Brian Meissner came to baseball and the Cubs relatively late in life. Born and raised in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, his professional sports passion was Buffalo Bills football ... until he met our daughter, Jeanne, who grew up on Chicago's North Side, and was doomed to be a Cub fan from the first time we took her to Wrigley Field as an infant.
Brian played a little baseball, and liked the sport well enough, but with no major league team in Buffalo he had only a passing interest in the game, with loyalty to no specific team. Jeanne met him in the mid-1990s. They began dating a few years later, were married in August of 2002, and lived in Brooklyn, New York. By then, Brian was a die-hard Cub fan, if a little naive about the harsh realities of backing professional sports' most infamous losing franchise.
But he was learning fast, and being a Bills fan helped (four consecutive Super Bowl appearances,1991 through 1994, with four losses).
In August, 2003, identical twins Lucy and Willa were born. I recall sitting in the waiting room of a New York hospital with Jeanne's mom and sister Patricia. We fell asleep only to be awakened in the middle of the night by Brian's very happy, but gentle, exclamation: "It's girls!"
Less than two months later Brian and Jeanne, wearing Cub hats, and the girls, dressed in Cubs onesies, positioned themselves in front of their television to watch what would be the most horrific Cubs meltdown in franchise history. Brooklyn friends who had come to their apartment to join in what should have been jubilation over the Cubs going to the World Series for the first time since 1945, had to leave early because of the profound depression that settled on the room. Brian began to understand what being a Cub fan could mean.
By 2007, when Jeanne and Brian's son Jasper was born, the twins were Cub fans through and through, in spite of being surrounded by Yankees and Mets supporters. The day of Jasper's birth, Brian raced home from the hospital just long enough to download pictures for his daughters and in-laws. The girls, age four, stood at the family computer sorting through images of their new baby brother to make a slide show for their grandparents.
"He's going to be a Cub fan," said one, without prompting from her grandfather. "He's not going to be any old Yankees fan."
"Or a Mets fan," said the other with finality.
The following August we traveled to Brooklyn to celebrate Willa and Lucy's fifth birthday. At some point during the evening, after the three kids were asleep, Brian disappeared into the bedroom where he had set up the family computer. Half an hour later he emerged sporting one of the biggest Brian grins we'd ever seen. "I got them," he said.
"A whole row of nosebleed seats for the September 22nd Cub game at Shea Stadium," he replied.
And we were all there, all "Cubbed up" and ready to visit Shea Stadium for the last time to watch the Cubs continue their bid for a playoff spot. Brian had bought enough seats for his family, myself, Jeanne's mom and sister Patricia, a bunch of Brooklyn friends, plus Jeanne's brother Steve, who flew in with a friend from Chicago for the occasion.
Four years later we would repeat the outing, this time in celebration of Jeanne's mom's birthday, and this time at Wrigley Field. Brian, Jeanne, and kids flew in from New York, and Jeanne's sister Anne Lise and her fiance Jeff drove up from Bloomington, Indiana, to join us.
This is what we do. We drive places and fly places to see the Cubs. And Brian joined in without hesitation, including a 2004 trip to Arizona for Spring Training.
The 2012 game was the second game of the year at Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost and looked bad. I posted a blog about it at my old address. Brian's login name for the blog was "SiLoA" (Son in Law of Admin). His comment at the end of the blog was, "Best ever! What a great day for the race!" (as in "What race?" Answer: "Human!") ... expressing his unabashed pleasure at being at the ballpark and watching the Cubs, win or lose, and, most of all, his sheer joy in and total love of family.
In spite of the fact that following the Cubs could be as painful as being a Bills fan, or more so, he persevered and blossomed as not just a follower of the "Addison Street Miracle," but as a true baseball aficionado. When Brian developed an interest in something -- like politics, computer code, pétanque, music, picking apples in York County, Pennsylvania, or anything at all -- he would delve into it with an incredibly focused passion, and infectious joy. The terms "joy" and "Cubs" don't often work well together, but for Brian being a fan was pure fun. His loyalty to the Cubs soon expanded into a deep appreciation for the game, and that appreciation led to a fascination with score-keeping, record-keeping, and all things related to baseball stats. And that fascination led inevitably to fantasy baseball.
He created a fantasy league called "My Morning Baseball League." He named his team "Lee Elia's 15%" after the former Cubs manager's famous 1983 anti-fan tirade. Cub cynicism had now made Brian a complete fan. Soon we were asking him, the baseball "new-comer," questions about players and teams. Last year he took first place and is his league's reigning champion.
A couple of years ago he was able to combine his love of baseball with his talent as a graphic designer.
Many of you have seen his work without knowing it as he has designed hundreds of beautiful ads, catalogs, logos, websites, brochures, and just about anything that involves type and images. He designed my website as a gift. At any of my previous jobs, if I needed truly excellent design, I asked Brian and he always came through with the highest quality, most graphically appealing work. And then he undercharged my employer.
In 2011 the publisher of Fantasy Baseball Guide 2012: Professional Edition hired Brian to rework the magazine. The results were so good that they asked him to do it again for their 2013 guide. In a podcast on baseballhq radio, Patrick Davitt, Director of Research and Analysis at baseballhq.com, asked Guide editor-in-chief Peter Kreutzer about the guide's much-improved graphics (fast forward the podcast to 0:51:38). Kreutzer explained that they had previously hired a designer who didn't really know much about fantasy baseball. With Brian Meissner they were lucky enough to have a very creative, talented designer who was also "an avid fantasy player," according to Kreutzer, and who knew how to present the sometimes daunting information so the reader could quickly understand it.
"It is really well-organized ... It flows smoothly," says Davitt. "It's really easy to get. It's very, very well done. Next time you see [Brian] tell him I tip my hat to him."
Many of us toil in jobs we hate, escaping for an evening by watching baseball, or perhaps making it out to the ballpark every now and then. Others may enjoy what they do for a living while wishing their careers could more closely align with a passion, be it cooking or math or science or public health or art or wine or community service ... or baseball. Brian had found a way to combine his talent and experience in the graphic arts with his love of the game. And in his spare time he was learning programming code and developing a new, advanced app for keeping score. He and Jeanne and their kids had fun together every single day and were never happier.
So when you're at a game this season, raise a cup to Brian Meissner, husband, father, son, brother, and dear friend of all of us lucky enough to know him.
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