Ballhawking outside Wrigley Field

Ballhawking outside Wrigley Field

By Jennifer Lee

He caught his first home run on the corner of Waveland and Kenmore, just beyond the left field bleachers. It was 1958. Gary “Moe” Mullins was an 8-year-old boy then, with a worn leather mitt on his left hand.

With more than 6,000 home run catches, Mullins still chases down baseballs at that same corner. Often wearing black sunglasses under a blue Cubs hat, he leans up against the corner street post with a radio tied to his left bicep, and a single headphone over his right ear. Mullins stands with his arms crossed over his chest, tucking his beat-up leather glove under his right arm.

Donna Mullins watched as her 66-year-old husband would take off after a baseball, usually before the other ballhawks even spotted it in the air. She couldn’t help but smile each time he beat his competitors to the ball, seeing as Mullins was easily 50 years their senior.

“The legend,” she said, two words that verbalized what everyone on that corner already knew.

“Of my 6,014 balls, I lead the world in homers. I’ve got 245 game homers,” Mullins said. “The closest guy has 178. And I’ve got five grand slams.”

1227bdde-4518-4baf-913d-80640a1704be_512Mullins was talking during batting practice Saturday afternoon before Game 4 of the World Series. He never once took his eyes off of the gray sky above left field. His gaze constantly scanned back and forth between the foul pole and the newly installed Jumbotron toward center field.

According to Mullins, the giant screen is just another new addition to Wrigley Field that makes it more difficult for balls to reach the street.

“In the old days you could pick the balls up really easily from the upper deck before the first expansion,” he explained. “Then after that first expansion, we had to pick it up when it was in left field. Now you don’t see it until it’s ten feet out of the park.”

Mullins often has a laid-back, go-with-the-flow attitude, and this situation is no exception.

“Now I just look up in there and I’m looking for the ball,” he said. “I’ve still got great vision, for an old guy.”

When he was in elementary school, Mullins’ family moved into a house down the street from the stadium. He would spend afternoons playing baseball with his friends outside of Wrigley. They drew a box on one of the park’s walls, marking the strike-zone for their games of fast-pitch. They would stop playing when the Cubs came up for batting practice in order to field any balls hit over the left field wall.

“I’d catch balls and sell them for 50 cents to go get a hamburger at O’Henry’s,” Mullins recalled. “Fifty cents would buy you a Coke and a hamburger.”

Matthew Furlin, a 56-year-old pedi-cab driver and rickshaw wallah, is no stranger to the streets beyond the left field wall.

“I’ve been coming to the Kenmore corner since the early 80s,” he said, perched atop his rickshaw throne. His unruly white beard, which seemed to originate from under his sweat-stained Cubs hat, was just long enough to reach the middle of his chest.

Furlin was quick to differentiate himself from those he refers to as “the real professionals,” such as “Super Dave” Davison and Mullins. Although he may not see himself as a top-tier ballhawk, he has certainly been successful on that corner.

“There’s a bruise right there,” he said proudly, pointing to a fresh wound on his right leg. “I got a ball yesterday. I jumped over that fence right there and skinned my knee.”

 “Everything you could ever imagine goes on at this corner. It’s like your everyday dysfunctional family.” — Matthew Furlin

There are several “regulars” on Waveland and Kenmore, but according to Furlin, no one is as experienced or as successful as Mullins. “Super Dave” Davison has spent nearly 30 years chasing down baseballs with Mullins on that corner, and is considered one of the best ballhawks at Wrigley, second only to Mullins. Davison sells many of his baseballs at varying prices, depending on which team the customer roots for. He also makes jewelry out of many of the balls and sells them at his stand.

Furlin speaks highly of his fellow ballhawks. He has one of Davison’s pendants attached to his hat, and urges people to peruse “Super Dave’s setup.” Furlin gives his highest praise to Mullins, who he admiringly refers to as “the king.”

Not everyone who gathers at the corner of Waveland and Kenmore is a seasoned ballhawk. Donna sits in a fold-out chair near the rickshaw, chatting with some friends. Although she has been with Mullins since they were 15-year-olds, Donna said she has never caught a ball.

“I used to come here when they would open up the park early, around 10:30 or so,” she said. “I would come and he would be running around chasing balls and I would bring a book and catch up on my reading. It was awesome, very relaxing.”

Being the wife of a ballhawk is tougher than it might seem on the surface, according to Donna.

“Sometimes it’s a little challenging because you miss birthdays, you miss anniversaries, you have to plan your vacation accordingly around the Cubs’ schedule,” she explained from her seat, several yards behind her husband’s perch.  “So sometimes that gets in the way of things, but it’s something that he absolutely loves to do.”

If the Cubs win the World Series, Donna said she and her husband would head to the corner, which has very much become a home to them, to celebrate with the friends they have grown so close to over the years.

Many old ballhawks who moved away from Chicago over the years, returned to Wrigley for the Cubs’ World Series home stand. Like clockwork, they all flocked back to the corner of Waveland and Kenmore to share the historic moment with old friends.

“This corner has been a catchall, not only for the ballhawks, but for people that just like to come out to visit, and the neighborhood people,” Furlin explained. “It’s amazing that, over so many years, people come, people go, and people come back. It’s nice to see them.”

“Everything you could ever imagine goes on at this corner,” Furlin said with a smile, as he surveyed the scene from his rickshaw. “It’s like your everyday dysfunctional family.”