Day One At Sox Park

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Illustration by Dmitry Samarov

The White Sox were so bad last year that drastic steps needed to be taken. I've never been one for celebrating special occasions or high holidays but this year I decided to go to my very first Opening Day. When your team loses 99 games you have to break some of your own rules to help put things right. It would be foolish to leave this in the hands of the front office.

It was a sunny afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-60s. The day's lineup was displayed on posters on an outer wall, and immediately instilled a glimmer of hope—I didn't know half these players. An hour before game-time, the concourse was glutted with happy beer-and-snack-carrying Sox fans. Passing a meaty fella opining self-importantly on the merits of Bobak's Sausage—a Chicago classic, all of it—it was obvious things would turn out well this day.

Settling into my seat in Section 154, by the left field foul pole, an usher came by and told me to go back up to the concourse and grab a red Chris Sale t-shirt and 'K' card. They wanted our whole section to wear these shirts and wave the cards every time Sale recorded a strikeout. I took the freebies but decided to just put them under my seat. The old Sox t-shirt I had on—another ballpark giveaway—would do just fine.

A procession of servicemen and women came marching out onto the field carrying a furled flag. After the Minnesota Twins and seemingly everyone that had ever been employed by the White Sox organization was introduced and ran out onto the diamond, the servicefolk began to unfurl their flag. When they were done, it covered a good chunk of the outfield and required the work of dozens of well-trained hands to keep it from billowing up into the sky.

If the White Sox squad had a healthy count of newcomers, the Twins were a cast of nearly complete unknowns. Aside from the great Mauer—now at first base instead of behind the plate, the better to preserve his health—I'd have been hard-pressed to recall ever reading the rest of these guys' names in the box scores. So watching stick-figure Sale make short work of them wasn't a shock. It was good to see the new guys the Sox had shelled out good money for get some hits, too, even if the game as a whole was fairly short on drama.

Throughout the afternoon there were various fan-related announcements—greetings, marriage proposals, and the like—but the one that caught my attention was a salute to a guy who was here for his 60th consecutive Opening Day. I heard a cheer go up a couple rows behind me and looked back to see an old man in a newsboy cap smile and wave to the crowd. His commitment made everyone else in the park mere pikers by comparison.

In the eighth inning, a guy in back of me asked his buddy if the Seventh Inning Stretch was coming up. Clearly not all of us were focused intently or even aware of the proceedings on the field. This same gentlemen was also heard loudly requesting every passing female to take off her top.

In the labyrinthine line to the men's latrine, “That's what she said!” jokes alternated with shouts of encouragement to those ahead. “No pressure!” a guy kept insisting to laughs and groans all around.

Next to me, a middle-aged man chatted up a young woman one row up. He voiced concern that, though the stands were fairly full, this wasn't quite a sellout. She assured him that they were true fans, unlike those people on the Northside. Someone else announced to all within earshot that the Cubs had lost 1-0 in extras. There were a few cheers but not too much attention paid. Most were just happy it was a warm day after a long, cold winter, and that their team was winning.

On the 35th Street Metra platform, happy Sox fans of every shape and size waited for the outbound Rock Island Line. An extra train was dispatched from downtown to accommodate the Opening Day crowd and once aboard the celebration continued. “How many people on this bus are Irish?” a slurred voice bellowed. Then, for a good half minute, nearly every occupant of the car was screaming, “USA! USA! USA!” for no discernible reason. Then a weaving, young man attempts a stand-up routine that morphs into a sloppy trivia contest. Dozens of smartphones angled into the aisle to capture his performance.

I got off at 99th Street in Beverly without paying anything for the ride. Perhaps it was a reward for having a little faith in the home team. Or maybe a small incentive to go to more games this season.

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