Constable: Ex-Harper dean's stories as Wrigley usher rebound with Cubs
When Buffalo Grove author Bruce Bohrer's "Best Seat In The House! Diary of a Wrigley Field Usher" was published in 2014, the Chicago Cubs were in last place, with key players such as Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Darwin Barney struggling to produce more runs than high-priced pitcher Edwin Jackson gave up.
Today's Cubs, under manager Joe Maddon, are riding an influx of young power to sit atop the baseball world after a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. Likewise, Bohrer, who recently added a popular PowerPoint presentation to his book tour, is on top of his literary game, scheduled for more than a dozen appearances already this summer.
"It's been great," says Bohrer, the 65-year-old former dean of admissions at Harper College. He says his book is the serendipitous result of a 2002 summer day as a fan in Wrigley Field. Knowing that he would retire from Harper that December, Bohrer was looking for a new, fun job and decided that being an usher just might fit into his lifelong passion for the Cubs and the Friendly Confines.
"My dad was a die-hard Sox fan, die-hard. My mom was the Cubs fan," says Bohrer, who grew up on the North Side and made his choice as a young boy. "The word 'Cubs' just had a better ring to it. So that's the science behind it."
A 1969 graduate of Von Steuben High School, Bohrer spent many days of his youth at Wrigley Field. He remembers taking a bus to the 1962 All-Star Game at Wrigley at the last minute. "A bleacher seat was 60 cents," he says.
Sometimes he'd help clean up after a Cubs game to earn a free ticket to the next day's game.
"Ernie was my hero. Every kid loved Ernie Banks," says Bohrer, who, as an usher, got to chat with Mr. Cub in the grandstands before some games.
Bohrer's ushering career got off to an inauspicious start when a freakish snowstorm postponed the 2003 Opening Day at Wrigley Field. But things got better that season, as the Cubs won the division and were poised for a trip to the World Series. Then things took a bad turn during a crucial playoff game against the Florida Marlins.
"In my mind, I was rearranging my personal schedule so I'd be available to work every World Series game," Bohrer remembers thinking. "This is meant to be. My first year as an usher and the Cubs are going to win the World Series."
Instead, a foul ball headed toward an aisle farther down the left field line, a fan became infamous, the Cubs fell apart, and, "well, the rest is history," Bohrer says. But most of his ushering memories from 2003 to 2011 are fond ones.
"I was working in the bleachers one day and I felt a tap on the shoulder," Bohrer says. The man asked if he and his wife could sit in the bleachers to soak up that atmosphere.
"You're Ryne Sandberg," a stunned Bohrer told the Cubs Hall-of-Famer. "You can sit wherever you want."
Taught to respect "seat integrity" and not let fans sneak into better seats, Bohrer says some season-ticket holders would take umbrage when he asked to see their tickets. One woman, explaining how her tickets had been in her family for years, finally relented and showed Bohrer her ticket.
"After the game, she plants a big kiss on my cheek and says, 'Next time, you'll remember me,'" the usher says.
Bohrer helped with marriage proposals, turned down a surprisingly high number of bribes from fans hoping in vain for better seats, and even got to give a baseball to a young fan, who was about to decline the offer until his father jumped in to accept the souvenir. He remembers one elderly couple seeing a lush, green Wrigley for the first time and remarking, "Oh, it's not all black-and-white."
While he met some players, former players and other celebrities, the daily wonder of fans excited to set foot in Wrigley Field stays with him.
"The best part of the job was talking to people literally from all over the world," says Bohrer, whose son, Jason, 39, and granddaughters Lucy, 4, and Ruby, 1, were born into the Cubs fandom.
With his book tour still going well, the author says he has high hopes that his 2016 Cubs avoid the heartache of falling short of a World Series championship again.
"The closer you are to a reward, the tougher it is to deal with," says Bohrer, whose undergraduate degree in psychology no doubt helped him as an usher and a Cubs fan.
"This year is a different story," predicts Bohrer, who no longer has the luxury of knowing that he'll be in Wrigley throughout the postseason. "It will be hard to get a ticket, but I've got to go to the World Series."