the movies for his first date with Jessica Delp. She was an athlete in her own right, playing basketball and softball at Bonanza. She had an older friend drop her off at the movies that day. “I don’t even think my parents knew I was going on a date,” she laughs now, looking back. “They just thought I was going to the movies with friends.”
That same summer, Jake Arrieta was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. His girlfriend, Brittany Young, was his high school sweetheart, and she’d been with him through his college career and at least one cross-country move for baseball. He wasn’t yet the Jake Arrieta, Cy Young Award winner and power pitcher behind not one but two no-hitters (so far). But if others had doubts, Brittany knew his potential. She said yes when he proposed later that year.
Irmarie Marquez, just 15 that summer, wasn’t thinking too much about Javier Báez, a boy she’d met in middle school in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Though the two were friends, his family had recently moved to Florida to seek better medical care for his sister, Noely, who sadly passed away due to complications from spina bifida in 2015. But, on a trip back to Puerto Rico in 2013, Báez reconnected with Marquez and the two began dating. Soon she was joining him in the US — this time in Chicago, where he made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2014.
These are the stories that, through a series of domino-like events, eventually brought Jessica Delp, 24, Brittany Arrieta, 30, and Irmarie Marquez, 24, into each others’ lives, and now they’ve formed a family of their own, along with other wives and girlfriends of the Cubs players, including Julianna Zobrist and Aliya Fowler. The team is having an incredible season — they’re on pace to win 100 games for the first time since 1935 — thanks in no small part to the support of the women standing behind them — or, more likely, cheering them on from the family area one section up from home plate at Wrigley Field.
Contrary to the reputation so-called “WAGS” — wives and girlfriends of pro athletes — often get, these women are charming, intelligent and well-spoken. And they didn’t start out dating superstars; they’ve been there since long before the big paychecks and fame.
“There are a lot of things this life gives us, and I’m grateful for everything we get to do and see,” Arrieta says. “But people have a [certain negative] image of our life.”
“People don’t understand how hard it is,” Marquez says through a translator (she’s taking classes to perfect her English). “Our lives are always up in the air.”
No one knows this better than Arrieta. In 2013, her husband Jake got a call that he’d been traded from the Orioles to the Cubs and he needed to be in Chicago … the very next day. Brittany — pregnant with daughter Palmer, now 2, and toting son Cooper, now 4, plus the family dog — was left to handle everything. “I was stuck packing up our life,” she says. “Figuring out, where do I go? What do I do? How am I supposed to handle this?”
The constant possibility of a major move doesn’t lend itself to working full time, so instead, these women have immersed themselves in giving back. They work with the Cubs Charities on events like Race to Wrigley — which had 6,000 participants and raised $350,000 this spring — and coordinate fundraising efforts like “mystery ball” and the Players’ Favorite Things baskets. Most recently, Arrieta, Delp and Marquez visited Maryville Center for Children, where they spent time with wounded kids and teens and presented gifts. Last year alone, the wives raised $100,000 for Cubs Charities.
At home, they play multiple roles as well. “If you name a job title, we check it off our list,” Arrieta says. “Mover, packer — I’m a professional packer — assistant, financial [aide], cook. We stay very busy. Our guys live out of a suitcase. When they get home [from a road trip] it’s laundry and dry cleaning and they’re on the road again in seven days.”
“I went to school [at University of Nevada, Las Vegas] full time and worked full time at the same time,” Delp says. “And I’m busier now than I ever was.” (Delp has another task on her agenda right now, too: wedding planning. She and Bryant will marry this coming January.)
Then there’s the support. Marquez says a prayer before each game and cooks Báez his favorite meal of rice, beans and carne asada after the game; Arrieta sends a voice or video message from her kids to Jake, and stays up late — sometimes until 3 a.m. — to be able to spend time with him after a late game or long road trip.
“You have to be their biggest fan,” Delp says. “You think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to, he’s got tons of fans!’ But it’s true. After a good game or even after a bad game, just having that [support] is huge.”
And, since there are weeks when they see one another more than they see their husband, fiance and boyfriend, the women support each other as well. “It’s like a sorority,” Arrieta says. “Other teams I’ve been on, it’s not like this necessarily. We’re each other’s family and friends while we’re here.”
Last month, we reached out to the Cubs about doing a stylish shoot with some of the women behind the players. They suggested three who are at the forefront of fundraising for Cubs Charities: Infielder Javier Báez’s girlfriend Irmarie Marquez (from left), star pitcher Jake Arrieta’s wife Brittany and homerun hitter Kris Bryant’s fiancee Jessica Delp. The ladies suited up in Cubs blue and posed for the camera July 27 before cheering their guys on in Game 3 of the Crosstown Classic against the White Sox — which the Cubs won 8-1.
Photographer: Maria Ponce