I made my first visit to Wrigley Field with my Dad in 1969. He grew up during the depression and would tack scraps of old tires to the bottom of his worn out shoes and still play a pretty mean shortstop. As we walked to the top of the stairs to get to our seats, my first memory of the field was a visual explosion of green from the grass and vines on the outfield wall. I also remember how my Dad splurged for box seats on that special day.
Many years and Cubs games later, I met Butch Edmonson, just outside the left field bleachers on Waveland and Kenmore. I was aware of Ballhawks patrolling inside and outside the park, but I never knew about their level of dedication until after meeting with Butch.Butch spoke about Cub players from the early 1900’s, like Jimmy Archer, as if they were teammates. He told me about “playing the street,” weather conditions, pitch count, rosters and E.R.A.’s. He told me how the Ballhawks played roof balls and traveled to minor league parks and even had their own spring training in Florida. Butch sounded like a Major League bench coach and I’m certain he played the street better than Jason DuBois ever could have.
I remember experiencing my first home run ball onto Waveland Avenue. I heard the crowd roar and before I even had taken a step, watched a Ballhawk run down and catch a Major League Home Run on the fly. My pulse quickened, I felt the adrenaline rush and the Wrigley crowd all at once. I then understood the allure of Ballhawking and that I had stumbled upon something special. I also saw a deeper story develop with the Ballhawks during the Cub’s ugly 2004 demise. A century old story that Cub fans recognize all too well. A story about hope, exuberance, shattered dreams and picking up the pieces to move on.
I know many people think I’m crazy for following the Ballhawks to document this story. My mom even asked at one point if I thought I would “turn into one of them.” What kept me going? Maybe I admired their passion and persistence so much, that I couldn’t give up. In an era of expansion, modernization and inflated player salaries, I see the Ballhawks as one of Wrigleyville’s last old school holdouts. They are part of the character and flavor that make Wrigleyville special. Maybe while hanging with them they also reminded me of the feeling I got from my first glimpse of Wrigley Field, on that beautiful summer day with my Dad in 1969.