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Hope doesn't necessarily spring eternal at the start of the baseball season. Curiosity maybe. Can Konerko match last year's numbers? Can Beckham bounce back? Will Peavy be able to perform? Does Ozzie really have a closer? Can Pierzynski make any friends? Will Adam Dunn strike out 200 times?
And there is surprise. One day the Sox are playing a bunch of minor-leaguers in Arizona, and then, presto, they're in Cleveland, and the game actually counts. It happens very quickly.
So did my entry into the blogging world. It appears that 60 years of following the White Sox - including seven vending beer at Comiskey when I worked virtually every game - qualifies me to comment on this latest edition of the team along with relating past events. So here goes:
Not long after the White Sox' Opening Day 15-10 victory at Cleveland, my brother John sent an e-mail. In case you missed it, the Sox led 14-0 before Mark Buehrle and an infirm bullpen let the Indians make a game of it. Brother John was reminded of the 1960 opener.
The defending American League champions - we are talking about the South Siders here! - blew a 9-2 lead against Kansas City only to win it in the bottom of the ninth, 10-9.
Needless to say, this latest group didn't need any late inning heroics like Minnie Minoso's walk-off (the term hadn't been invented then) homer. Minoso, arguably the most popular player in team history, had been exiled to Cleveland for a couple of years, and what a homecoming it was. Two homers, six RBI, standing ovations from the 41,000 in attendance. Surely this was the start of another pennant run.
However, we learned at an early age that hope does indeed spring eternal in The Bronx and not on the South Side. Maybe also on the North Side where they don't know any better, but we Sox fans are realists.
Having had the privilege of attending Games 1 and 6 of the '59 Series, I could have contentedly passed on from this life without another October drama for the Sox. Of course, 2005 came along and fractured the vision that as promising as this team might be, another autumn appearance would never be in the cards. In '59, World Series bleacher seats at Comiskey Park went on sale at 8 a.m. the day of the game - honest! - so as teenagers we arrived the night before to join a few hundred other fans to make sure we would have a ticket.
I've moved up in the world. In '05, we sat behind the plate.
So now we have the present cast of athletes, and they look pretty good. Opening Day last week in Cleveland was a lot of fun. Carlos Quentin was locked in; Dunn hit a homer; Konerko looked like 2010; and Beckham behaved like an All-Star.
But lest our enthusiasm become too contagious, we must hearken back to some other less impressive openers.
This is not pessimism. This is history. Billy Pierce, who still makes an occasional appearance at The Cell, started seven openers and usually battled valiantly in 2-1, 3-2, and 2-0 contests. He even won a few.
I wasn't around when Bob Feller no-hit the Sox in the 1940 opener, the only no-no in history on Opening Day. But unfortunately I was part of the throng on a gray, cold day in 1979 when Toronto creamed our favorites 10-2. Owner Bill Veeck, embarrassed by the effort, told the 41,000 to hold onto their ticket stubs which could be redeemed for a future game.
In 1987 I was teaching English to seventh-graders at the Francis Parker School, an institution priding itself on a progressive philosophy. But not progressive enough to acknowledge that Opening Day should have been a holiday. (Actually the place was filled with Cub fans, and the halls were noticeably empty when the North Siders opened.) I snuck out to Comiskey for a few innings between classes, but by the time I got to my seat in the first inning, Lou Whitaker and someone named Matt Nokes had already homered en route to an 11-4 drubbing of the Sox. This was well into the Reinsdorf regime, so there was no mention of ticket redemption for a later game.
Perhaps the most dismal summer for the Sox was 1970 when they lost 106 games, a franchise record for futility. I figured I could attend the 1971 opener pretty much in solitude. I still don't understand how they got more than 43,000 to show up. I'll never forget walking into the park and seeing the crowd. It was electric. Could it have been rookie shortstop Bee Bee Richard? That's Richard as in a guy's first name as opposed to Ri-char as in Rocket Richard.
The Sox scored in the bottom of the ninth to win 3-2. Bee Bee went oh-for-four and committed one of his 26 errors before being benched mid-season. Nevertheless, the team improved to 79-83. I was ecstatic. So excited that I got a speeding ticket in Hubbard's Cave soon after the final out.
Thursday marks the 111th home opener for the Sox. The house will be near capacity. The beer will flow. The flag will cover the field. The players will be introduced. The anthem will be greeted with roaring cheers, and the Blue Angels will do their thing. Who needs hope? This is just a good time.
1. From Judy Wallenstein:
I think Roger Wallenstein's article was tremendously interesting and instructive about how one should emotionally deal with Opening Day! He's a genius!
2. From Mike Knezovich:
Roger Wallenstein, great job.
There can be an, er, misunderstanding that the only baseball tradition in Chicago means bad baseball and shrubbery.
Minnie Minoso for the Hall!
3. From Brad Herzog:
If the Sox could hit the way Roger Wallenstein writes, hope wouldn't be a four-letter word on the South Side.
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