Having grown up blocks from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, I had no choice but to fall in love with the Cubs.
The organ music and cheers of the crowd would drift through the open windows of my school, which sat a mere block from the bleacher entrance. And like many of my loves, the Cubs have disappointed me, but I still keep the hope alive that one day everything will be all right in the world and they – we - will win a World Series.
My first baseball memory involved 20 or so family members crowded around the portable TV cheering Sandy Koufax on during the 1963 World Series. Later on, I would pretend I was Sandy or Fergie Jenkins or Ken Holtzman, throwing what I perceived to be a curve ball at a small painted square on a brick wall. That square was always Mickey Mantle, for some reason. I was 11, it was 1969. My height was about that of a munchkin, and I may have weighed at 65 pounds. If only I could have played on a Little League team…but damn those girl chromosomes.
I spent close to 20 years involved in the theatre in Chicago and made a few excursions to the East Coast. In the mid 80’s, I left the Windy City to travel and actually became a bigger fan than when I had been at home. Eventually I had to come back, and after a 12-hour car ride, I hit Wrigley on 8-8-88: the night that lights came to Wrigley.
It was an omen, since I was coming back home to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (and the School of Baseball at Wrigley). Within the week I was once again basking in the sunshine of the bleachers and soaking up the sounds and smells of the ballpark: freshly mown grass, combined with grilled hot dogs, balls caught by leather gloves, and dorky organ music.
At school I drove my professors crazy with my “affliction” for baseball. My man was Ryno, #23, Ryne Sandberg, and no one could tell me different. 95% of my art was baseball-themed, but then again everyone at that point seemed to be a Cubs fan...we were contenders and the city was going nuts. I took my beat-up Ron Santo glove and scanned in the trim to make my first computer-generated piece and I have never looked back. After 24 years I have made more paintings and pencil renderings than computer pieces, but they all shine like a big “W” flag.
My subjects range from long-forgotten players like Chief Meyers up to Sammy Sosa’s corked bat. I rather enjoy the old timers, as they all seem to have been such characters—Three Finger Brown, Cool Papa Bell, and Leo the Lip.
When my buddy Ronny Santo passed away. I did the ugly cry in front of Wrigley and then the next year I did the happy ugly cry when he got into the Hall of Fame. I made four more Santo pieces over those two years, the most I have done of any one player. But alas, there is more to baseball than my Cubbies.
I have also painted and sketched Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie, a beatific Joe D., and my hero, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson. Robert Feller’s dad originated the Field of Dreams, building a park for his son, and I painted the family as “Baseball Gothic,” an homage to Grant Wood. What did Durocher do besides manage Willie Mays? Well, he loved to scream at umpires. So I painted it.
The ideas poured out. An idealistic Josh Gibson dreaming of the Major Leagues. Ted Williams’ smirk, which was almost as pretty as his swing. The iconic catch of Mays diminished against a wall of green. Ernie Banks, who still has the gold tooth he had when he played with the Kansas City Monarchs, and Hack Wilson’s golden bat spraying RBIs all over the field. From Christy Mathewson to Monte Irvin to the greatest face in all of baseball, Casey Stengel, they are all in my portfolio.