[Installment #3 of "My First Favorite Player" comes from Chad Walters. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeanBlitz]
I was 6 years old back in ’86 and was a total TransFormers fanatic. I was an awkward kid with a bizarre imagination and divorcing parents in a tiny town south of South Bend, Indiana. Clinging to anything that reinforced the notion that honesty and strength were the pillars of goodness despite the crumbling family world around me demonstrating otherwise, I was drawn to the AutoBots and their quest for defeating evil with the form of Decepticons. The combination of animation, righteousness, and heroes in the TransFormers cartoon sucked me in every afternoon at 3:30 on WGN after I got off the school bus.
Except for when a Cubs day game would override the programming schedule.
For that reason alone, I hated the Cubs.
My father was a big Cubs fan growing up. He would tell me stories of Banks and Santo and Fergie and Billy, and when his father would take him to Wrigley Field. I respected his fandom, but I didn’t care. As a kid constantly bullied in school, the TransFormers were my outlet of hope and those Cubs kept me from that outlet.
In the spring of ’87 I would come home from school and watch the Cubs play with the hopes that their games would soon end and WGN could return to their normal broadcast schedule. However, something funny happened along the way. This new guy, this Andre Dawson fellow, he started swatting home runs. He played hard. He hustled. He was fast. He was dangerous. He would throw runners out at second, at third, at home from right field. He provided a new outlet for righteousness, despite the Cubs being a lousy team. I was getting involved in T-ball and bush league as a youngster now, and he became my new hero because he did things right. I was a lily-white kid in a lily-white farming community, never having been exposed to other races just because we didn’t really have a reason to leave, totally transfixed on this black player who could seemingly do no wrong. He hit 49 home runs – 49 home runs! – and won the MVP Award despite playing on a last-place team.
A tipping point appeared in my life, and its nickname was The Hawk.
No longer did a cartoon have a hold of my life like before. I began loving the summer months and daytime Cubs baseball. I opened up to having the Cubs in my life, appreciating Grace and Sandberg and Maddux. I started resenting cartoons because they meant the Cubs weren’t on. Despite being only two hours away from Chicago I finally got my chance to attend a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in ’88, and was totally star struck by the Cubs’ right fielder. I had not been a baseball card collector, but down the line when I got my first Andre Dawson card in a pack of ’89 Bowmans it became my prized possession and I still have it today.
Favorite players have come into and left my life. Sandberg and his unfailing fielding. Bo Jackson crushed the ball hard and struck out even harder. Big Frank Thomas was my very first Rotisserie baseball league draft pick. Despite defecting to the Braves, Greg Maddux showed that guile could be just as dominating as brute strength. Sammy Sosa brought the Cubs back from the depths of futility for at least a little while.
But there can only be one “first.” No one can take the place of Andre Dawson. He did more than a favorite player should – he helped make the confusing world around this youngster a little less confusing.
Chad is a 33 year old consultant from the Augusta, Georgia area showing sports organizations how to be more efficient using Lean and Six Sigma techniques and how to optimize the customer experience. He also formerly consulted for the Atlanta Braves and blog about these techniques at http://leanblitzconsulting.com. And he still loves the Cubs.