The Chicago White Sox (2007)
Bill Long 5/29/07
A Lazy Afternoon at US Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey)
I wasn't really planning on seeing the White Sox play ball while I was in Chicago for my four day autism conference over the Memorial Day weekend. After all, I spent one evening eating dinner with my daughter, another attending a conference function and another going to the Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Drury Lane theatre on East Chestnut St. When Sunday morning dawned I decided to head over to the Shedd Aquarium, managing to see a lot of colorful fish before half the toddlers/kids from Chicago descended on the place. When I looked outside about noon I saw that the weather was beautiful, and I decided then and there to take the Red Line subway two stops South to US Cellular park. The White Sox were hosting the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and I figured it would not be difficult to get a ticket. Well, things were more difficult than I expected. The humorless guy at the ticket booth said he had "standing room only" tickets for $30, and so my friend and I decided to hang around the parking lot to see if there were any desperate sellers. Finally, we found the perfect guy--a man with two young boys anxious to get into the stadium--and he had two tickets he quickly had to get rid of. He was selling the two of them for only $15; we took his offer; and into the stadium we dashed, missing only the top of the 1st.
Watching a Game at US Cellular
We found our upper deck seats with ease and settled in for a very long game (3 1/2 hours). We soon discovered that the action on the field is only one of the attractions at a White Sox game. This Sunday was "military day" or something like that, since Veterans dressed in their khakis and their spouses/significant others were were scattered all around us. More immediately around us was a huge Hispanic family and about three Black guys in their 30s with their sons (a father-son outing, no doubt). While listening to the sounds around me, I was transported back to the early 1960s when I used to go to Yankee Stadium a few times a year with my older brother and father. The sights and sounds of US Cellular (I almost wrote "Comiskey") and Yankee Stadium were seemingly so much different.
What most struck me about today's games and stadiums is that the stadiums are odorless, and the energy of the fans is only tepid. When I went to a game in the 1960s, there was always the smell of hotdogs and plentiful mustard, of beer dripping down the sides of cups and sticking to the chairs and everything else, of peanut smells and shells all over the place. The fans in Yankee Stadium in those days were primarily Italian and Irish folk, people who regularly cursed out the umpires, the opposing players and each other during the course of 2 1/2 hours.
Today, however, things are different. Stadiums are antiseptically designed so that odors don't carry, and everything must be cautiously wrapped individually so that no diseases are carried (I suppose this is the reason). They don't really bring hot dogs or peanuts to your seats; you have to hoof it to get these things. And, the big draw these days seems to be nachos, with endless supplies of a gooey, yellow substance that can only charitably be called "cheese." The fans don't seem to be nearly as interested in the game; it was not unusual at all to watch people in animated conversations about things other than baseball. Some were even reading a book. A baseball game seemed to be more of an excuse to sit in the warm sun and enjoy the afternoon with 38,000 of your close buddies than to engage oneself deeply in the fate of the White Sox.
Speaking of the White Sox
I hestitated seeing the White Sox at first because the national press had been hammering them for the week before I went to Chicago for being a "choke" team. Apparently they had been in the habit of leading until the middle and late innings of a game and then folding right before the eyes of the fans. I figured, however, that since the media had "exposed" this failing of the team, that they would have corrected it by the time I settled into my seat at US Cellular. I couldn't have been more wrong. The White Sox put new meaning into the concept of choke during the game, and I understand they replicated that also on Monday.
The game started inauspiciously enough for the White Sox when, in the first pitch in the bottom of the first, star outfielder Pedro Ozuna blasted a double but broke his foot getting to second base. They were unable to hit another pitch out of the infield that inning, and so the first inning ended at 0-0. The Devil Ray's third baseman Ty Wiggington hit a homer in the top of the second and the DRs scored again in the third, but the White Sox came back to get four in the third. Though the DRs tied the game in the sixth, the White Sox threatened to break it open in the bottom of that inning, when Palu Konerko singled and Joe Crede drove him to third on a single. Two runners on and no outs. It was time for the White Sox to forge ahead. But then the bottom third of the order popped out or struck out, and we were onto the seventh.
I remember thinking that if the White Sox were going to choke, this should be the time to do it. And, they neatly complied. The DRs got seven runs off of five White Sox pitchers in the last three innings, and the Sox were only able to retaliate with one run in the ninth. When the Rays were hitting the stuffing out of the ball in the 8th and 9th, the Sox would desperately change pitchers, but each pitcher seemed to get himself and the Sox in deeper trouble. It was as if someone thought, "Hm...we are doing pretty well; let's see if we can really blow this game." And they did. By the time the 8th inning rolled around, the hometown crowd was without energy and passion; only a few die-hards stayed around until the end.
The Action in the Stands--and Other Things
If the only thing that happened at a baseball game was on the field, it would have been a rather boring afternoon. Thankfully, there were tons of opportunities to people-watch, to listen in on others' conversations and, finally, to see what America finds entertaining in 2007. Most interesting to me was to watch what I called the "Hispanic Clan" to our right and left, in front of us. It seemed that every time you turned around someone was buying more food. There were nachos and beer and pretzels and peanuts and ice cream and margaritas and sugar-covered dough and what not. It was as if the experience of attending a baseball game was new to this generation of Americans, and they wanted to celebrate this newness by having a constant party during the game. In contrast, the Black men and their sons right behind us were a model of Protestant decorum and sobriety. They occasionally would crack jokes with one another or root aloud for one of the White Sox but in general the delightful rhythmic and sing-song nature of their speech would only occasionally come down my way.
In between innings we had the mindless and typical entertainment of girls in shorts trying to throw t-shirts into the stands. This works much better at basketball games, where anyone might catch the shirt, but at a baseball game they only managed to throw these shirts into about the third row. Then, there were the "electronic games" on the scoreboard between innings, where the announcer tried to get the fans riled up to root for the pizza dough or the pepperoni or some other ingredient as they had a mock race around a track. Why anyone would consider that the least bit entertaining, especially if the fate of the pepperoni or anchovies or whatever it was was determined by someone's flick of a switch, is beyond me. But with the proliferation of dumb cable television shows these days I suppose that Americans can be mesmerized by almost anything.
By the time the game ended I felt I didn't need to see another baseball game for several months. It is one of those cultural events that one ought to witness about once a year, just to see what kind of things are "in the air" in America. But for $15 for two, how can you go wrong, even if I didn't get to share in the food that was regularly passed in front of me.