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Thank God It's Ovah

When my pal Tom suggested we get a 14-game package for the 2013 White Sox, I agreed that we should get in on the action right from the start.

After all, the team had come within a week of winning the division a year ago, and these guys appeared capable. On the basis of Chris Sale outdueling (Big Game) James Shields 1-0 on Opening Day on the strength of Tyler Flowers' solo home run - this is a true story - and a 4-2 record on the first homestand, we basked in our good judgment, having another 13 tickets in hand.

No jumping on the bandwagon at the beginning of September. Not us. We were in it from the get-go.

Of course, that's not quite how things turned out.

As late as May 26 when the Sox reached .500 at 24-24, optimism remained. How could we have known that 45 losses in the next 61 games - including losing streaks of six, eight, nine, and ten games - would mark the season as one of the worst in the 112-year history of the team? Only three other Sox teams ever have lost more often than this bunch.

Nevertheless, I kept watching. Admittedly, we ate a couple of those remaining 13 tickets. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I also ventured to the Cell on at least a half-dozen other occasions and bought a seat on the way into the ballpark.

Writing these weekly columns became my rationale to continue to pay attention. After all, I had to keep my finger on the pulse of the team. Soon I realized that detecting the pulse was becoming exceedingly difficult. Eventually there wasn't any pulse. Rigor mortis set in.

Recently a friend e-mailed to tell me, "I won't read another one 'til next season when they've dumped Dunn, Konerko has retired gracefully, Ramirez has bought a new glove, Viciedo has come into his own, they've found a catcher who can hit over .225, and a third baseman who can catch and hit .275!"

Needless to say, he won't be reading my stuff in 2014.

The losing obviously persisted and became chronic. The crowds dwindled. A silent Hawk stopped droning on about the team's poor performance.

Even up to Sunday's season's finale - a 4-1 loss - the first three innings were characterized by Sox runners being thrown out on the bases. Alejandro De Aza - who has the baseball acumen of a Pony Leaguer - was doubled off second on a line drive to the shortstop on a play right in front of him.

The game ended in typical fashion. Bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth before Gordon Beckham and Marcus Semien both struck out. Right up to the very end, the Sox were consistent.

So why did I and a few others keep on following this team? It's a question that's been on my mind for weeks.

The descriptions of the game depicted by writers such as John Updike and Roger Angell fail to make my heart race. For me there is no definitive smell at U.S. Cellular. The grass is just as green in our lakefront parks. My senses don't come alive when I go to a ballgame. I fail to get choked up when Minnie and the Big Hurt and the 2005 World Series are highlighted on the Jumbotron.

Explaining my attraction and attachment to the game is like describing one's preference for Van Gogh rather than Gauguin. The game simply is pleasing to me, watching each contest unfold. Furthermore, my team - despite the 99 losses - is the White Sox.

Even as loss followed loss, my curiosity was piqued, for instance, when Avisail Garcia arrived for the final two months. Was this going to be the best trade since Mike Cameron was sent to Cincinnati for a kid named Konerko? The answer is, "Possibly."

Once Semien, Erik Johnson and Leury Garcia entered the mix, I was interested to see whether they represented a bright future, or would just be names like Russ Mormon, Jesse Jefferson and Danny Richar, who made appearances and then moved on.

In Sunday's New York Times' Week in Review, Jonathan Mahler asks if baseball is out of step with the times. The game, he writes, feels "irrelevant" and "the broader cultural trends" have left baseball behind the other major sports. The NFL passed baseball in the public interest long ago because "it's louder, faster, and more violent - which is to say, better in tune with our cultural moment."

Personally, the morning news provides more violence than I can handle, and I'm not even a victim of it. Life speeds by because of school, business and personal schedules. I had dinner Saturday night in a restaurant where the food was great, but I couldn't hear the person sitting next to me because of the noise.

Maybe Mahler is on to something. Aside from one play at the plate on Sunday, the Sox and Royals were rather peaceful. Near the end of the game, in a gesture of friendship, Sox first base coach Darryl Boston even gave Royals coach Rusty Kuntz a man-hug in front of the Kansas City dugout. Meanwhile in Detroit, Ndamukong Suh was trying to separate Jay Cutler from his head.

As far as speed is concerned, baseball always has had a leisurely pace. Without a clock being involved, Sox games take their own sweet time. If you have a pending appointment, stay away from the ballpark.

As for noise, there hasn't been much to cheer about at the Cell. The usual fireworks went off Sunday when Alexei Ramirez homered in the bottom of the fourth. Aside from that, the only commotion wafted from a skybox behind home plate where children's voices were chanting, "Let's go, De Aza," and "Let's go, White Sox." This was in the late innings with the Sox trailing by three when we knew the game was out of reach. Apparently they felt otherwise. They're just kids.

But those little ones were very much in evidence at the Cell this season, possibly because of lower ticket prices. Once the team went south, the team's marketing department began running ads with a kid describing his first Sox game. The strategy seemed to work.

Kids are more resilient than many adults, and the losses didn't seem to bother them nearly as much as some of us older folks. Families of four sat both in front and back of us on Sunday, and the kids - none of whom were older than eight or nine - sat quietly and watched the game. Stuffing them with hot dogs and soda wasn't even necessary.

I'd be fooling myself, though, if I didn't admit relief that the Sox season has ended. The frustration of watching a losing team is exhausting, as is trying to justify the time I've spent watching such a crummy bunch of athletes.

Purchasing another 14-game package in 2014 would be a stretch, but I can't deny that come next February I won't perk up when those four magic words are first proclaimed: "Pitchers and catchers report."


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

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