Sing in the sunshine

swyersBy the grace of the gods and the bulging forearms of Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series, there to face the New York Mets.

With tickets to a hypothetical World Series game at Wrigley already selling at $50,000 for behind the plate (our advice: save your receipt), it is easy to forget the role the cheap-seat bleachers played in Cubs mythology. At one point or another we all paid our seven bucks to sit out there and watch seven innings of baseball, followed by two innings of belligerent drunks from Galesburg being escorted down the ramps, past former sorority girls vomiting prolifically into garbage cans. No, I’m not kidding.

The bleachers attract more of a twenty-five dollar crowd these days, and you have a reasonable chance of leaving a game with your shirt unstained. Yet even in these more affluent and sanitary times, the Wrigley bleachers maintain a bit of the old bum ambiance, in particular on weekdays, when it is easier to score tickets because the financiers and dentists have to work.

Bleacher regular and anthropologist Holly Swyers put on her bright blue pith helmet to explore the pregame rituals, ballpark traditions, and social hierarchies prevalent in today’s bleacher community. As Wrigley Regulars shows, a complex system of conditions, practices, and behaviors create and sustain the experience of community in the sunny seats. The practices range from scorecard-keeping and gathering at the same location before each game to elaborate rules of ticket distribution and seating arrangements, as well as more symbolic behaviors and superstitions that link the regulars to each other. Swyers uses the bleacher crowd to challenge the claim that community is eroding in our fragmented and technologically driven culture. Instead, she says, our notions of where we find community and how we express it (“left field sucks!”) are changing.