By Tammy Lechner
Baseball became a passion in my life as a young child – growing up in the Hudson River Valley of New York in a household of sports fanatics all with a favorite team. My parents were Dodgers fans as holdovers from the team’s beginnings in Brooklyn. My older brother rooted for the Mets, and swayed toward the Yankees during the Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson years. We all played the game recreationally on local softball teams, and enjoyed passing a summer evening at the old ballpark. Once a year my father would take us to see the Dodgers play at Shea Stadium. It was a big deal – driving 100 miles south to New York City to visit a major league stadium. Yet, for some reason I remained uncommitted to a “favorite” team until the summer of ’69 – and that’s when true love arrived to my baseball heart.
Throughout that summer I would hear talk about the first place Chicago Cubs and the fast climbing New York Mets trying to overtake the division. I was struck by the fact that the Cubs fans were long denied a World Series date, despite having a lineup in ’69 that included several would-be Hall of Fame players. I tuned into the games and became mesmerized by the colorful and enthusiastic Cubs fans and their charming and lively home stadium, Wrigley Field. I became enthralled by the tradition that included the legacies of Banks, Williams, Jenkins and Santo… and captivated by the unwavering passion and devotion of the Cubs fans. This was a fraternity I wanted to join, and so by August of that season I proudly declared myself a Cubs fan, and embraced a journey that would offer some of the most rewarding, memorable and definitive times of my life.
And, here began the begging question I would one day decide to answer. “What is it about Cubs fans that keep them hanging on to a dream that has been denied from the beginning of one century into the next?” People really wanted to know – is there a secret to feeling rewarded and remaining loyal to a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908? To me it was obvious – and I would tell people, “Well, you have to go to Chicago, and experience a midsummer day at Wrigley Field…, walk around Wrigleyville, sit with the faithful in the bleachers, see the panoramic views from the rooftops, and join the magic and madness that gathers its energy hours before the game, and continues on for hours after… win or lose… it’s fun.”
Not being a “Chicago” Cubs fan, but rather one of the “far-flung” variety, I truly connected with the Cubs when I first arrived in Chicago to see a game at Wrigley in my early 20s. A faithful Cubs fan for more than a decade at that point, it was like a dream come true to finally be surrounded by others like me, and walk the turf that belonged to my team. Perhaps this struck me more poignantly because I was not from Chicago, and I didn’t grow up riding the EL to Wrigley or gathering at Murphy’s for a post-game celebration or commiseration.
Meanwhile, passion for baseball became a theme in my work as a professional photojournalist, and while covering major league baseball with the LA Times in the late ‘80s I detracted a bit to the minor leagues. Here I discovered the grass roots innocence of the professional game, and decided to go on a journey through the “California League” to document the down-to-earth spirit of the minors. On this five-season journey (1989-1994) I observed that the simple essence of baseball at this level was becoming more sophisticated and complex – like major league baseball. Realizing that yesteryear was quickly fading I wanted to record what expressed the pure love of the game. This effort was published as a series of photo essays in the LA Times, and then as a book: IN THE CAL: Pastime Goes Primetime In California’s Minor League.
My experience in the minors encouraged me to continue the search for the pure love of the game with a book project on the Cubs, which I began in 1993. Yet, here I decided from the start that what I really wanted to achieve was a story that would answer that question: “Why do we love this team so much, and remain devoted year after year, win or lose?” I knew that in order to capture the experience I would need to follow the journey of the Cubs fans themselves – from the winter fan convention in Chicago, to spring training in Arizona and on to seasons at Wrigley Field and points beyond. I wanted to connect with all who love the Cubs in an “out-of-body” process – where it was really their story I would tell, in pictures and words.
During the next fifteen years I followed the Cubs and found the Cubs fans wherever and whenever I could. The journey took me to places I felt fortunate to go – such as inside the Wrigley scoreboard, and on one of the famous rooftops. It also brought friendships and acquaintances I felt fortunate to encounter – such as Carmella Hartigan, a 100-year-old Cubs fan, and Billy Williams, my favorite Cub player who agreed to write the foreword to the book.
I discovered that answering the question of why we love the Cubs was not as difficult as figuring out when and how to end the story. After all, I realized, this journey is eternal. And it will not end when the Cubs finally win the World Series again because, as the story points out, it is a way of life that continues from generation to generation. Yet, a decision was made to conclude the journey in 2007, so the book OUR TEAM – OUR DREAM: A Cubs Fan’s Journey Into Baseball’s Greatest Romance, would become a celebratory part of the 2008 season – our 100th season of hope and faith.
And now that the book is published I get to relive the journey by bringing it to the Cubs fans at the winter convention, during spring training in Arizona, and finally to Wrigley Field, and points beyond. Meeting each of you has been and shall remain the reward. It’s truly been the time of my life to tell the story of OUR TEAM and OUR DREAM – whether you are a Cubs fan coming from the 30s, or the 60s, or the 80s… or today… this is our story about the dream we share. May we see it come home again one day soon, and may it live on forever.
Tammy Lechner is the author of OUR TEAM-OUR DREAM: A Cubs Fan’s Journey Into Baseball’s Greatest Romance. She will read at the next Lovable Losers Literary Revue on May 7 at El Jardin as part of a Chicago tour that includes a signing at Book Stall in Winnetka (Saturday, May 10, beginning at 1:30 p.m.) and meet-and-greet promotions at Murphy’s Bleachers—Wrigleyville (May 11-15 and again May 18, starting before and continuing throughout Cubs games on those dates).