There's always an alternative in Chicago sports, except . . . | Bleader

Friday, June 1, 2012

There's always an alternative in Chicago sports, except . . .

Posted By on 06.01.12 at 05:39 PM

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Plenty of good seats available at White Sox Park: Im just sayin.
I pity the Chicago sports fans for whom there's no alternative—and by that I mean you, White Sox fans who can't stand the Cubs, and vice versa.

I arrived in this town as an eight-year-old devoted fan of the Baltimore Orioles, so in the years before interleague play the only way to see them was at Comiskey Park. I saw the first game I can remember there on a hot summer night, and I can still recall the cigarette smoke billowing out of the grandstand and into the lights above, and the way Boog Powell sweat-stained his way through one of those old woolen jerseys, so that the road gray turned black, until he changed into a fresh one about the seventh inning.

Yet I was infected by the Cubs in 1969, and once bitten by that bug it's always carried with you—like hepatitis.

I will allow that no Sox fan should give blood to a fan of the Cubs—and vice versa.

Through the years, as I put away childish things like my fondness for the Orioles and settled securely into being a Chicagoan, I swung back and forth. Those sharp red uniforms the Sox are now sporting on Sundays arouse fond memories for me—of Dick Allen whipsawing that 40-ounce bat he swung, and of Bart Johnson, Terry Forster, and Rich "Goose" Gossage all arriving as young flamethrowers. When Bill Veeck bought the team, I went to a game on Musical Instrument Night with a buddy from high school who considered himself a rebel and got a half-price ticket five rows behind home plate in exchange for displaying my Hoehner harmonica. (My buddy got in on a comb and a piece of paper, may the baseball gods bless those tolerant old Comiskey ticket cashiers.) We saw the Orioles' Jim Palmer pitch up close that night. Nothing better.

The 1983 Sox who broke the city's long first-place drought were very dear to me—it was my first year as a credentialed sportswriter—as were the Cubs who reinfected me the following year. May I remind all that Veeck swung from the south side to the north side too, and I can still remember seeing him at Murphy's Bleachers one day trying to untangle a mobile of little fuzzy Cubs he had constructed.

I lived in a rooftop apartment on Sheffield across from Wrigley Field for three glorious years. Sorry, but there's no Sox alternative to that.

The way the Sox held a gun to the state's head and threatened to move to Florida in order to get their new stadium built alienated me for a long time. I still miss that old ballpark, and for years referred to the "occupation ownership" of Jerry Reinsdorf. Forget the corporate name, it's White Sox Park to me. Yet Reinsdorf wasn't going anywhere, and to his credit he didn't demand that anyone call the park by anything other than what seemed natural. He also atoned by hacking at the new stadium, chopping off the useless seats, putting a roof on it reminiscent of Ebbets Field, and generally making it more amenable, while maintaining its functionality. To this day, you can whip out of Sox Park after a fireworks game and get out on Lake Shore Drive in the time it takes to maneuver down the ramps and out onto the street at Wrigley—beautiful as it may be in the sunshine.
Reinsdorf also gave the Sox a championship. Sorry, but the Cubs have no alternative to that.

So I have no patience for those who deny the alternative. If the Cubs are infuriating right now, try the Sox. They're in first place, and the food at Pleasant House Bakery or the Maxwell Street Polish place on 31st Street is a lot better than at the chain locations surrounding Wrigley.

As for you Sox fans, you're going to want to be around when the Cubs finally do win it all. There's such a thing as the sin of pride, after all.

It's the same much of the rest of the year. There's only so much time in the winter, so I tend to focus mainly on the Bulls or Blackhawks, not both. When Michael Jordan reigned and "Dollar" Bill Wirtz still owned the Hawks, I concentrated on the Bulls. When the Hawks revived and my daughter became a fan—disdaining basketball, for some strange reason—I swung to hockey. Yet I felt a tug of sympathy for the Bulls this spring; who knows about next season.

The one thing there's no alternative to in Chicago sports is the Bears. The Bears rule this town, for better or worse, and somehow I've always resented it—loved the enduring characters of the 1985 Super Bowl team, but disparaged the way they squandered their talent with the ready help of coach Mike Ditka.

Some may fondly recall the Chicago Cardinals, but for the rest of us in the present day there's no alternative to the Bears. Maybe that's what the Windy City Rollers were put on this earth for.

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