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Camp Crosstown

Spending the past week in northern Wisconsin at the summer camp of my youth meant cooling off in a clear, sand-bottomed lake; canoeing down the Brule River, a truly pristine trout stream flowing north into Lake Superior; scaring the beejeezus out of my granddaughter, who was a passenger in the sailboat which I was doing my damndest to keep upright; and enjoying the company of family and friends.

But try as I might, the thought of completely blocking out the so-called Crosstown Classic proved to be too much of a challenge.

Men who haven't set foot at Camp Nebagamon for decades usually utter the same sentiment: "The place looks the same," they declare as they investigate the environs of their youth.

Of course, despite that reaction, there have been notable changes. As a kid, I enjoyed camp, but similar to last week, part of me was back on the South Side wondering how the White Sox were doing.

A subscription to the Tribune didn't quite do the trick decades ago since delivery usually took two or three days, failing to provide instant gratification. I mean, why hear what the Sox did in Detroit when I knew very well that they played Kansas City the night before?

However, I was able to depend on one source of information in the form of Bernie O'Brien, the camp's waterfront director who also happened to be one of the legendary Chicago Public League football coaches at Chicago Vocational.

Bernie - he was "Obie" at camp - had many great teams and players, but his most famous was Dick Butkus.

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I wasn't so much impressed that Obie was the great linebacker's coach - after all, Butkus was just a high school kid - but O'Brien's loyalty and dedication to the White Sox endeared him to me to this day. Those were the times of expensive long distance calls when Sports Center was the local athletic field.

Yet Obie knew the fortunes that befell the White Sox just hours after the games concluded. I never asked how he did it. But I knew that if I took a detour to the waterfront before cabin cleanup, I would receive a detailed summary of how Fox, Pierce, Aparicio and the rest of the boys did the day before.

Turn the page to last week, and the camp experience had a distinctly different flavor. It would have been divine to discuss the peaks and valleys of this season's Sox with Bernie O'Brien, but obviously that wasn't possible since Obie died in 2000 at the age of 87.

However, thanks to the wonders of iPads and cell phones, keeping up with the three-game sweep of the Angels before dropping two-of-three to the Cubs was squeezed in between lake dips, bike rides and walks through the woods.

With the passage of time, camp remains as alluring as ever, but so do the White Sox despite their sorry condition. That lake swim Sunday afternoon after the Sox' 3-1 victory in which Chris Sale (15) and Nate Jones (3) fanned 18 Cub hitters - a franchise record for a nine-inning game - was just a tad sweeter than if the outcome had been different. Obie would have understood.

He might have had a more difficult time deciphering how the Cubs, a third-place team in the Central Division of the National League, are threatening to qualify for October's postseason. But that's what three divisions and two wild card entries will do for you. Competition and interest have been created where none formerly existed. The purists were silenced long ago. This is fun.

It's news to no one that going into Sunday, the Cubbies had lost just once in the previous 16 games. That's a lovely streak, creating space between Joe Maddon's outfit and the Giants in the race for the two wild card spots.

The most glorious streak in White Sox history clearly was winning 11 of 12 in the 2005 postseason. But a similar streak that I remember, and one that I'm sure that Obie was monitoring from northern Wisconsin, occurred between June 11 and June 27, 1961. I was too old to go to camp that summer when the White Sox ran off 19 victories in 20 starts so I didn't have to consult anyone for each day's result.

The Sox had most of their pennant-winning team from two seasons before, but Minnie Minoso was back on the South Side and the left-hander Juan Pizzaro joined the pitching staff and won 14 games. When the streak began, the team wallowed in eighth place 15 1/2 games behind the Yankees due to an alarming 19-33 record.

After the streak, they moved up to fourth place in the 10-team American League, 7 1/2 games behind New York. They stood at a respectable 38-34. If this season's club was four games over .500 at this point, it would be tied with the Orioles for the second wild card berth.

Consider that the 1961 Yankees - the season that Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record - won 109 games, eight more than second-place Detroit. The White Sox closed with a 86-76 mark, good for fourth place, a whopping 23 games behind the Yankees. Even after winning 19 of 20, they were basically out of the race.

Of course, those Yankees won the World Series, and 40 years later Billy Crystal made a movie about them.

Barring a streak similar to 1961, no one would make a movie about the 2015 White Sox unless it would be of the blooper variety. Saturday evening's 6-3 loss was a sad reminder that this club remains capable of being extremely generous to the opposition.

Adam Eaton's failure to catch a routine pop-up off the bat of Anthony Rizzo in the sixth inning led to the Cubs' third run as the North Siders took a 3-1 lead. Jorge Soler followed with a base hit to left, and Melky Cabrera's throw to the plate went over catcher Tyler Flowers' head. Jose Quintana failed to back up the throw, a mental error that didn't register in the box score.

As long as we have mentioned events of more than 60 years ago, White Sox broadcaster Bob Elson would have labeled Eaton and Cabrera, who surely could have caught the ball, "Alphonse and Gaston," comic strip characters of more than 100 years ago. It would be an apt description.

The failure to turn a double play in the seventh inning - Alexei Ramirez was charged with an error on a throw that bounced in front of first baseman Jose Abreu, who might have come up with the ball - helped the Cubs score three times. Add in a baserunning blunder or two, and the Cubs accepted their ninth victory in a row.

When you look at the two Chicago teams, the Cubs have scored 30 more runs this season, but the Sox are hitting .249 compared to the Cubs' .240. The Cubs have struck out more than any team in baseball, but they've also drawn more walks (401) than any team except the Dodgers (405). Meanwhile, the White Sox have walked just 269 times which helps explain why they don't score much. The Cubs are 14th in the league in OBP; the Sox are 25th.

The Sox have committed 71 errors, six fewer than the Cubs.

It's in the pitching department where the North Siders excel, with a 3.38 team ERA compared to the White Sox 4.02.

In watching Jeff Samardzija get pummeled by his former teammates on Friday for six runs in as many innings, it was tempting to imagine a scenario where the Shark still was a member of the Cubs. Samardzija's ERA climbed to 4.78 and his record evened at 8-8 as the Cubs won 6-5. Samardzija has given up 22 earned runs in his three August starts. The Sox would have fared much better if they were facing Samardzija rather than sending him to the bump.

After sweeping the Angels three in a row at The Cell last week, the White Sox begin a four-game set in Anaheim on Monday night, where the Angels are 36-23 compared to 24-33 on the road. The chance of putting together any kind of streak appears daunting.

By week's end, the Wisconsin sojourn will have ended while who knows what blunders and gaffes the White Sox have in store for us on this West Coast swing. Meanwhile, that lake won't be beckoning in the late afternoon. I need to enjoy it while I can.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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