Thursday, July 13, 2017

Writer’s Workshop: Baseball and Me

Today Mama Kat wants us to write a post based on the word “celebrate.” I didn’t know what I’d write about until I read Jenny Hansen’s post from yesterday, when she talked about being a baseball fan. (Go read it: it’s excellent, as is her blog.) She asked if we followed any sports and what our favorite teams are.

Do I follow sports? I follow baseball. That’s pretty much it. I have three favorite teams: The Chicago White Sox, the Atlanta Braves, and whoever’s playing the Chicago Cubs. I grew up a White Sox fan, even though I grew up in Rogers Park, about as far north in Chicago as you can get without being in Evanston. My grandfather, my uncle Jack and his cousin Chuck, all of whom lived or grew up on the South Side before moving north, were all White Sox fans, and managed to convert my father, who also grew up north, when Dad married into the family. So, I was also a White Sox fan, although my brother Jim (possibly Kip, though he claims he was a Cardinals fan) and nearly everyone I went to school with were Cub fans.

It’s actually a good thing I was a Sox fan. My future father-in-law wasn’t too sure about me, a North Sider, until Mary told him, “But he’s a Sox fan, Daddy.” He and I spent some happy times at Comiskey Park, drinking beer, smoking Camels, and watching the Sox play.

There was not much to celebrate in the mid-Sixties when I first decided I was a Sox fan. The Sox were good in those years, just not good enough to capture the American League pennant and play in the World Series. They made a real run for it in 1967, and were within one win in Washington of taking the flag, but dropped both ends of a doubleheader against the Senators (who are now the Texas Rangers) and finished the year in fourth. (The Senators finished in seventh, out of ten teams.) The following season, they finished in eighth, and it was downhill from there. Expansion in 1969 saw the Sox put into the AL West with the two expansion teams. Under normal circumstances, this would mean they’d finish no lower than fourth, but they ended the season in fifth. (We did take solace in the fact that the Cubs, who led the NL East most of the ’69 season, had a terrible September and ended up sitting at home while the “Amazin'” New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.)

Generally, being a Sox fan was an exercise in futility. Even in 1983, when they beat up on the AL West and a significant portion of the AL East, they reverted to form in the playoffs and lost three straight to the Orioles after winning the first game, leaving most of us to tear our hair out. By the time they won the AL West again in 1993, I had moved to Atlanta.

When I got to Atlanta, the Braves were awful. But, by then, I was used to cheering on awful teams, and they were actually a pretty interesting team to watch. Many of the players who would form the basis of the “worst to first” team of 1991 were getting their first taste of the major leagues, and they caught fire when they traded Dale Murphy to Philadelphia in 1990 and installed David Justice in right field. I knew they were onto something good when Uncle Jack said, “Those Braves have some guys that can tear the cover off the ball.”

There was an almost constant celebration in Atlanta the next few years as they were division champs each year from 1991 through 2005 (except 1994, the year of the player strike) and went to the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999, winning the Series in 1995. In ’93 I was hoping that the White Sox and Braves would meet in the World Series, but it wasn’t to be, as both teams lost in the playoffs. The Braves did that a lot, actually, always snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But really, the year that stands out for me is 2005. Once again, the Braves won their division and the White Sox won theirs, and once again, the Braves lost in the first round of the playoffs. The White Sox kept going, though, winning the division series against the Red Sox in three straight, the league champonship series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California four games to one (I forget what name they were using at the time, so I just put them all in), and sweeping the Houston Astros to become World Champions.

That was cause to celebrate. I had waited forty years for that one. And I thought about my grandfather, who had died several years before and was the only person I knew who remembered the last time the White Sox had won the World Series (1917), and my father-in-law, and my dad, and my friends and family members who had waited for that moment.

I’ve done my best to keep this short. Really, though, I could write a book. I just want to add one thing: I am happy for the Cubs on their World Series win, particularly Jason Heyward and David Ross, who played here in Atlanta and were fan favorites. Happy mostly because I don’t have to hear about how many years they waited…

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from The Sound of One Hand Typing

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