Seven Innings

On going to a White Sox game in 2013
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{art by Dmitry Samarov}

Each year the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—where my girlfriend works—buys a block of discount tickets to Sox and Cubs games. I won't go to Wrigley if I can help it and she doesn't care much about baseball one way or the other, so we wind up going to Sox Park. It's usually a night to look forward to but this year—with even a cursory glance at the standings or box scores—is an exception. We got the tickets months ago so there was no getting out of it: we were going to a White Sox game in 2013.

The rewards and punishments of following a baseball team are many and infinitely varied. This is probably because there are so many damned games in a season. If your team isn't expected to do much and ends up competing, you can celebrate that; if they're expected to win it all but end up barely breaking even, you can bemoan that. Within most individual games there are moments that amuse or compel. A great relay throw can make you forget they're losing that day. A clutch single can wipe the memory of a lousy start by your ace out of your mind. But what if everyone predicts they'll be bad and they turn out much, much worse? I've taken to counting the few runs the Sox score as wins at this point. Anything to wring a bit of light out of all the darkness. There's only so much gallows humor, cynicism, and wisecracks you can generate during a six month slog before you lapse into a victimized numbness.

The Rock Island Line from Beverly to 35th Street runs only every so often in the evenings. I got to the park at 6:30 for a 7:10 start, knowing that we'd have to leave early to catch the 9:50 train back or wait around til the 11:21. Luckily for us the Sox would make this particular decision a no-brainer.

The ugliness began in the top of the 1st when Adam Dunn botched an easy run-down by bumping Torii Hunter in the basepath. The Tigers didn't score but it was foreshadowing the horror that was to come. In the bottom of the inning, the Sox loaded the bases and didn't score, one of this year’s team’s signature moves. This is a team that refuses to score if given the slightest opportunity not to.

There are many people that go to a ballgame to soak in the atmosphere—to people-watch, to drink, to eat—while I unfortunately go to follow what goes on down on the field. This would've been a great game to ignore but I just couldn't do it. To my right my girfriend was laughing about something with a coworker, while I was trying to ignore the sloshed Brit sitting behind us, who was trying to impress his date with an incomprehensible play-by-play of the action below. His lack of expertise wasn’t an issue, because the girl was all over him anyway. The Brit and I and the few dozen other attendees trying to track the on-field proceedings would witness a horrendous relay to the plate by Alex Rios, a few molasses-paced innings from Hector Santiago, a few more errors I have blocked from memory, and the pathetic pinnacle of the whole evening: Dayan Viciedo misplaying a garden-variety double into what amounted to an inside-the-park homerun.

The Italian sausage and beer my girlfriend bought me went some way to blunt the trauma of watching my team self-destruct in slo-mo; the appearance of Illinois governor Pat Quinn did the rest. Sometime around the sixth inning--around the same time I knew for sure we'd be catching the early train home—I noticed a couple of Secret Service types securing the perimeter around the aisle near Section 534, where we were sitting in the upper deck. A greying man with friendly eyes and a red Blackhawks shirt was posing for cellphone photos with fans just behind us. Afterwards he walked down a few rows and sat down next to a wide load of a man with QUINN embroidered on the back of his hockey jersey. He got up to pose for photos several more times before I was sure it was the governor. I wondered how many others of his rank would hang out in the nosebleeds in the second half of a very forgettable season. I also wanted to ask him why Metra couldn't adjust its schedule to suit White Sox fans better, but it was time to leave before I had a chance to talk to the governor.

It was an unusually cool night for late July in Chicago. Several dozen other fans waited along with us on the windswept platform for the 9:50 to take us south. Nobody seemed to be talking baseball in this crowd; I know I wasn't. This was the first ballgame I can ever remember leaving early. According to the box score, the Sox eventually did plate a couple of runs, but we were probably most of the way home by then; she, regretting having bought the tickets and me, trying to forget that this season ever happened.

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