One of my favorite feature stories I wrote during my newspaper career is about a father-son duo who attend at least one Cubs-Dodgers game at Wrigley Field each season. The father, Steve Swanson, is a lifelong Dodgers fan; his son, Andy, is a Cubs fan. I wrote about them last year when their streak reached 27 consecutive seasons. Today their streak extended to 28 years, and as a Cubs fan, I’m happy to report they watched Chicago shut out Los Angeles 7-0 behind a sharp pitching performance by Ryan Dempster.
The following is the feature story I wrote about their annual tradition. It was published May 23, 2008, in the Ottawa Times.
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In baseball terms, it may not be as impressive as Cal Ripken playing in 2,632 consecutive games, but the streak Steve and Andy Swanson have going is still pretty cool.
When the Chicago Cubs host the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field next week, the Swansons will be on hand for at least one game of the series for the 27th consecutive year.
“I would say it’s the most important thing I do all year,” Andy told The Times. “No matter what else is going on in my life, when it’s time for the Dodgers game, I have to do it.”
Not that Andy is a Dodgers fan. He roots for the Cubs.
But when it comes to him and his father, they bleed different hues of baseball blue. Steve, superintendent of Streator Township High School, is a lifelong Dodgers fan.
“When I was growing up in Iowa in the ’50s, it was always the Dodgers and the Yankees when we played Whiffle Ball,” Steve said. “I don’t know how, but it just happened. I guess because they always seemed to be playing each other in the World Series.”
Those two teams faced each other in the Fall Classic four times in the 1950s, with the Dodgers winning just once before moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Steve recalls the first Dodgers game he attended, a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Braves at old Milwaukee County Stadium. He and three friends were standing outside the stadium when a taxicab pulled up with Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills inside. Wills had missed the team bus.
“Out pops Maury Wills,” said Steve, smiling at the memory. “He talked to us and was very congenial. We told him we were Dodgers fans and we passed around a pen and different things for him to sign.”
One problem: Wills tried twice to sign for Steve, but the pen wasn’t working.
“He said, ‘You’re out of luck, kid,’ but eventually I got a Maury Wills autograph years later,” Steve said.
After the game they went down by the underground tunnel near the Dodgers clubhouse and watched their heroes commiserate. They caught glimpses of pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
“Drysdale was drinking a cup of beer. It shattered my image of him,” Steve said with a laugh. “I didn’t think these guys drank beer, let alone steroids like some of the players now.”
He also attended the seventh game of the 1965 World Series between the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
In 1982, a half-dozen fathers, including a few Dodgers fans, decided to take a road trip together to Wrigley Field to see a Dodgers-Cubs game. They brought their sons and daughters with them.
That was the year Steve and Andy began their streak. Andy was 6 years old.
“It started out as mostly fathers and sons, and some daughters, going to see the game every year,” said Steve, noting that 15 to 20 different parent-child combinations were participating for a while.
“Probably around my senior year, in ’93 or ’94, we realized we were the last ones who were going every year,” said Andy, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Andy’s two sisters attended many of the games, but not all of them. His siblings aren’t Dodgers fans either.
“We’ve always tried to give him a hard time about it, but he always comes back with, ‘Wait ’til next year, Cub fan,’ ” Andy said.
Andy almost got the opportunity to finally throw that comment back at his dad in 2003 when the Cubs came within five outs of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. Instead, the Cubs blew the National League Championship Series and the Florida Marlins advanced instead.
“That was extremely painful,” Andy said. “I had rooftop tickets for the first (World Series) game at Wrigley. They were paid for and everything.”
Andy’s favorite game of the Cubs-Dodgers streak was when the Swansons celebrated the 20th anniversary of the tradition in a skybox and Andy was able to bring some childhood friends who were part of the tradition during its early years.
“We were in a skybox behind home plate and watched the Cubbies win 20-1 on the 20th anniversary,” Andy said.
Steve’s favorite year was when Andy and one of his sisters drove to Chicago and back to Des Moines in one day — about 12 hours round trip — because of the tradition.
“It was special,” Steve said. “They drove in to keep the streak alive.”
Over the years they sat in different sections of the Friendly Confines.
“We stayed in about every nook and cranny of that ballpark,” said Steve, who admits Wrigley Field is his favorite place to watch a ballgame.
One of the constants during the streak has been Tommy Lasorda, former longtime manager of the Dodgers who now travels with the team as a goodwill ambassador. Steve always tries to find Lasorda in the stands so he can talk to him.
“It’s still fun to see the guy after all these years,” Steve said.
Andy has a son, Cole, who turns 1 next month. He looks forward to a few years from now when the youngster can join the tradition.
“I can’t wait until there’s the three of us there together,” Andy said. “I just love going to these games and spending the time with my dad. It’s really something cool, this tradition.”