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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Arizona Heat
by Pascal Marco

Arizona Wrap-up

by Pascal Marco

As I submit my final Spring Training report for www.whitesoxinteractive.com, I, along with thousands of other White Sox fans, expectantly wait for Opening Day, 2007. This opener will be the 107th for one of the charter teams of the American League.

The Sox have left the Arizona heat and have traveled for exhibition games; first east to Birmingham, Alabama, then on to Atlanta. After that, they’ll head to Chicago where they will take the field at U. S. Cellular for practice on Sunday in preparation for Monday’s home opener against Cleveland.

Growing-up, home openers were more than just the start of another baseball season. It heralded spring’s certain arrival back to Chicago and held the promise that warm weather would soon return. It wouldn’t be long before we could once again jump into Lake Michigan off “The Rocks” at Calumet Park on the city’s far southeast side where I once called home way back when.

During those memorable first home openers I attended, it was more a coming of age than anything else. My first home opener, in 1968, came toward the end of my sophomore year at St. Francis de Sales High School. Calling off sick took some doing back then, but I always believed Mrs. Butcher, our attendance lady, was a Sox fan and eased up our her typical “you better really be sick” reply when you called in to report your sudden illness that early April day.

The Sox lost that 1968 opener to the same Cleveland Indians, 9-0. Our hopes were so high that particular year. Joel Horlen started the game after having one of the best seasons ever for a White Sox pitcher. Horlen lead the AL in 1967 with a 2.06 ERA (the last time a White Sox pitcher lead the league in this category), a .731 winning percentage and tied for the league lead with 6 shutouts.

And, oh, by the way, he also had time to throw in a no-hitter that year. In my opinion, he deserved the AL Cy Young Award in 1967 but that award, begrudgingly for Sox fans, went to Jim Lonborg after Boston’s pennant winning season.

Sox starters Horlen, Tommy John and Gary Peters combined for an amazing 15 shutouts in ’67, a feat, I’m sure if someone took the time to research, has to be one of the best all-time in the American League, maybe even in baseball.

I can’t tell you what the weather was on April 10, 1968 but my guess is that it was cold--very cold. Home openers must be cold or else it’s not a home opener. I really can’t remember a warm weather opening day. I looked at the weather forecast for this Monday and the weather experts are calling for low to mid 60’s—a veritable balmy day by home opener standards. But, I’ve seen and experienced Opening Day predictions like this before only to freeze my ass off when game time rolled around, even after I filled myself with antifreeze courtesy of McCuddy’s, the venerable watering hole that was a must visit for every Opening Day fan.

The typical, bitter cold that accompanied 90+% of Opening Days never made me feel sorry for myself, though, nor for my buddies with whom I attended the game. We all knew this was a badge of honor you earned by attending the opener whatever the conditions. We really never cared what the temperature was at game time. All we cared about was waiting for the singing of the National Anthem. There is no other day throughout the regular season when the song sounds so beautiful to your ears. The only thing better is possibly the sound of the umpire calling “strike one” on the first batter our Opening Day starter faces. These two, by far, are the sweetest sounds of spring.

I always did feel sorry for White Sox players, though, who had to play in that bitter cold. I remember one opener where Carlos May wore a red knit cap under his batting helmet and cap the entire game. He looked so cold he made me shiver. Obviously, he hadn’t been able to hit McCuddy’s before the game as I was able to do when I came of legal drinking age in the 70’s. Had Chuck Tanner known of the 35th Street tavern’s warming medicinal spirits that flowed there before, during and after the game, I’m sure he would have sent Carlos and his entire team there to “warm-up,” as it were.

After covering the current team this year in Arizona and watching them play in temps that hovered many days in the high 90’s, it’s a wonder they can make the adjustment to the cold elsewhere in the country. We put so much emphasis on their efforts at Spring Training and yet I see now after watching it so closely that it truly is a time to warm-up for the long, many times, cold couple of months ahead. Players and coaching staff are right, I believe, when they say that the record when they leave Tucson means nothing. It’s only after Opening Day when the record that counts. Period. If there’s one opinion I can leave in readers’ minds after this 2007 Spring Training camp, then it would be that.

I attended every home opener, save for one or two, until 1992. The previous year, 1991, the Sox moved into the “New Comiskey Park” and the home opener just wasn’t the same in the new ballpark after that in my opinion. The new park didn’t have the same karma the old park had. And, of course, McCuddy’s was now gone, it former footprint being forever a memory under the northern girders of what is now U.S. Cellular Field. And for me, an Opening Day without “Mrs. McCuddy” serving Old Style on tap and checking our I.D.s could never be the same.

But that doesn’t keep me from missing the feeling of attending the best day in baseball with my friends and family and the greatest fans in all of baseball.

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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