I didn’t even like baseball anymore.
Growing up in Chicago, I was all about it. I watched it. I listened to it. I assessed the current state of play straight from the sports pages of the Tribune and I studied its history. A lot. My favorite book was this one called “Glory of Their Times” where a bunch of old baseball players from the turn of the century talk about the great game they once knew you should check it out sometime.
I got my Grandpa to drive me from his house in New Jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame (it’s one state away how far could it be? answer: endless). I was a proud subscriber to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly and was able to rook my little cousin out of his dad’s Mickey Mantle card but don’t feel sorry for that dude because his mom called my mom a couple nights later and insisted we trade back such bullshit.
I was up on the sport’s fashion as I regularly wore baseball jerseys and jeans to school when my passion for the game was near its peak. (This was also right around the same time I had a rat tail, tell me not my fashion faults for I already know them.)
I also played baseball- eight years - from when I was ten through high school. I was a pitcher. Southpaw. Not to brag, but I had a pretty crafty slow ball and once I struck out 17 batt….well, never mind. It’s not important and would just seem like bragging.
But as I got older I lost my love for the game. I moved on to different matters of the heart and just got caught up living this life, you know? It didn’t help that the one team I followed my entire life, the Chicago White Sox, were always terrible but at least they weren’t the Cubs.
The Sox played like complete shit during most of my existence and my dad’s existence and my grandpa’s (91 years young) existence. All that losing bred resignation that, for me, finally turned into a big whatever. “Oh, who cares we can never seem to win the big one anyway. It’s just a bunch of rich dudes trying to hit a ball with a stick and my favorite team is named after socks. Baseball. It’s just a game. Who gives a shit.” And I didn’t — until I did again.
Ten years ago the White Sox went on a little run which turned into a big run which made me start paying attention again.
(A fair-weather fan cannot be the correct term for me, sir. They had my heart, they lost my heart, and winning was the only thing that would convince they still cared for me. Obviously.)
In 2005, the Sox not only the playoffs they caught fire. From my home in New York I watched them sweep the returning champion Boston Red Sox (their wait between World Series victories: 86 years) in the first round (technically, it’s called the “American League Division Series” but who gives a shit). I then watched them beat the California Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Orange County (or whatever they went by then they keep changing it) in five games to advance to the World Series. And if they could sneak by the Houston Astros, a team I literally never thought about ever, the White Sox would win their first World Series since 1917. (That’s 88 years, Red Sox fans.)
A couple of days later I got a call from my dad. He was a policeman back then (he’s now happily chilling in his post-retirement job working security for arenas — he recently saw U2 play four shows in a row and his takeaway was that “the singer was a little arrogant”) and he had a connection with someone at Major League Baseball. I don’t know who. Maybe he told me but I wasn’t listening after he said on the phone, “do you and your brother want to go to the World Series?” I had never been to a playoff game in any sport ever. This was MY team who sucked FOREVER playing in the WORLD SERIES and I was gonna……go?
My brother and I scrambled to find a cheap flight from NYC to Chicago (I don’t think Kayak was around then) which we somehow did. In the security line at the airport, we met a guy wearing a Sox hat who was also going to the game. We chatted a bit about our great win (they were MY team again) in Game #1 the night before and caught the same plane, being careful to end our friendly conversation as soon as we started down the walkway because, well, let’s not take this relationship too far, friendly Sox fan. We landed, got picked up by my dad, and we were on our way to the stadium just like that.
My dad was as big of a baseball fan as any of us but he could only get two tickets through his connect so when we got to the park a good three hours before game time (we still call it Comiskey even though it’s been U.S. Cellular Field for years because U.S. Cellular Field sounds stupid and The Cell sounds stupider) he gave us the tickets (they were laminate badges, actually — the only time in my life I was proud to wear one) and we went in. He spent roughly the next six hours hanging out in the parking lot because he was also our ride home.
(he would see good karma take its turn with him nine years later when my dad got to work security during the game his beloved Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup so don’t feel bad for him he’s good)
The skies were heavy and grey all day (it’s how the Midwest has fun) and at some point during the long lull before the game it began to pour a cold hard rain. The tarps were on the field and there was chatter throughout the stadium in-between hot dog and churro bites that they might have to postpone the game. Nobody was sure because this was before smart phones and we were all really dumb then. Well, the rain never really stopped that night but it chilled out enough to where a slightly delayed game could be played. Whew. The tarps were pulled off and everybody cheered.
Lou Rawls sang the Star Spangled Banner. Three months later? Dead.
Also, I heard later that noted White Sox fan Barack Obama might have been in attendance but I can’t be sure if I saw him there or not because in those days I wasn’t very familiar with any Jr. Senators from Illinois just by sight.
As per the usual, the Sox took the field for the first time to the opening riff of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” — one of the best riffs in the history of music ever. And it was loud. It was real loud. Not only did I feel goosebumps then, I felt them again right now just remembering it. (Thunder)……(Thunder)
Once the smoke from the fireworks cleared and after the fighter planes roared passed in super sweet formation, the game finally began. Things started great but then stuff happened (it’s not important) and by the middle the 7th inning the Sox were down 4–2 because someone hit a double or something I don’t remember but everyone in the stadium realized that the time was now if there was to be a time.
Rather than fold like the Sox have been doing since 1917, we wasted no time in loading the bases in our half of the 7th. We got “the sacks packed with Sox,” as our shameless homer TV announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson says. He’s fucking nuts. I love him.
Our best hitter, Paul Konerko, was due up. Remember. The bases were now loaded. Down two runs. How perfect would it be if he could hit a ho….no, we wouldn’t even complete the thought and run the risk of jinxing anything before it ever existed.
We thumped our gloves together. We wiped the cold rain off our brows. We said “wooo!” and “oh, man!” and “here we go!” and then it was time.
Konerko walked to the plate, dug in, and the pitcher who was brought in specifically to face him (I know his name but he’s not important to the story and anyway I don’t want to embarrass the guy we pitchers gotta look out for one another) took a few steadying breaths, centered himself, cleared his mechanism, and threw a fastball.
The guy who plays for MY team hit a GRAND SLAM in the World Series. I hugged my brother. I hugged the guy in front of me after he was done kissing his wife. I hugged the guy to my right after he was done hugging his dad. I’m pretty sure I high fived three full rows of people. I said “holy shit!” and “I can’t believe it!” too many times to even give you an estimate. I’ve never experienced anything like it my life before or since.
(The game ended in dramatic victory two innings later. Houston tied it up after the grand slam but little speedy Scott Podsednik hit a walk-off home run to end the game in the 9th, his only home run of the entire season. But somehow after the grand slam it seemed like a forgone conclusion we were gonna win and that final home run simply confirmed it. Therefore, the walk-off World Series game winning home run is probably not the first thing any Sox fan will tell you about Game #2 of the 2005 World Series which is nuts)
The night was ours and to mark the occasion the stadium began blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” the team’s playoff theme song that year and, as you probably know, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a JAM.
The Sox were now two wins away from WINNING THE WORLD SERIES and all 40,000+ of us (perhaps even Illinois’ Jr. State Senator Barack Obama) stuck around to cheer and jump around and high-five and dance to and do karaoke to Journey while my dad was probably doing the same out in the parking lot.
Baseball is just a game and on Sunday, October 23rd 2005 it gave me the happiest silliest most pure joy moment of my life.
(The White Sox went on to sweep the Houston Astros and win the 2005 World Series in four straight games. Ten years later, they have yet to make it back. These things take time.)