This Is This: A new Chicago folk hero is born?

bobA column by Bob Chiarito. 

Chicago is unique from other big cities in that we make folk heroes out of everyday people and a new one may have been born this weekend at Wrigley Field.

Most who grew up in Chicago know who Celozzi and Ettleson are, even if they have no idea where their car dealership was located. Sometimes we know their names, sometimes we just know their face — such as recently deceased retired Chicago Police Detective Sergeant Joe Kosala, who appeared in bit parts in many Hollywood films over the years. Kosala may not have had a lot of lines, but when he passed away a few weeks ago, he seemed to be as well known and revered as Harrison Ford, a “real celebrity” who shared the screen with Kosala in a movie you may have seen called “The Fugitive.”

Chicago is home to lots of characters, especially oddball characters who can be found Downtown like “The Walking Dude” and Vincent Falk, aka “Fashion Man” who even had a documentary made about him. However, the legends of our folk heroes that seem to last longest, seem to be those related to sports. Maybe it’s because Chicago’s love for its sports teams is stronger than most cities and because our teams love us back — as evidenced by the way our sports heroes try to relate to regular Joes, rather than the other way around.

In the mid-80’s, when the Chicago Bears were a dominant team, coach Mike Ditka famously described his team as “a bunch of Grabowski’s,” trying to equate his players to the working-class of Chicago. One can argue that it’s a stretch to say a group of overpaid football players work harder than a Northwest Side guy getting off work at 7 a.m. from an overnight shift at a tool and die shop, but the image of the Bears coming to work with hard hats and lunch boxes was beloved for a simple reason: Elsewhere, the masses may try to emulate the stars, but in Chicago, the stars emulate the masses and become stars because of it.

Actor Joe Mantegna created the “Bleacher Bums” in 1977, starring with Dennis Franz in a skit about the die-hard fans who populated the bleachers at Wrigley, well before it was fashionable to be seen in the North Side ballpark. Over the years, other actors like George Wendt and Dennis Farina joined the cast. The skit was loved and many of the actors went on to become stars. In 1991, Robert Smigel created Bill Swerski’s Superfans for “Saturday Night Live.” Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that the Superfans made its SNL debut on an episode hosted by Mantegna (in which he played Bill Swerski) and that Wendt starred in subsequent sketches as “Bill’s brudder Bob.”

To be sure, Chicago is home to some real rich and famous celebrities who have legitimate claims to more than 15-minutes of fame, but those who reach folk hero status seem to be regular people who do unique things, especially tied to sports, such Krista Dotzenrod, who happened to be in the right place at the right time Saturday afternoon while attending the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Of course, having it happen on live television helps as well.

Krista Dotzenrod

Krista Dotzenrod

You probably don’t recognize her name or face, but Dotzenrod is the woman who caught a foul ball in her beer at Saturday’s Cub game against the San Diego Padres. The odds of something like that happening must be longer than it ever has been for the Cubs to win the World Series, but what she did immediately after is what caused the video of her to go viral. After having the ball land in her beer, Dotzenrod held up the cup with the ball still in it and proceeded to down the suds faster than a 300-pound athlete pledging a fraternity.

I spoke to Dotzenrod by phone after her incident, first while she was at a loud Wrigleyville bar after the game and again Sunday morning. She told me that she attended the game with a friend and while she was aware that they were sitting in a section known for getting a lot of foul balls, she wasn’t paying attention when the ball came her way.

“I was in mid-conversation and all of a sudden I look over and my beer cup is foaming. I wondered ‘What the hell is going on?’ and the people around me started yelling to ‘Chug it,’ so I did. In the video it looks like I see it coming and I caught it, but I don’t remember doing that. I remember being in mid-conversation and all of a sudden the ball was in my cup,” Dotzenrod said.

Dotzenrod, who is 24 and works downtown, is originally from Minnesota and has lived in Chicago for 7 years now. She said while she’s a Twins fan at heart, she wishes the Cubs a good year. Asked about becoming a legend, she said she would “love to combine my love for baseball and beer.” Perhaps it’s that attitude that prompted countless males to post on Twitter things such as “Foul Ball Girl, I want to meet you” and “Marry Me.” By the way, Dotzenrod is single at the moment. In response to the fawning over her on social media, she said said she laughed and that it “Goes to show how crazy social media is.”

Dotzenrod said for now the ball is at her home inside a stack of beer cups from the game and hasn’t thought much about what she’ll do with it.

“I probably could get a pretty penny for it, but I want to have it right now,” Dotzenrod said.

The now famous ball in Kotzenrod's cup, post-chug.

The now famous ball in Kotzenrod’s cup, post-chug.

It’s hard to predict if she’ll become a household name like Michael Pantazis — who in 1995 during a Monday Night Football name jumped into the end zone tunnel as Bears kicker Kevin Butler was lining up to kick a field goal, caught the ball in midair and became an instant legend. Pantazis ended up being interviewed live on that MNF broadcast and eventually was a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” and had his catch named one of the top 36 plays in “Monday Night Football” history by ABC. In my opinion, it remains the best catch in the history of Soldier Field.

Dotzenrod’s fame may prove to be brief, like Kevin Mize, a local car dealer who while attending a Blackhawks game in 2013 yanked the helmet off of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Adam Pardy and put it on his own head after Pardy was slammed into the boards, causing the glass to fall and his body to be bent over into the crowd. But Mize’s actions, while funny, was questionable at best and out-of-line and ugly at worst. Dotzenrod’s catch may not have been skillful like Pantazis’, but it was innocent and fun. And if the next day’s Cub game is any indication, she may have started a new tradition.

Kevin Mize after stealing Adam Pardy's helmet.

Kevin Mize after taking Adam Pardy’s helmet.

Imitation is best form of flattery, and it didn’t take long for another fan to do just that. During Sunday’s game at Wrigley, a foul ball found it’s way to a male fan, ending up near his feet and out of view of the cameras long enough for him to pick it up off the ground and put it into his beer cup. He hoisted the cup as if he caught it the same way as Dotzenrod and promptly chugged his beer. Nice try, buddy, but I’m calling BS. A harmless lie, no doubt, but perhaps the beginning of a fad started by Dotzenrod’s lucky catch.

Whether or not a new tradition and a new folk hero was born at Wrigley this weekend is hard to know, but I am certain of one thing: I much rather have a fan chugging a beer with a ball in it next to me than having to listen to a 73-year-old man wearing a Cub uniform yelling “Woo woo” every few seconds.



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