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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Arizona Heat
by Pascal Marco

Stories from Peoria, AZ

by Pascal Marco

It’s amazing what you find when you go to a White Sox Spring Training game in Arizona. Besides the unusual site of seeing players with the numbers of 60 and above on their backs that you’ve never heard of before, sometimes you discover things you just would never, ever expect.

Take this Sunday’s game for instance when the Sox visited the Mariner’s in Peoria. It was my first time at the Peoria Sports Complex, home to both the Seattle American League team and the National League’s San Diego Padres. The facilities there are pure Cactus League—immaculately groomed ball fields with seats so close to the action that you can count how many pumpkinseed shells Ozzie spits to the ground as he sits outside the dugout closely observing and measuring his players’ performances.

I wondered what I would discover today as the Sox reached the midway point of the Spring. Would it be a day they’d discover their elusive fifth starter? A day where Brian Anderson would come to the plate and look sure of himself on every pitch on every at bat? Or, another day where Robert Valido continues to make you look up and pay attention whenever he’s at bat or in the field?

It was a day like that but it was even a bit more.

It was a day I attended a baseball game of any kind for the first time with a guy I’ve known for over thirty-five years and one of my closest friends.

One might ask: How could that happen? How could that be? Those were questions I asked myself, too. But you see, sometimes when life takes you in different directions, these things occur. John has been a buddy for as long as I can remember. But, as he would readily admit himself, he’s been a bit of a nomad. Our lives couldn’t be any different. I took the road of wife, kids, house, mortgage; John took the road of “never leaving my hat in one place too long.”

Though close for the first ten years of our friendship, we drifted apart as friends sometimes do. But a wonderful thing occurred when I moved to Arizona almost thirteen years ago. I started getting lots visits, many unexpected, from family and friends and each and every visit has been a wonderful gift. One of those unexpected visits came when John showed up at my door in the late fall of 1994, about four months after I arrived in the Valley of the Sun. He was the first friend to pay me a visit in my new home. And he’s been making the trip just about every year since.

Usually, we take hikes into the desert, climb a few mountains, go listen to some live music, and always down a few beers together. This year, John’s recuperating from hip replacement surgery so he’s somewhat limited in those types of activities (except the beer drinking, of course). I suggested we take in a relaxing Spring Training game. As with most things I suggest we do, this still doe-eyed-for-life friend of mine answered, “Yes! Far out!”

When we walked inside the Mariner’s stadium about ninety minutes before game time, John was like a kid in a candy store.

“This is beautiful,” he glowed, as he stared at the meticulously manicured, empty playing field that lay out in front of his wide eyes. “I can’t wait to hear that sound. The sound of the ball popping the leather of a catcher’s mitt.”

He made the noise by slapping his hands together and making a popping sound from his mouth. I wondered: How could I not know he loved baseball that much?

“When was the last time you were at a game?” I asked.

“1989,” he said. “I was living in Carbondale then, working for the Post Office. They had one of those bus trips where you drink a keg on the way to the game and then another one on the way back. We went to Busch Stadium to see the Cubs play the Cardinals.”

A sinking feeling came over me—oh no, what if John’s a Cubs fan? I love this guy like one of my brothers but if he’s a Cubs fan…well, I didn’t even want to think about it. Every guy who’s ever been a real good buddy of mine becomes an even better pal when I know he roots for the Sox. How could I have known John all these years and never known if he’s a Sox fan? What would I do now?

I had to ask him. I took a deep breath.

“You know, John, I’ve always wondered. When you were growing up, did you root for the White Sox or the Cubs?”

As I asked the question I realized how silly it seemed. How could I have been as close to John all these years and never talked about baseball? And what if he answered wrong? Would I think of him any differently?

Maybe.

He looked at me as if I stabbed him in the heart, eyebrows fully raised in shock.

“What’s the matter with you?” he snapped. “I’m a Pollack from South Chicago. How could I ever be a Cubs fan?”

It was a dumb question. My dad and Sister Mary Arthur had always told me that I have a tendency to do that—ask dumb questions. And I did feel a little ashamed but not as much as I felt relief. If he were a Cubs fan and I didn’t know it all this time, it would’ve been like finding out my wife was having an affair for 33 years of a 34 year marriage.

“There was this one-legged lady who lived behind us in The Bush, right across the alley, who used to take me to Comiskey Park all the time,” he said. “She’d take me on the bus. We’d catch the #27 green limousine at 83rd and Commercial and take it to the L at 63rd and Cottage, then down to the ballpark. One of my oldest memories is of walking up those big, concrete steps with her holding my hand, looking for our seats and hearing the leather creak in her artificial leg all the way there.”

He belly laughed. “That’s a sound you never forget as a little kid. It’s synonymously etched in my mind whenever I think of baseball.”

We laughed together now as he continued to reminisce and as I pictured this site in my mind’s eye. Life’s come full-circle, I thought, as I walked slowly around the Peoria ballpark with him as he gingerly limped, supporting himself with the use of a cane.

“And remember those seats?” he asked. “When you sat in those seats in Comiskey they had so much green paint on them that the paint actually became thicker than the steel the armrests were made of.”

We laughed even louder as I agreed with his anything but perfunctorily precise description of the old ballpark’s wooden and steel seats. That I ever had an inkling of a thought that John was a Cubs fan had quickly vanished from my mind forever.

“And another thing, old Comiskey was the easiest ballpark to get a beer in,” he added. “Did you know you can’t get a beer as easy in Busch Stadium. Does that make any sense?”

I shook my head. No, that didn’t make any sense, I thought. Imagine that--tough to get a beer in the home of Augie Busch. Only a guy like John would surprise you with a trivial fact like that.

It’s amazing the surprises that Spring brings. Like finding that fifth starter or those unknown ballplayers who get a chance to make the big league club. Or, maybe finding out new things about old friends in the Arizona sun.

Go Sox!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pascal Marco is a free-lance writer who splits his time between Scottsdale, Arizona (where he formed the Arizona Sox Posse in 2005) and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, he has been a Sox fan since the unforgettable Go-Go White Sox days and has contributed to White Sox fan web sites such as www.whitesoxinteractive.com. He can be reached at reply85254@aol.com.

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