Doll Day At Sox Park

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A Saturday afternoon game at Sox Park is a pleasure any Chicagoan with double-digit sum in hand can enjoy. Enjoy may not quite be the word, many days, but seats have been plentiful in recent years, and are priced accordingly. Last weekend, I decided to go only a few hours before game time, as I had done many times before. The PA announcement at my Metra stop that the train was delayed due to high passenger volume should've been a tipoff that this would be an odd afternoon, and unlike all those lazy others.

Over an hour before the 1:10pm first pitch, a labyrinthine queue stretched down 35th Street to get into the park. At the ticket window I was shocked to learn that only a few stray seats in the nosebleeds were available. I forked over my $27 and walked to the tail of the line. It was after I passed through the turnstiles that I learned the reason for the capacity crowd: it was Chris Sale Bobblehead Day. The first 20,000 in got a doll to take home.

My perch up near the tip of the right-field foul pole afforded me a bird's-eye view in every direction. The Sox scored three in the bottom of the first and the Yankees seemed to have no clue or chance or prayer of making solid contact against John Danks. The lack of on-field tension freed me to focus on some of my neighbors, who were all so much closer and more numerous than usual.

A row or two down sat a disheveled middle-aged man with two dolls on his lap, in addition to a score card and a copy of the Sun-Times. He would reposition his twin dolls to sit up with their backs against his ample gut after jotting down the results of every at-bat.

These weren't, I should note, official baseball figurines, let alone bobble heads. The one I could see best was a rubber-headed smiling thing in a White Sox jersey stained all over with yellowish grease spots. Under that, the doll wore what looked like a hand-crocheted blue sweater. His head was only barely attached to his body by frayed strings and wires. The man himself seemed perfectly content and oblivious of the occasional whispers and pointed fingers aimed in his direction.

The woman next to me was wrestling with her own score card. She told me it was only the second time she'd tried to fill one out. She was rooting for the Yankees because, according to her, George Steinbrenner was always smart about having lots of bachelors on his team to attract single ladies to the park. Dave Winfield and, later, Derek Jeter were her favorites. I pointed out that the Sox probably also had plenty of eligible gents but she waved this off with a laugh. It was much too late for that sort of thing now at her age, she said.

A man in his fifties clutched his Chris Sale Bobble Head to his chest for the entire eight innings that he sat in his seat. After he left, the game took a bad turn. With Danks out of the game the Yankees woke up and teed off on Ronald Belisario. Moments later the score was tied, as if the previous two hours of baseball never happened. “Relief Pitcher” remains the most egregious misnomer in the game.

A family moved down to a vacated row of seats nearby. The father joked to one of his small sons that if the Sox lost it would be Mom's fault, because they had moved. He turned my way just then revealing the telltale NY on his cap. I helped my neighbor fill in the home run for Ellsbury on her scorecard moments later.

 

Unwrapping the grotesque figurine at home that evening, I wondered why it would inspire all those otherwise ambivalent fans to come out to the park. It wasn’t ugly, exactly, but neither was it immediately clear why it would lure so many to a game they’d otherwise have skipped.

A complete-game shutout of the Yankees would've been a much more valuable souvenir to me, although of course this day wasn’t for me. I'm no collector, myself, and I don't even really know what a good memory goes for these days.

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