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North Side Story, South Side Struggle

"Wouldn't it be convenient," I thought while sitting on the "El" last Tuesday evening, "to be a Cubs fan."

An admittedly scary notion, but after watching the Sox in Cleveland for an inning - including the ugly shot Melky Cabrera lined off the jaw of Indian pitcher Carlos Carrasco - in just five short "El" stops from my house, I arrived at the construction site still known as Wrigley Field.

My friend Pat had invited me. I knew the seats would be good. I couldn't let him go alone. I didn't want to be ungrateful. And I was born in Cincinnati, the evening's opponent. You make rationalizations when you do stupid stuff.

I must say that the new video board in left field is impressive. I like it. Replays - a staple in every other park - are now fashionable on the North Side. This is progress, just like putting lights in the place almost 27 years ago, almost a half-century after the first night games were introduced to major league baseball. Just give these folks time, and they get it right.

By the way, the new board has better resolution than my man cave's flat screen, and the audio is clear and crisp. The replays appear almost as quickly as balls and strikes on the venerable center field board that's been around since 1937.

What wasn't around in 1937 were cell phones, so I was able to follow what turned out to be a 4-1 White Sox victory, one of two wins for the Sox in a week that featured two games in Cleveland, three in Detroit, and off days Monday and Thursday.

But I digress. We wound up sitting right next to other friends in the front row behind the visitors' bullpen. I was with friends, watching a big-league ballgame, being careful not to drink as I've heard stories about the bathrooms, and - dare I say? - enjoying what turned out to be a well-played Reds 3-2 win.

But the end wasn't pretty. Around the seventh inning, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman loped down to join the relief corps. Having just watched Carrasco escape serious injury or worse, my mind flashed back to spring training a little more than a year ago when Chapman was struck flush in the face by a line drive. It is not easy to watch a play that broke bones above Chapman's eye and nose.

Carrasco escaped with a bruised and sore jaw - thankfully he got his glove up in time to minimally deflect the ball - and he will return to the mound at The Cell on Tuesday to face the Sox in the middle game of a three-game series.

Chapman miraculously missed only seven weeks, returning last May. For the season, he saved 36 of 38 opportunities with his 100 mile-an-hour fastball along with the confidence and command of one of the game's great closers. Aside from his athletic ability, someone who rebounds so quickly from a traumatic injury and regains his previous form deserves respect.

The Cubs are going to move the bullpens under the yet-to-be-completed bleachers, and that is a good thing. A few fans last Tuesday immediately began harassing the Cuban lefthander, and it soon got ugly when Chapman started warming up before retiring the Cubs in the ninth. One moron even yelled, "Go back to Cuba," as Chapman jogged to the diamond.

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Of course, there are idiots in every ballpark, but they tend to spoil the experience for everyone. As the bottom of the ninth began, most fans stood up, including the folks in the front row between us and home plate. Since the stands jut out toward the field at that point, our view was blocked.

My friend Mickie, who has parked her posterior in the exact same seat since 1984, was livid. "It's the only game they come to all year," she bellowed. "I've never seen them before. And they stand up so we can't see."

Being in the front row, why one needs to stand is curious. I mean, the view is just fine - and clearly unobstructed - to begin with. But I suppose this is what you do on the North Side. (I will be watching to see if we have similar behavior this season at The Cell.)

Chapman did allow two base runners before striking out the final two batters to end the game as this disillusioned interloper headed for the exit. Thinking I would try some variety, I headed to Clark Street and the 22 bus for the ride home. Bad idea.

Because of the construction, the northbound lane of Clark is closed. I wound up walking about a mile past Irving Park before the first bus arrived.

* * *

Any musing about changing allegiance was easily repressed, but the White Sox sure are making it difficult to become excited about what looked to be a promising season.

Aside from a 12-3 pasting of the Tigers on Saturday that featured a grand slam homer from Jose Abreu, a three-run shot by Adam LaRoche, four hits by Cabrera, and six innings of four-hit ball from Chris Sale, the week was disappointing.

Perhaps the nadir occurred Friday afternoon amid the much-discussed lack of a challenge by manager Robin Ventura in the bottom of the ninth. Jeff Samardzija and David Price had hooked up in just a terrific duel, each giving up a solo homer as the only blemishes on their performances.

Leading off the ninth, Tiger third baseman Nick Castellanos hit a sinking liner to right that Avisail Garcia almost gloved. Castellanos foolishly made a dash to second, Garcia's throw to Alexei Ramirez had him beat by almost ten feet, but the umpire ruled that Ramirez missed the tag. A sacrifice bunt and a hard grounder off the bat of Jose Iglesias through a pulled-in infield, and the Sox were 2-1 losers.

Ventura claimed that his video crew in the clubhouse indicated that Alexei, indeed, missed the tag. For some reason, Fox Sports Detroit had a different angle than the video being watched by the Sox people. The Detroit slo-mo showed that Ramirez had, in fact, tagged Castellanos' foot.

This leads to a few issues, the one most-voiced being, what did Ventura have to lose by challenging the play? It's a close, controversial play. It's the bottom of the ninth. He has one unused challenge. C'mon Robin, go for it.

Furthermore, why didn't our crew have the same video as the Detroit people? The Sox have a $118 million payroll. Is it not reasonable to assume they also have the most advanced video available?

In addition, Ramirez reacted immediately when the umpire ruled Castellanos safe. Does his opinion not count?

"We were in the ninth inning - you have to review the play," Ramirez said later. "Maybe they missed the play the first time on the video, but I am 100 percent I tagged him. If you are going to lose, you don't want to lose in this way."

In MLB's incessant interest in "speeding up the game," managers can't meander in front of the dugout any longer while contemplating a challenge as they await word from the clubhouse. So Ventura, even if he planned to challenge, was too late. I can't recall when he has ever looked as indecisive and impotent as last Friday.

Meanwhile, the Sox bats - excepting Saturday's aforementioned blowout - have been as passive as Ventura's judgment. Coming into the Detroit series, they had a .216 team batting average, compared to the Tigers' .317, helping explain how Detroit had won nine of its first 10 games.

Jose Quintana ensured a losing road trip on Sunday by having his worst outing ever. When he departed in the fifth inning, the Sox were behind 8-0, looking as lifeless as Chuy Garcia the morning after the election.

The Sox now don't have an off day until May 4. Twenty-five of their first 28 games come against Central Division rivals. They have lost five of six games against the Tigers and Royals, and they'll face those two clubs seven more times in the next three weeks.

The mantra of "It's still early" falls on deaf ears since they're chasing talented teams who are playing to their potential. People like me have no intention of taking the "El" and getting off at Addison any time soon. But the White Sox sure are making things tough.

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

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1. From Frederick Nachman:

I attended a record eight Cubs games last year - one in the upper deck, one in a skybox and the rest in the box seats behind the plate - and was becoming more ecumenical toward Cubs fans until Friday.

More than a month ago, I purchased a single ticket for $20 for the Friday afternoon game vs. the Padres to add that team to my list of those photographed at Wrigley. I hoped at least it wouldn't be near freezing. Then I counted the days and found Shields would be pitching, followed by the announcement of Bryant's recall. And the weather was perfect to boot.

Friday's game was the most pathetic ballpark experience I've ever experienced. The fans cheered when Bryant sprinted out on the field to warm up, ran out to 3rd base for the top of the 1st and walked out to the on-deck circle. They all stood for his first at-bat, which mercifully lasted only three pitches (photo of his first whiff attached).

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During his next two plate appearances, my seatmates and I (six rows behind home plate) managed to keep the patrons in front of us in their seats with loud "down in front" screams. Everybody stood up for his final appearance, a fielder's choice with two runners on to end the inning. You would have thought the Messiah had arrived; obviously for many fans he is.

The only mass standings I've seen at The Cell are when the Sox are leading and there's two out in the 9th. There was quite a bit of standing during the 2005 season, but that quickly subsided. The bigger problem is fans from opposing teams who stand up when a run is being scored, thus blocking the view of home plate. My shot of Eaton being thrown out at home to end the opener was ruined by a fat Twins fan who stood up just as the play unfolded.

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