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Outside Sox Park: A Cabdriver's Notes on Baseball

I moved to Chicago to go to art school in 1990. I'd been a Red Sox fan ever since a school trip to Fenway Park sometime around 1980. It was one of Carl Yastrzemski's last years and I didn't know a damn thing about baseball. Having only arrived from the USSR recently, the thought of signing me up for Little League wouldn't have crossed my parents' minds. I played stickball with my best friend, Dan, against the wall of the elementary school. We also played Strat-O-Matic, keeping stats on curling sheets of lined paper, playing out countless seasons as the '57 Brooklyn Dodgers or the '27 Yankees or some crazy amalgam All-Star squad spanning decades. Being a Red Sox fan, you needed to embrace disappointment, so when I got to Chicago and looked around for a local club to follow, the Cubs weren't an option. I already had a lost cause and didn't need another. The White Sox were another story.

While their history of futility rivaled both the Cubs and the Red Sox, they went about their game in a low-key, workmanlike way that drew me to them. The town ignored them for the most part. The little I knew about Chicago - mainly what I'd read in Nelson Algren novels - the White Sox reflected in some way to me.

Over the years, my allegiance drifted steadily from Red to White until 2004, when Boston broke the Curse of the Bambino and lost any hold on me. In those same years my hatred for the Cubs grew and developed. Driving a taxi in this town for the last eight years has exposed me to more Cub fan foolishness than anyone should ever have to see. On the other hand, no team loses quite like the Cubs and there's no doubt they've brought me much pleasure. I even have a few close friends who are afflicted with the North Side problem and somehow we still get along.

I'm not a journalist nor do I aspire to be one. Statistics and detailed technical analysis can be found in a thousand places these days with little effort, so I won't bother with much of that here. I'm a guy who listens to at least one baseball game a day on the radio while driving his cab around the city. Looking over the box scores from the night before is a daily ritual I miss dearly November through March. Like any baseball fan, I have my share of opinions, a few of which may even be well-reasoned. That's what you can expect in this column.

Opening Day
Mark Buehrle started the opener and cruised for five innings. It was 14-0 in the fourth Inning and my interest was waning. I want my team to win, but prefer it not be by a football score. It was good to see Adam Dunn hit a homer as he was brought in to do. I wasn't that excited when he was signed until the Sox also brought Konerko back. This could be quite a lineup, though what's the point of judging after only one game?

When Buehrle coughed up four runs in the sixth, with help from the bench-warmers brought in to play the field in this blowout, my tepid interest began to turn into irritation. I flipped the radio over to WGN to check on the Cub loss-in-progress and learned upon return that Will Ohman had been brought in to give the Indians three runs. Besides having a surname perfectly suited for a mediocre reliever (Oh, Man), he's an ex-Cub! Let's hope he's only brought in to mop up or in laughers like this one. Tony Pena was next in; a pitcher guaranteed to make one want to claw one's eyes out. When a game's out of hand early, a loss of focus seems almost expected. The Sox let the Indians hang around, dragging out the proceedings for no good reason. After making sure the Cubs lost, I left the house to start my work day.

One of my favorite things about baseball is listening to old men talk about it. My first fare of the afternoon was a couple old duffers in River North. They were happy to hear the Sox game on the cab's radio. "You a Sox fan or is this just for our benefit?" one asked. They'd certainly had a few and covered many subjects on the long ride to the far northwest reaches of the city. I couldn't even begin to reproduce most of what they said. We all breathed a sigh of relief when Jesse Crain finally nailed down the 15-10 victory. The highlight of their repartee was an evisceration of "Hawk" Harrelson: "Good to hear that Darren Jackson actually get to talk. When he was on TV with Harrelson, he couldn't get a word in. That guy's a bully and an asshole . . . Remember when he was the Sox GM? Only way that happened? Musta been fucking Reinsdorf's daughter. That's wrong man . . . " They said many other things. We all will before this season's through. "Go Sox!" they each said as I dropped them off.

So glad that baseball's begun again . . .

buerhle.jpgMark Buehrle by Dmitry Samarov. (Enlarge).

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Dmitry Samarov brings you Outside Sox Park every Tuesday. You can also find his work at Hack and at dmitrysamarov.com. He welcomes your comments.

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