Well, here we are the end of the season once again and as is often the case, no post season for the White Sox. It is particularly bitter this year seeing how the Sox finished with 88 wins, which in 2008 was enough to get to the playoffs. As is a particular custom of mine, I attended the final home game and also for the second time in three years my son and I went to the game. It was a sparse crowd, even by White Sox standards and for the first time that I can remember I slipped into the lower deck without so much as a blink from security which is usually pretty tight even at the most inconsequential games. My guess is the boy made it a little easier to get to the better seats. I asked if he wanted to sit where Paul Konerko hits homeruns and he immediately said yes; well, not quite immediately. First he asked where Gordon Beckham hit homeruns. Luckily, Beckham wasn’t playing so I didn’t have to explain Beckham doesn’t hit many homeruns.
We sat in left field, right above the bullpen and got to see Edwin Jackson warm up and AJ Pierzynski talk to the pitching coach in the bullpen. The boy was having a blast hanging over the wall of the bullpen, especially because he recognized AJ and just because he was so close to the players in general. He wanted me to come down to the wall as well, but I didn’t. I wish I could have explained to him how awesome it was to watch him there, like something out of a Rockwell painting; Sox cap on, glove on and shouting at the players, not quite getting that this was it until next spring. It would sink in a lot more during the pre-game festivities and some of Ozzie’s moves during the game.
If you’ve never been to a White Sox game, and judging by attendance numbers you’re not alone, I think you’re missing out on, at the very least, one of the best openings to a sporting event. Not only is the opening montage fantastic, but the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck” fits the team, and more importantly the fans, to a tee. Gene Honda has an excellent voice and while it’s more fun when the Sox are in first place, it’s still a good time. At the last game of this season however, things were a little different. Instead of Gene rattling off the names of the starting players and fireworks erupting, Konerko and Pierzynski came out to their positions alone and were introduced by themselves, definitely a classy move by the White Sox. When the Sox came to bat, both players were greeted with long ovations and Konerko almost delivered on his first at bat, hitting a long fly ball, just short of a home run. Admittedly, I was probably more excited to sit in left field than my son because catching Konerko’s potentially last White Sox home run would have been awesome. As it turns out he only had one single on the day with another ground out added for good measure. It was cool to be in left field as Alexei Ramirez hit a home run off the left field foul pole. Something about hearing the ball hit the pole just brought home how hard those guys actually hit the ball. It didn’t just ping off the pole, or hit softly, but it came screaming in and had a sound as if I had hit the pole with a bat, just loud.
The boy made it the required three innings of watching and we made our pilgrimage to the fundamentals deck. After that we had a seat in the upper deck just in time to see Konerko get pulled from the game and replaced by Mark Kotsay. My son was completely baffled as to why this was happening. I explained that Konerko might very well not be returning next year, so this gives the fans a chance to say good-bye. Almost immediately, the boo-boo lip came out, the tears welled up and he said, “but I like him.” I wish I had a better answer than the one I gave. All I could say was that I liked him a lot too and who knows he might be back. He perked up a little, but it definitely is a hard lesson to learn about the reality of professional sports. Hopefully if Konerko leaves he’ll at least be on a team that visits the Cell and we can go see him when he returns.
The tears around the park weren’t given much of break because during the seventh inning stretch Nancy Faust was on the big screen for her last playing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” She didn’t make it through without crying and in many ways watching her take a final bow was more emotional than watching the players take theirs. Nancy has been a part of the White Sox experience for 41 years. That’s longer than pretty much anyone associated with the team, except fans. Players come and go, owners come and go, but Nancy was a constant. It really hit home how much fans invest in their teams. I am, as AJD has said, a baseball apostate, changing my allegiances, but I’ve been with the White Sox now longer than most of the players on the active roster. Nick Hornby in his excellent memoir, Fever Pitch, makes the point that in many ways teams mean more to the fans than the players. For them, it’s a job, for us it’s so much more. The teams we support give us a break from our everyday life at the very least, and for some they actually give identity and meaning. I find that last circumstance a little disconcerting, but I would also be lying if I said I never cried over a loss. I know the athletes cry over a tough loss as well, but I think it is for much different, probably more valid reasons. Watching Nancy give her last performance reminded me how much these games mean, even the meaningless ones. What is definitely sad about Nancy leaving is that it will mean more piped in music and yet another part of the ballpark experience being lost.
The White Sox won and as we walked to the train the final fireworks of the season went off. Unlike the winning fireworks during the season, these didn’t hold the promise of another game tomorrow. Instead they almost seemed lonely, like the last song of a long night, still loud, but empty. Even so, I hope my son always wants to go to the last game, I hope Konerko comes back and I hope we’re at opening day.