- Wrigley Regulars: Finding Community in the Bleachers
In Wrigley Regulars, Holly Swyers presents an anthropological study of “bleacher regulars,” the devoted Chicago Cubs fans that habitually congregate before and after games and sit together in the outfield bleachers at Wrigley Field. Swyers credits her personal experience as a bleacher regular as the inspiration for this work. She argues that despite the factors associated with industrialization and globalization that act against traditional forms of community, the bleacher regulars serve as an example of a community based in a shared common interest and experience. Swyers bases her study on participant observation, archiving, formal and informal interviews, and literature review. Organized into nine chapters, she creates a theoretical framework that defines community, details what is needed for a community, and tests the bleacher regulars against those factors.
In the first chapter, Swyers surveys anthropological literature on community and provides her definition of community as “a set of practices through which participants arrive at self-consciousness of themselves as a group with a particular relationship to the larger world” (p. 3). She then lists the requirements for a community, which include: space, time, “effervescent potential,” boundary maintenance, internal organization, and rituals and beliefs (pp. 8–9). Swyers explores each of these requirements in the subsequent chapters.
The second and third chapters examine the sense of shared ownership of a particular space and the commitment of time made to build and nurture friendships (pp. 12, 35). Naturally, the general admission outfield bleachers at Wrigley Field serve as the space occupied by the regulars. The author skillfully interweaves the history of Wrigley Field, the construction of the bleachers as separate from the grandstand, and the infamous “Lee Elia rant” from 1983, to illustrate the development of a distinct identity in the bleachers. Swyers addresses the large time commitment required to attend games and to participate in the community.
Swyers explains “effervescence potential” for a community by beginning the fourth chapter with a narrative of a tense extrainning game in 2001.The near capacity crowd shared intensity and suspense of the game (p. 49). Besides the electricity of the moment, the author also provides examples of “group consciousness” such as the “No Wave at Wrigley” policy, the seventh inning stretch ritual of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and the “Five More Outs” chant/jinx from the 2003 National League Championship Series. Swyers asserts that moments similar to the game narrative and rituals reveal a shared experience and shared passion that contribute to the identity of the community.
In the fifth and sixth chapters, Swyers examines the existence of boundaries for entry and organization within the bleacher regulars. Membership in the regulars requires time, commitment, and knowledge of the game. In short, becoming a regular depended on [End Page 369] behavior and approval (p. 79). Despite its appearance of egalitarianism, an informal hierarchy exists with the bleacher regulars’ community. This hierarchy is based on seniority and leadership roles that typically fell to those that were willing to assume a responsibility. Swyers provides the examples of Ron from leftfield and Stephanie from centerfield as two regulars who became leaders because they recognized needs and filled them (p. 85).
Swyers discusses the rituals and beliefs that are common among the bleacher regulars in the seventh and eighth chapters. The normal routine on game day consists of congregating together separate from the non-regulars, greeting one another, small talk about personal lives, passing through security, joking and being able to “take a joke,” and meeting afterward for farewells. Along with these standard rituals, the bleacher regulars also held common beliefs and superstitions. These include an acceptance of the “curse,” a belief in the “baseball gods,” and negative and positive rites.
The ninth chapter concentrates on how regulars see themselves and how their perceptions reflect the author’s definition and the requirements of a community. Based mostly on conversations, Swyers reveals that bleacher regulars experience a sense of “family” in their community through sharing life experiences such as marriages...