As if on cue, half
an inning later a couple of Sox fans engage an Angels reliever in a gesturing
match that ends with the pitcher's suggesting, by way of his thumb and
forefinger, that one of the fans is not endowed with a very big Comiskey.
Later, Chicago pitcher Brandon McCarthy empathizes with the Los Angeles staff.
"That's the toughest bullpen in baseball," he says.
efforts of the hecklers, the Angels bang three homers in a 6--3 win, dropping
the Sox 10 games behind the Tigers, who have beaten the Twins 9--3 at Comerica
Park. As we prepare to leave, we are intercepted by Amy. "You can't see the
South Side and not see Jimbo's," she says. "That is White Sox
So just like that,
she's getting off work early and leading us two blocks down Shields Avenue to
33rd Street and Jimbo's Lounge, a small joint with crossed bats for a logo. For
22 years it's been the unofficial White Sox headquarters, a rough-edged place
where there are no flat-screen TVs, the beer comes in cans and the jukebox
plays a loop of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Journey.
Ozzie Guillen used to come in as a player, as did Carlton Fisk and, in recent
years, Aaron Rowand. Only a couple of months ago, Jimbo Levato himself tells
us, Jenks and McCarthy stopped in after a game. Not recognizing them at first,
he shooed the players away--Jimbo's both proprietor and bouncer--before doing a
double take. Soon each player had a Miller Lite in front of him and two more in
the on-deck circle. "I didn't dare ask for a mixed drink in there,"
53-year-old Denise Plaia, a ballpark bartender who brags that all four of her
kids had their first legal drink at Jimbo's; the gloriously sideburned Tom
Litke, who is preparing to take the stage for Elvis Night at the park on Friday
(his rule of thumb: "Always finish with Can't Help Falling in Love");
and no shortage of locals willing to tell us what's ailing the Sox this season.
"Pitching's broke," says a guy in a Konerko jersey. "That, and
those damn Tigers ain't losing."
We cut out at
midnight, the tenor of Tony Bennett chasing us out the door and toward Detroit.
Those damn Tigers await.
TUESDAY: Twins at
We point our
rented silver Impala east on I-94 and crank up Track 1 on our trip CD, the
theme from This Week in Baseball ("There it is! Number 500 for Michael Jack
Schmidt"). Indiana welcomes us, then waves us through to Michigan, which
promises, with a towering sign, GREAT LAKES, GREAT TIMES. We arrive at Comerica
Park at 3:15 p.m., hurriedly changing into more respectable clothes in the
stadium parking lot, like a couple of college kids on a spring-break road trip.
Which, come to think of it, is exactly what we feel like.
The vibe inside
Comerica before batting practice is as carefree as it was intense in Chicago.
This team has found the sweet spot, already 40 games over .500. Out on the
field the players shag balls shadowed by what appears to be a host of Bill
Veeckian midgets who, upon closer inspection, turn out to be young boys in
Detroit unis. There's outfielder Magglio Ordo�ez's boy, Magglio Jr.; catcher
Pudge Rodriguez's boy, Ivan Jr.; and Alexander Jones, son of closer Todd Jones,
looking eerily like his dad with wraparound shades and a burly frame. The kids
are allowed out until the end of BP, a rule manager Jim Leyland let the players
vote on at the beginning of the year.
Beloved by the
players, Leyland is as old school as they come, a baseball traditionalist who
wears his spikes all day because, as he puts it, "those coaching shoes make
me feel like an old man. I'll be wearing spikes until the day I die." He
believes in strong leadership and no coddling. "I don't really need to
motivate [the players]," he says. "Some of them are making $14 million
a year. That's pretty good motivation, if you ask me." As he says this,
he's sitting with his spikes up on a desk, smoking a Marlboro. It occurs to me
just then that if you don't like Jim Leyland, you don't like baseball.
Out of the
six-team AL circuit (n� Western League) founded in the 1890s, Detroit's the
only remaining team, so it's comforting to see the Tigers thriving. The city is
certainly enthusiastic, but it appears unsure what to do with a winner after so
many seasons of triple-digit losses. During the game we hear few chants and
fewer hecklers. In fact, the only thing the fans seem to do much of, besides
cheer, is the wave, which, when started in the seventh inning, goes around not
once, not twice, but three full times. "It's day and night from how it used
to be," explains Jones. "The fans used to come and rip the toilet-paper
dispensers off the wall of Tiger Stadium because they were so frustrated. We're
doing well this year, so there's a lot of lovey, touchy-feely feeling over