MORGAN PARK — It's not a Wrigley Field rooftop, but the view from Dave Dowling's backyard is still pretty darn cool.
For the last 24 years, Dowling and his wife, Janice, have lived in a home next to the right field fence of Morgan Park Academy's baseball field. Taking advantage of their proximity to the field, the Dowlings have utilized a deck — which they call the "Clubhouse" — to watch all the Warriors' games.
Justin Breen introduces you to the family that built a deck just beyond the right field fence at Morgan Park Academy:
When the Dowlings moved into the home nearly a quarter of a century ago, Janice said one of the dwelling's key attributes was its vast open space to the north. She and Dave, who have been married 42 years, grew up in Gage Park, where "houses were so close, you could touch either side."
"I love it here," said Janice, a retired elementary school teacher who graduated from Tilden Tech, University of Illinois at Chicago and St. Xavier University. "Where else in the city can you have this big of a yard and have space?"
But she also knew the abode would come with some risks — like home run balls crashing through its windows.
Four times in the last 24 years, baseballs have broken the Dowlings' windows. And each occasion, school maintenance employees have come over to board up the openings and replace the glass.
More often than not, home runs to right end up either in the Dowlings' pool, pair of ponds or in the brush. They also had a bloodhound named Ellie May for 7½ years who would retrieve the balls that landed in the yard. She became so acquainted with the Warriors, the program bought her a school shirt with her name written on the back. The dog wore it once, during a Senior Day ballgame.
"I've had kids hit balls on the roof, over the roof, on my car," said Dave, who noted he once caught a home run ball with his pool net. "I've had dents in the pool, and hundreds of balls have landed in my yard, which I give back unless the dog destroyed them."
Morgan Park baseball coach Tom Drahozal, who's also Morgan Park Academy's Upper School Principal and girls basketball coach, has been at the elite private school for 27 years. He's been a fan of the house for just as long, and during his first year at the school he launched a ball in batting practice through its second-floor window.
Drahozal also has been to the Dowlings' backyard countless times to talk baseball and admire the scenery.
"It's a nice view, that's for sure," said Drahozal, of Albany Park. "You don't have any obstructions. From where he's at, you can see the whole field."
The baseball field's first-base foul line stretches about 280 feet to a yellow foul pole that's inches from the Dowlings' home.
An 8-foot fence owned by the school is the official separation point between the Dowlings' yard and school property, although a large tree and several bird feeders hang over the fence and are technically inside the field of play. The feeders have attracted a multitude of birds in 24 years, including a major-league lineup of cardinals, blue jays and even one oriole, Dave said.
When the Dowlings bought the home, its backyard was nothing but brush. Within a few years, Dave built the "Clubhouse" in part to watch the games. The deck is equipped with several chairs, a countertop, grill and a refrigerator, which Dave on Thursday — for a game against the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences — stocked with Miller Lite and Bud Light.
As the years have passed, many MPA parents have visited the Dowlings during games to see their sons and have a brew — since alcohol isn't allowed on school property.
Thursday, 27-year Morgan Park resident Charlie Fitzgerald joined Dave and Janice on the deck. Fitzgerald has known Dave since childhood and sent his three children to Morgan Park Academy, including baseball-playing sons Colin and Patrick.
"You're right on top of the action here," Fitzgerald said. "And you can drink beer."
The spring afternoons are much less about the result — Morgan Park Academy lost 14-2 Thursday to fall to 2-4 this season — than the experience.
During the first inning Thursday, one of Dave's gloves fell off the deck and into right field. Dave and Fitzgerald promptly alerted Morgan Park Academy right fielder Brandon Miller, and a few innings later, Miller retrieved it and handed it over the fence.
"It's a cool thing," Dave said. "You have this beautiful facility that you can enjoy."