Kevin Youkilis wouldn’t play on Yom Kippur Eve, so the White Sox changed the time of Tuesday’s game against the Indians to 1:10 p.m.—a rare, afternoon tilt. With the Sox just a game up and about a week’s worth of season left, how could I miss it?
I live in Beverly, four stops away from Sox Park on the Rock Island Line. Climbing up to the catwalk-like row of seats above the packed, main-seating area, I take my place across the train car from a couple of other Sox fans. Middle-aged guys in oversized black jerseys, greying mustaches and shorts, they slam airplane-size bottles of liquor and kick their emptied, crushed cans of Lite under the seats. I’m new to Metra so this in-public-transit drinking is still a novelty. As we exit at 35th Street I note the Jenks, Crede, and Quentin jerseys bobbing ahead of me—all players who are no longer with the team.
I buy a ticket on the third-base side and go through the turnstiles. The concourse is always bustling whether it’s a sellout or a half-empty affair, and after finding my seat and surveying the stadium, it’s clear this game will be another of the latter. Many have wondered why a team that’s been in first place for much of the season, and is a week away from making the playoffs, hasn’t been able to capture its fans’ interest. All I know is that this year’s team has brought me almost as much joy as the 2005 team that went all the way. Perhaps it’s that no one expected the 2012 Sox to contend, or maybe because of all the new faces—as well as the welcome absence of some of the old ones—this team makes me happier than those of the last few years.
The third-base side of the stands is bathed in afternoon sun—something I didn’t consider when the cashier pointed to where my seat would be on the stadium map. I squint toward the field past fans with Buehrle, Thomas, and, most surprisingly, Swisher sewn or printed on their backs. What’s with the ever-lasting love for great (and less-than-great) players from Sox past? As I turn this over in my mind, Cleveland’s 3B catches my attention. He’s none other than the Sox’ former run-happy, jug-eared utility man, Brent Lillibridge. Without doubt, and unlike any other sport, appreciating baseball is about looking back, be it over decades or mere months. The connections we make with the men on the diamond continue after they’ve been traded away, retired, or just fallen out of the favor.
Two guys grumble behind me about the Sox leaving men on base when a Crede walks down the aisle.“There’s the guy I thought was gonna be one of the best ever…but all those back problems,” one tells the other.
A woman and a little girl return to the seats next to the men. The girl asks, “Did they win, daddy?” “No. They’re losing,” he answers. She goes back to pushing a hotdog into the general area of her mouth before looking back at the field and announcing that Peyton Manning was at bat. They all wonder aloud how she came up with that.
The sun starts to roast my skin so I take advantage of the empty stadium and stroll around the concourse in search of shadier accommodations. I pass Buehrles balancing hotdogs and bong-like containers of frozen margaritas, Garlands holding helmets overflowing with nachos, and stray Thomases, Wellses, and Guillens hauling brews back to their seats. Settling near the right field line I take off my sunglasses in time to see Liriano get yanked before lasting his customary four innings. The Indians are fielding a squad loaded with AAA also-rans, yet our starter is overmatched.
Meanwhile some kid named Kubler is mowing down our guys like they’re the rookies.
A couple rows away a boy gets hit with something from the upper deck. It turns out to be a container of chocolate pudding, which creates much more tension and drama than anything on the field thus far. An indignant fat man spearheads the investigation, casting angry looks toward the upper deck and pointing out to park security the dollop of evidence on the boy’s seat. Meanwhile the boy’s whole family moves to a different part of the park to avoid further risk of projectile dairy. That’s all that stirs the crowd in my vicinity until ladies start running along the perimeter of the field, tossing T-shirts into the crowd between innings. Moments later Pierzynski and Viciedo hit back-to-back dingers, drawing a cheer barely rivaling the shirt-tossing women.
It’s 4-2 Indians in the bottom of the 9th when Chris Perez, the Indians’ closer/philosophizer is brought in. He promptly surrenders a Konerko line-drive homer before holding two Sox on the bases to seal it for the Tribe. On the ramp out Konerkos, Beckhams, Peavys, Aparicios, and Venturas of all shapes and sizes flow toward 35th Street and the parking lots that ring the park.
Approaching the Metra station an old man tells his friend in parting, “Well, John, we’re all Royals fans now.” Late in the year we all start rooting for our rival’s rivals.
On the platform Swishers, Harrelsons, and Baineses sigh and look off down the tracks. I don’t see anyone drinking on the train home. Across from me on the opposite catwalk a stocky guy with sad eyes looks about ready to cry before his phone rings. After a few words he breaks into a tentative smile.
Still a few games left. Still got a chance.