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I didn't want to fall for the hype, but when the succession of convertibles carrying members of the 2005 World Champion White Sox rolled in from center field on Saturday, my interest was piqued.
I mean, that was a decade ago, a piece of history. I'm mired in the present, trying to digest this latest dismal edition of the South Side team. The short speeches by Aaron Rowand, Jermaine Dye, Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez, Jon Garland, Scott Podsednik, Paul Konerko, and Ozzie Guillen were not particularly unique. All of them thanked the fans for their support and said how happy they were to return to the scene of their greatest success.
I watched on TV, including the ensuing 7-6 13-inning loss to the front-running Royals. The Sox made a gallant effort, staging a ninth-inning rally after two outs to tie the game at 6 on J.B. Shuck's two-run double, before Lorenzo Cain's home run decided things.
But evidently Saturday's scene made an impression because Sunday morning I was glued to the video highlights of the playoffs and World Series from 10 years ago. A.J. "stole" first base; Paulie smacked the grand slam; and Scotty Pods' walk-off sunk the Astros. Geoff Blum lined an unlikely homer in the third game in Houston, and Juan Uribe flew into the seats to snag that pop-up. All were delicious moments, hurling me back in time to when it felt really special and good to be a Sox fan.
The video piece that the White Sox created for Saturday had statements from fans about their experience in 2005. One fan said that he and his buddies ran outside after the four-game sweep over the Astros and poured Champagne over one another, emulating what was going on in the clubhouse in Houston.
And that's the heart of these experiences. The athletes provide the backdrop, the drama, and the accomplishments. But the attraction focuses on reliving those events, recalling where we were, whom we were with, and how we reacted. On that rainy, damp evening that featured Paulie's slam and Pods' exclamation mark at the end of the Series' second game - the last one played at The Cell since the Sox completed the sweep in Houston - my brother and oldest son had seats behind home plate. Win or lose, we planned to meet after the game at Miller's Pub, a location not unfamiliar to us. Along with other friends and family, we didn't spill the Champagne. We drank it far into the next morning.
In the ALDS clincher in Boston, when El Duque entered in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no one out, our Sox were clinging to a 4-3 lead. It must have been unseasonably warm in Chicago that night because my pal Tom had the ceiling fan spinning in his living room as we nervously watched El Duque induce Jason Varitek and then Tony Graffinino to pop out. When he got Johnny Damon swinging on a ball in the dirt, Tom jumped off the couch, threw his hands in the air, and made solid contact with the fan.
He never felt a thing. Or if he did, he wasn't saying. The moment was too precious.
My brother John, a former minor league executive, had a close friend, Bill Blackwell, who happened to be general manager of the White Sox Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte in 2005. Bill called to say that no one from his office would be coming to Chicago for the AL playoffs, and would we be interested in the tickets allotted to the Charlotte club? Well, yes, and there we were with four choice seats behind the plate for the games against the Angels and Red Sox.
The president of the Charlotte club used two of the seats for the World Series. We had the other two.
This was in stark contrast to the Sox' other appearance in a World Series in my lifetime in 1959. The nights prior to Games 1 and 6, four of us ventured to Comiskey Park and camped outside the bleacher gate, joining a few hundred fans waiting for center field seats that went on sale at 8 a.m. the next morning. The Tribune sent a photographer to snap some shots before the first game. He staged us, telling us to pretend we were asleep. That's me second from the right. Hell, we never slept at all. We were too excited.
Sox owner Bill Veeck used to say that the "Fedoras" tended to gobble up tickets for events like a World Series while the working class was left at a distinct disadvantage. Bill believed that the Sox had a good chance to repeat as AL champs in 1960, so he came up with an idea where fans who attended the most games would be rewarded with Series ducats. Green folders were passed out at the ballpark whereby we could insert our ticket stubs from the games we attended. Each folder held 30 stubs. Season ticketholders would get first crack if the Sox won the pennant again. But the rest of us were asked to mail in our folders in mid-September. The instructions proclaimed, "TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR DISTRIBUTION WILL BE SENT TO FANS WHO HAVE ATTENDED THE MOST GAMES."
Of course, the Sox finished third as the Yankees ran away with yet another American League pennant, and we were left with our folders full of ticket stubs. Brother John was on his second folder. He had 40 stubs in all - out of 77 home games - which was quite a feat considering that he was a high school senior in the spring and a college freshman in the fall.
When the White Sox made their stirring run to the championship 10 years ago, many fans of my generation thought, "Well, now I'm satisfied. The Sox won a World Series, and no matter what happens the rest of my life, I can say that I saw them win it all."
That thinking was totally delusional. Having an exhilarating dose of White Sox World Series highlights, seeing almost-forgotten players like Timo Perez and Cliff Politte along with the heroes of 2005, and recalling the joy and pride of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I journeyed to The Cell on Sunday. This was not smart.
Chris Sale wasn't quite himself, giving up four runs and 11 hits in six-plus innings. He struck out only six Royals as the White Sox went down 4-1. Only recent call-up Tyler Saladino's first big-league home run in the ninth inning averted a shutout.
Watching Melky Cabrera double to lead off an inning only to be thrown out at third on a grounder to short made me forget all about my edict of 10 years ago. Seeing Saladino bunt runners to second and third only to have Jose Abreu and Cabrera follow by striking out elicited groans from this observer.
Should I be content watching runners left in scoring position time after time? Should I simply overlook the fact that four guys in the Sox lineup Sunday were hitting .224 or less? Do we attribute Adam LaRoche's nine home runs and 33 RBI to poor luck?
It would be healthy relief to be able to adhere to the rationale from a decade ago. But we're fans. We like to see our team win. We beg them to hustle and give 100 percent. Playing the game the way it's supposed to be played would be a welcome development. We don't necessarily need another World Series, but .500 would be nice. Is that asking too much?
Chances are I'll revisit those video highlights from 2005 in the very near future.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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