Posted: Wednesday July 13, 2005 12:55PM; Updated: Wednesday July 20, 2005 9:31AM
I fell in love with the Sox back in high school and, looking back, it was almost like we were set up. A buddy of mine, Dennis Dabros, not only had a knack for producing remarkable seats (usually behind the visitors' dugout) but with remarkable consistency. On most weekends he'd invite a bunch of us down to Comiskey to hang out. Then afterward, we'd drive -- in a convoy -- back to his house to waste the rest of the evening sucking down his Pepsi, playing Playstation and shooting hoops until the overhanging streetlight eclipsed the moon in the night sky.
My guess is you've probably sat behind kids like us at a baseball game and went searching (in vain) for our parents. We were the kids who traded foul language and bathroom humor as if they came shrink-wrapped from Upper Deck, the kids who, at the slightest hitch in the action, abandoned our primo seats down front to stroll the outfield promenade in search of funnel cake and the fairer sex, the kids who could turn any practically any surname on a visiting jersey into a derisive theme song. One my favorites was the jingle we dreamed up for Red Sox's slugger Mo Vaughn set to the opening from the '90s UPN hit series Moesha. Mo wasn't as sharp in the field as he was with the bat. (Mo to the! E to the!) The more we heckled, it seemed, the more it helped the Sox, who were beginning to emerge as an AL power.
They won the West in 1993 before falling to the Blue Jays in the ALCS, 4-2. The loss only heightened expectations for the following year, especially inside my baseball social circle that -- to this day -- remains adamant in its belief that the Sox would have reached the fall classic hadn't the 1994 season been short circuited by a labor stoppage. The Indians pretty much owned the division after that -- not that we ever suspected they would. We still came out.
Six years, four cities and three jobs later, I found myself staring up at a ballpark that bore little resemblance to the one that houses my high school memories. The name -- U.S. Cellular -- was different, the flimsy sign draping the east side of the park seemingly lending itself to easy replacement. Of course the $68 million the Chicago-based telecommunications company forked over to secure exclusive the naming rights has paid for a bevy of cosmetic improvements to Comiskey II. The bullpens have been repositioned so fans could watch pitchers warming up, the outfield fences were shortened and more seats line the chalk. Ads for Clorox, Pontiac, GM and XM are omnipresent and, fittingly, so is cell phone reception. As for the nosebleed seats, they weren't nearly as dizzying as I remember (most of my nightmares as a teen involved me tripping down the stairs and falling to certain death in foul territory) -- in fact, quite the opposite. In addition to its breathless sitelines, the 500-level seat offered 80-degree temperatures on a 90-degree shade thanks to the massive steel awning that rings the park's outer rim. It just might be the best bleacher seat I've ever purchased.
Still, I am not foolish enough to think that an afternoon on the South Side could ever eclipse with nine innings at Wrigley, but if the Cubbies are out of town (as they were last week) and if you like baseball, paying a visit to The Cell would not be treason. Four bucks still buys a Polish sausage, and $3.50 will hook up a funnel cake. In case you're sitting at high altitude as I was, I'd recommend grabbing a fistful of napkins before heading back up to your seat.
Cubs fans, though, continue to thumb their noses up at Sox fans, routinely dismissing them as inferior life forms. Two images shape this perception, both of them within months of each other and on the eve of the 2003 All-Star game, which the Sox hosted. The first is of a father and son charging onto the field and throwing haymakers at Kansas City Royals coach Tom Gamboa. The second is of another fan grabbing an umpire around the waist.
I can't defend this, but I'm not going to pretend like Cubs fans aren't above getting rowdy either. Let's just say there were no rabble-rousers to be found among The Cell's Sunday crowd. Besides, my old college roomie Kevin Flowers and old high school buddy and Sox consigliore Jim Cummings, I couldn't have asked for better company. Or more charming surroundings. The place still smells like seared hot dogs and salted peanuts. The organ/synthesizer still sounds like it's being played by an epileptic saloonkeeper. And the Kiss Cam moment when a Sox fan leaned in to kiss the woman next to him before lifting a deft hand to the back of her head and playfully guiding it toward his lap nearly brought me to epileptic seizure. Save those shenanigans, pretty much everyone in the park was on their best behavior.
Everyone, that is, except the Sox A.J. Pierzynski. But I hadn't realized he was tossed for flipping his bat after a called third strike until I read it in the paper the next morning. The fight song would debut shortly before Pierzynski's at-bat, and though it failed to arouse much passion (at least of a productive sort) from the Sox catcher, the song nonetheless was effective in rallying the charges against the Oakland A's.
Down two runs at that point, Konerko smacked a leadoff homer 346 feet to the left field pole then, four batters later, Timo Perez slapped an RBI double to left center that scored Willie Harris and tied the game at 8-8. Unfortunately for those of us who came all the way from New York City to see the Sox hit the 60-win plateau, the A's took the game two innings later, 9-8, in the process handing the best team in baseball its first three-game sweep of the season. That Oakland now holds a 7-2 advantage over Chicago this year (and is surging in the AL West) does chafe a little, but the good news, or so sayeth Sox manager Ozzie Guillen (or Tony Montana, as Jim has dubbed him), is "we don't see the Oakland anymore, unless it's in the playoffs."
Likewise, my enthusiasm for the South Siders is no worse for the wear, but if they're to finish the second half of the season strong, the rest of the city will have to get in the spirit. Regardless of whether you live north or south of Madison Ave., as long as it says "Chicago" on the front (and not "St. Louis"), there's no need to play favorites. Think of what I would have missed out on if I did.