Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reprise of My World Series Experience in 2005
Now that the 2007 season is officially over, we'll be looking forward to the 2008 season. But before we do, the Update wants to take one more look back at the magic moment that was 2005.
(WARNING! This is a long one. Feel free to skim, but the material in here IS going to be on the final.)

It's Saturday morning, and I board my flight from D.C. to Chicago, on the way to Game 1 of the World Series. I find out that the guy sitting to the left of me is going to the game. So is the guy across the aisle, which is not hard to figure out, since he's decked out in full White Sox regalia -- jersey, hat, mock turtleneck, and for all I know, Sox jockey shorts. And the guy in front of him is going as well. The four of us spend most of the flight talking Sox stuff, reinforcing each other's excitement at finally getting to see our team in the Series. One of the guys reports that even upper deck tickets are going for $2500. It never enters my mind to sell mine. Now my brother Steve's ticket, that's a different story.

Steve, picks me up at the airport, and (cutting out all the other stuff we do) we head out for a pre-game meal. There's only one thing that'll do, and that's an Italian Beef and Sausage Combo -- mine wet, with sweet peppers; his dry, with hot peppers. I wolf mine down at a pace that would make Takeru Kobayashi proud. (He's the guy who eats the hot dogs on the SportsCenter commercial and the reigning Nathan's Coney Island hot-dog eating champ.) Steve "pokes" along by comparison and I have to prod him to hurry so we won't miss the festivities at the Cell.

We hop on the blue line with a few other Sox fans obviously heading to the game. Then we transfer to the red line at Washington and meet up with a mass of other fans waiting at the station and already on the El. Everyone's talking about the game and I overhear a discussion between, oddly enough, Paul Konerko and Ozzie Guillen. I was surprised to see them on the train, but I know it was they (yes, it's "they," not "them"; the verb "was" takes the nominative case of the pronoun) because they were wearing jerseys that had their names on the back.

When we get to the 35th Street stop, the excitement becomes palpable. You can almost smell it or at least I know I smelled something in that crowd. Seeing the Sox insignia depicted in mosaic tile on the floor of the station triggers some emotional response that I didn't think I had about a baseball team. But that feeling turns to amazement as I see person after person outside with signs indicating that they "need 1" or "need 2." These guys were obviously not on the plane and didn't know that it would take a lot of cake to score a ticket. By the way, no women are holding up these signs, which in my mind means that women are smarter than men.

We pass enough police that I thought "this would be a good time to rob a bank." Some are on horseback. I look down to make sure I don't bring home an unwanted souvenir. We head to our seats, where we meet up with my law partner Mike Bruton and a friend, Robert, from Chicago, and get our first glimpse of the crowd and the field. Most of the seats already look to be
full and the place looks great. Only, I expected more bunting. The only bunting I see is down the wall abutting the boxes on the first-base side, starting past the dugout. I'm pretty sure there is a similar display on the third-base side, but we can't see that area from our seats. Any lack of red, white, and blue is more than made up for, however, when the biggest freakin' flag ever is stretched out to cover most of the outfield.

Around this time (I lose track of the exact sequence), several Sox players from the 1959 AL Champs -- Bob Shaw, Billy Pierce, Jungle Jim Rivera, Jim Landis, and J.C. Martin (not to be confused with Update reader James C. Martin) stand on the mound while my personal hero and Hall of Fame shortstop from that team, Little Looie Aparicio (now age 71) throws out the first pitch to his fellow Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen, who evidently made it from the El quicker than I did. Josh Groban (sister-in-law Barb's favorite) sings the National Anthem. I try to sing along, but Groban sings it as slowly as Sherm Lollar used to run, so I leave him in my dust. Next, the P.A. guy tells us twice --and the scoreboard does too -- to be loud for when Fox comes out of its commercial break so that we sound great on the broadcast. The crowd complies, and we begin the steady process of losing our voices in the name of being Sox fans. (That is the last scripted eruption during the night; the rest are spontaneous, including numerous chants of "Lets Go, White Sox" with each word receiving special emphasis.)

The weather is more suited for football than baseball, but nobody seems to mind. None of us has any cold ones that night -- I opt for a hot chocolate -- but the cool temps don't seem to stop this one "fan" who is standing in the aisle, a beer in one hand and a cell phone in the other. He is attempting to locate his friends, but mostly what he is doing is blocking the view of the action for quite a few of us who are actually watching the game. At least he is until some woman comes down and tells him to move his ass -- again making me believe that women are smarter than men -- and I point out a place where this inebriated soul can stand without serving as a human screen.

The game gets off to a good start. Jose (best pitcher in baseball since the All-Star Game) Contreras, shuts down the Astros, one, two, three in the top of the first. In our half of the inning, Jermaine Dye, who had the most homers of any right fielder during the regular season, lines one into the seats in right center off Rocket Roger Clemons, and the crowd, as you would expect, goes wild. I mention before the inning starts that Don Cooper, Sox pitching coach, likes his guys to average 13 pitches per inning, so the four of us start focusing on the pitch count. Clemons uses 25 to get through the first, which fuels our hopes that he will wear himself out and leave us with a tired pitcher to face.

The Astros counter in the top of the second with a homer by Mike Lamb to tie it up, and the crowd deflates a little. It's about now that I realize I've got the song "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox" stuck in my head. It's catchy in a very retro sort of way and was performed by Captain Stubby and the Bucaneers. (You know them. Among other jingles, they did the Roto-Rooter song.) But I persevere and concentrate on baseball again, watching the Sox regain the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Carl Everett singles, draws a throw from Clemons at first, and I plead with him not to try to steal. As I note to my seatmates the gaping hole on the right side of the infield, Everett takes off despite my prior pleas. And a good thing too, since the hit and run was on. Aaron Rowand pokes a grounder through the aforementioned gaping hole, and Everett winds up on third. A.J. brings him home on a fielders choice to the right side, and Juan Uribe plates A.J. with a double to the wall in left center. We've scored one run in the first, two in the second, and being the ever astute pattern discerner, I point out that if we keep scoring the same number of runs as the inning, we'll likely wind up with 36 runs tonight (I say likely because we likely won't have to bat in the bottom of the ninth.) I remove my tongue from my cheek and continue to watch Clemons's pitch count, which is now up to 54. I'm thinking he won't make it past four innings at this rate.

The Astros come back in the third. Lance Berkman doubles down the line in right to score Adam Everett (no relation to Carl) and Craig Biggio (also no relation to Carl). But Clemons doesn't come back out to pitch the third. We get word from someone who purports to know that Roger has pulled a hammy. Too bad for him, and since we are hitting him pretty well, the four of us are thinking, too bad for the Sox. Someone named Wandy Rodriguez, previously unknown to me, comes in and shuts down the Sox in the third.
The fourth is a different story, however. Contreras manages to avoid giving up a run this frame, but Rodriguez is not as lucky. Clutch Crede hits a line drive home run over the retired numbers in left center to give the Sox a 4-3 lead, and the crowd regains its fervor. We could score more, but Tadahito Iguchi grounds into a double play with two men on to squelch the rally. Gooch does this despite the chant of a couple of fans behind us of "Tad-A, Hi-To," to the same beat as "Let's Go, White Sox." One of them is the woman I thought was so smart before. My admiration for her grows.

The fifth inning brings A.J. a chance to do some damage, but he suffers a bad case of Iguchi, grounding into a double play with the bases loaded to end the inning. At least the Astros don't score.

The sixth and seventh innings are notable mostly for the return of Brooks Robinson, the best-fielding third-sacker ever, to the game. Actually, it was Joe Crede, already the hitting star, who once in each inning, dives to his right to stop a likely double, comes up throwing, and nails the runners at first. Contreras shuts down the 'Stros again.

Things got dicey in the eighth. Contreras gives up a lead-off double to Taveras (his second of the night) and leaves the field to a standing ovation for another fine effort. Neal Cotts, comes in and immediately gives up a single to left by Berkman. Scottie gets to the ball quickly and is able to hold the speedy Taveras at third. Chris Burke comes in to run for Berkman and "steals" second. At least that's what the box score says. Cotts doesn't attempt to hold him at first, and A.J. doesn't attempt to throw him out. I tell everyone that they don't want to risk a bad throw or the runner on third coming home. I believe that's technically referred to as "defensive indifference," but the official scorer sees it differently and awards him a stolen base. Either way, there are men on second and third and nobody out. Cotts bears down and strikes out both Ensberg and Lamb, swinging. Ozzie goes to the pen one more time and brings in Bad Bobby Jenks. Jenks throws heat (at least one of his pitches hit 100 mph on the gun) past Jeff Bagwell, who also strikes out swinging. Lots of high-fiving and fist-bumping in the stands. Jenks opts for the fist-pump.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Sox tack on an insurance run. (Speaking of insurance, kudos to CNA for leaving lights on in particular offices to spell out "Go Sox.") A.J. singles and "steals" second. Again no throw, and in my view, another case of defensive indifference, but the official scorer calls it a stolen base, so we'll leave it at that. Scottie then proceeds to rip a triple to the wall in left center, driving A.J. home for a 5-3 lead.

All that's left is for Jenks to close this puppy out. He does that with more heat and a wicked curve. He strikes out Jason Lane (I had a friend who lived on Jason Lane), gets Brad Ausmus (a Jewish catcher, which makes me think of Norm Sherry, another Jewish catcher who played on the 1959 Dodgers along with Larry Sherry, the MVP of that last White Sox World Series) to ground out to Uribe, and whiffs Adam Everett (still not related to Carl) to end the game.

No one in the stands wants to leave, but we do. We exit the park to chants of "Let's Go, White Sox, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap." Some among us who don't remember that the Sox also won Game 1 in 1959, substitute "one down, three to go" for the clapping. Those of us who fear the baseball gods cringe. Everyone is rehashing the game in great detail. Mike drops us near a blue line stop and we all head home with one thought in our minds for Game 2: Just Win, Baby!
Tales from the 2007 World Series
My friend Bill Kelly -- a lifelong Cardinal fan and now by geography, a Rockies fan -- reported on his experience at this year's Series. It's a good read even if it isn't about the White Sox:
Had a guy in a BoSox uniform call me out on baseball history -- CARDINALS BASEBALL HISTORY -- at the WS game last night. No, I did not misspeak. He was in a Red Sox uniform. Not a Red Sox jersey. Not a Red Sox jersey and a matching hat. No, he wore a full-out, game-ready, Red Sox uniform. The finish, I note, is that his uniform was complete with two batting gloves. They started hanging out of each back pocket. He put them on in the 5th inning.
He was sitting behind my friends and me. I was saying I think the ALCS and NLCS is too long, and I asked in what year they went to a best of 7. The stranger interrupted our conversation, leaning far forward between us, to tell me that the NLCS and the ALCS was always best of 7, and that my notion that it was once a best of 5 was simply ridiculous and uninformed. He wondered aloud how I could possibly be so ignorant. It was clear that the stranger was on a campaign to be the recognized Section 133 baseball expert. Clearly, all questions were to be directed towards him and him alone in the future.
I politely told the Ghost of Bucky Dent that in 1982, the Cards swept the Braves 3-0 before beating the Brewers 4-3. And that while I cannot recall if we swept the Braves in 3 or in 4 in 1985, I am certain of that record in 1982, and that is how I know this to be the case.He said something about how I am dumb, how I could even be at the game, was a "typical Rockies fan" and then he wondered if I had $100 to bet him on the fact.
I stood up. I told him I would get the $100 from an ATM, but that when I prove that I am right, I do not want $100 but rather I want both of his batting gloves and his solemn promise that he will never wear that costume to any MLB game anywhere ever again unless he is on the roster.
About 3 rows of people -- BoSox and Rox fans united for the first time all series -- started clapping and laughing.
He said no deal.
Then we all broke out our smart phones and then I, of course, took him to school.
My 3 friends started calling him "Little League" and asking him if he wanted a juice box before we asked the coach to put him in.
He got up to leave.
I said, "One more thing: Cardinals fans don't know everything about baseball and we don't pretend to. But we don't talk SMACK. When we say they know something as a fact, it's because we do."Without a word, he left. We all high fived -- Sox, Cards and Rox fans, perfect strangers, all united for just a short but beautiful moment in time.