End Of Era For Storied Wrigley Field Ballhawks?
CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s Labor Day at Wrigley Field and the Cubs are taking morning batting practice. 66-year old Rich Buhrke is readying his stool and his Mizuno mitt at the corner of Waveland and Kenmore just over the left field wall.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good day because the wind is definitely blowin out,”
It’s a routine he’s followed thousands of times as one of Wrigley Field’s oldest ballhawks, Buhrke adopted this beloved hobby as a boy riding his bike past the historical ballpark.
“My first homerun I ever caught back in 1960 was hit by Don Zimmer, of all people,” Buhrke said.
Down the block, Moe Mullins, a ballhawk since 1958 who proudly claims to have caught more than 5,500 balls.
“It’s become a life long hobby. My most favorite was the Andre Dawson ball I had caught.”
Mullins and Buhrke began their friendship more than 50 years They say it’s a special brotherhood, a bond that has lasted a lifetime.
“It’s the camaraderie. It’s made me friends for life with these people. Moe and I take road trips, we hang out together.”
But when the Cubs erect a jumbo tron behind the left field bleachers, the beloved ballhawks could become extinct.
“Well, its just about going to kill everything.” said Buhrke.
“What it means to me that is my spot between the trees will probably be non existent,” said Mullins.
The Wrigley Field ballhawks have been a staple since the 1940′s. Buhrke estimates he has more than 3,000 balls, and has caught 179 homerun balls at Wrigley Field. He has each one recorded in a binder. Buhrke’s most memorable ball? Ron Santo’s 300th.
“It landed on a roof of a convertible right in front of where we’re standing here and I caught it off the roof of the convertible.”
Magical moments they say may be lost as technology trumps tradition.
“Bout the only thing that’s gonna go out if they end em out it’ll be down the line or a gargantuan shot that might clear it.”
But Buhrke and Mullins say they’ll continue to flock to their nest next season but maybe not as often.
“This is what I love to do. This is where I love to be.”
Their eyes to the sky and dreams of catching that next dinger…a feeling Buhrke says is hard to put into words.
“When that homerun is hit out and you get it, just for a second, you’re part of the game. It’s an amazing rush.”
And as Wrigley Field changes with the times, so must it’s most loyal fans.
“We’ll see how it reacts off the Jumbotron. I’ll figure it out. I will adapt,” said Mullins.
An end of an era? Maybe so but they’ve etched their place in history, a legacy that will live on long after the ballhawks are gone.
“It’s gonna be sad not to be here. Once this street disappears it’s the end of an era completely. We have been part of that era for many, many years.”
The Jumbotron is part of the Cubs $300 million dollar renovation plan and could be erected as soon as the 2014 season.