CHICAGO — Former Cubs player and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson dazzled Chicago fans back in the late '80s and early ‘90s, dedicating his life to the game of baseball. Years after his retirement, he's given up the baseball diamond for the funeral plot.
For two decades, he was known for a career 438 home runs and over 300 stolen bases. Today, that winning smile and humble spirit Cubs fans knew on the field decades ago is still very much alive in the man who’s now in his 60s. Although he puts on a different kind of game face as he heads to work in Miami, preparing to work with grieving families as owner and operator of a funeral home.
"What I did for a livin’ taught me how to make adjustments for where I am today. It taught me patience, sacrifice, composure and most particular: emotion," Dawson said. "To make someone happy as an athlete kind of prepared me for this role. Being able to be there for someone going through a difficult time."
While one of the Chicago Cubs for only six of his 20 years in MLB, from time to time you’ll find him back at storied Wrigley Field after he signed on as one of the team's ambassadors this season. Even when he’s not at the park, he is often still in Chicago, traveling at least four times a month. The Hawk is happy to shake hands with high-achieving students, or go to Lombard to teach toddlers how to float.
"I’ve been able to bring joy to peoples' lives being an athlete. And how they look up to me as an athlete," he said. "This is a completely different script now."
The funeral parlor was merely an investment 10 years ago, when it was being run into the ground. Dawson, a self-described workaholic, said it was time to clean things up at the Paradise Memorial Funeral Home.
"I told my staff, I am going to tell you, this is not my cup of tea," he said. "But I gotta find a way, we gotta find a way to make it work.”
The reality for Dawson, at 63 and 14 knee surgeries later, is that the demands of professional baseball may have set the table for this very moment.
"It’s every day. It’s not just six months out of the year. It’s every day that you may get a phone call. It’s every week that you are going to be busy. It’s non stop," he said.
It’s also a family affair. His two uncles were the first to put a ball and a glove in Dawson’s hand. Now they keep the books. His son Darius does a little bit of everything. And his wife Vanessa runs the front office. He said he hopes to keep the business in the family in the future. And while he continues his latest act, The Hawk said he's learning one of life's great lessons.
"Each and every day you gotta enjoy life to the fullest. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow," he said.