On a cold, November night at Progressive Field, the Chicago Cubs were attempting to overcome a 3-1 series deficit against the Cleveland Indians and win their first championship title in 108 years. Every game between the two had been nail-biters, but Game 7 of the World Series was the equivalent of a perfect storm. The Cubs were up 6-3 until the eighth inning when closer Androis Chapman gave up three runs to tie the game. If that wasn’t enough, a 17-minute rain delay was called after the ninth inning. Meanwhile, Cubs longtime official photographer Stephen Green was capturing it all right up until the team decided to take advantage of the delay to regroup in the visiting clubhouse.
“I walked back into the clubhouse and saw those guys, they all wanted to have a meeting,” Green tells TIME. “And that’s one of those moments where you really have to know when it’s okay to go be with them and when it’s okay [that] you shouldn’t be with them.”
The Cubs went on to win in the tenth inning by a score of 8-7. Two days later, as the team made its way to Grant Park, at least five million people took to Chicago’s streets to celebrate their beloved team. For most, long gone were the memories of Billy Goats and Steve Bartman and his costly foul ball catch. And for Green, the celebration was the culmination of his love affair with Wrigley Field, which has run deeper than just photographing them since 1982. Growing up a train ride away from the ballpark, he attended Cubs games with his brothers and friends. He even met his wife while photographing a game.
Though it seemed like photographing them was his destiny, Green actually aspired to be a documentary photographer. Becoming the Cubs photographer, he recalls, was serendipitous. Green was doing a graduate thesis on Wrigley Field, then owned by the Wrigley family at the Art Institute of Chicago, but unable to afford the tuition, he still decided to work on the project independently.
For the next year, he covered publicity events and the seventh inning stretches. When the Wrigleys sold the ballpark to the Tribune Company at the end of the 1981 season and with their photographer retiring, Green was offered the position of official photographer. In his 35 years, he’s photographed alongside Associated Press and Sports Illustrated photographers including Walter Iooss, John Biever, Neil Leifer and Brad Mangin.
One of things he’s picked up over time is shooting things that moves. With that in mind when on assignment for magazines, Green explains the different approaches in shooting a baseball game outside of the basics. “If you’re shooting for a trading card, you just need very clean peak action,” he says. “If you’re working for a magazine, it’s usually a story specifically driven about a player and you want, like in Sports Illustrated or those magazines, a picture that’s got a lot of emotion in it and a lot of intense action.”
But for him, it’s the story of the team itself that motivates him most. “I don’t cover the game as a newsperson,” he says. “The story of each game is not as critical to me as the story of the team during the year and making iconic pictures of the players during the whole season. Obviously, if we are in a situation to have a walk-off or dramatic ending, that’s important and that has to be captured. But just because somebody hits a home run in the third inning or a double-play in the seventh, that’s not what I need to capture. So I have the freedom to kind of wander around the ballpark. I can really follow the light and look for really compelling pictures that way.”
Of all the Cubs teams he’s photographed over three decades, Green states the 2016 Cubs were his favorite to shoot because the group had grown up together and had developed a history, unlike previous years where players acquired through trades and free agency didn’t stick around for long. “This team’s really kind of cool,” he says. “I really love photographing [infielder] Javier Baez. He’s so athletic. He’s so excitable and fun to shoot. They’re all so different. Kris Bryant is very classic. His form is really good. He’s really easy to take a good picture of. Same with [Anthony] Rizzo. His swing is so perfect. But Anthony Rizzo is very emotional. He’s very responsive.”
With spring training underway, Green is sure to travel with them to Arizona as they prepare for another World Series run. A few of the pieces that helped the Cubs win are gone (veteran catcher David Ross retired, Androis Chapman rejoined the Yankees and Dexter Fowler signed with National League division rival St. Louis Cardinals.) But the core of the team remains intact for the foreseeable future.
Bianca Silva is a writer and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter.