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Smelling the Roses

by Pascal Marco

he Chicago White Sox had just won Game 4 of the seven-game, 2005 American League Championship Series on the road against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Our group of Pale Hose fanatics had gathered once again in a north Scottsdale, Arizona sports pub and savored their latest victory. We thumped our respective chests, both men and women alike. One more win and the Sox would be crowned American League Champions for the first time since 1959. We could smell the roses. 

“I’m going to Anaheim! Anyone coming?” I waved my beer bottle with my spontaneous proclamation. Did I just say that? Maybe no one heard me. 

My war cry might not have been audible over our group’s shouts of joy ringing through the bar room. 

“Are you serious? You’re going to Anaheim?” my son, Dominic, asked. 

Usually, an exchange of this type went the other way between us. My nearly thirty-year-old bachelor son had backed-packed solo across four continents, scuba-dived cenotes in the Yucatan, hiked the Ho Chi Minh Trail and climbed Machu Picchu, not to mention kissing the Blarney Stone. Most conversations he would be telling me where he was off to next. By his age, I had four kids and a mortgage. 

“Yes, I’m serious. This chance may never come again in my lifetime.” 

My son is my hero, an inspiration to me of spontaneity and adventure. I, on the other hand, am the one who sees fear and danger where others see thrill and excitement.  This, in part, is why I have lived my life with many regrets, like not going to Woodstock because I needed to know how we’d get there and where we’d sleep--and where was Woodstock any how? I had also once passed up Janis Joplin tickets because I had to work that night at Princess Finer Foods and later The Doors tickets because I didn’t think my buddy really had them. Janis would be dead within a few months and Jim Morrison the next year. And, of course, Woodstock is now in the dictionary but not with my picture beside it. 

“Count me in!” Paul slurred his reply, the Coronas doing the brunt of his talking since the fifth inning. Like most of us there, he was another South-side Chicagoan transplanted to the Valley of the Sun who had joined our group of expatriate Sox fans. It was terrible for all of us not to be able to be in Chicago with our family and friends reveling in the hysteria that had engulfed our hometown. Each night this impromptu band of brothers and sisters gathered to watch the next playoff game, with each win our hopes growing in anticipation that this could be the year— the year we win it all. 

Turning to another friend, I asked, “How about you?” 

Originally from Brooklyn, Mike was a born and bred Yankee fan. Would he even want to be a serious part of my suggested Second City crusade west? The Sox had won only four American League Championships and two World Series in its history compared to 39 American League Pennants and 26 World Series for his Bronx Bombers. We weren’t even in their league, I thought. Heck, we weren’t even in their universe.

“If you go, I go,” he said, matter-of-factly. 

“How you gonna get tickets?” Dominic asked. “I heard they’re sold out.”  

This question, I asked myself, coming from my progeny who had trekked alone to the Lost City in Colombia? 

“Yeah,” Paul barked, exuberated but teetering in his inebriation. “How will we get tickets?” 

“We’ll get in the game,” I answered cock-sure. “Don’t worry about that.” 

I hadn’t the foggiest idea whatsoever how to obtain tickets. But, in my bones I knew I had to be in that California stadium--“The Big A”--cheering on my beloved White Sox, praying that their miraculous season continued. That little voice told me, too, that I needed to overcome my fear of doing something totally unplanned, something completely on impulse. Unquestionably, not my M.O: see Woodstock reference above.

 “I’ll call you guys later tonight after I check online for tickets. Either way, we’ll have to leave about six in the morning. You guys up for that?”

“Count me in,” Mike answered first. 

“I’ll have to see how I feel in the morning, Dad,” Dominic replied as he took a final swig of his beer. 

Feel? I asked myself. This from a kid who overcame dysentery in Cambodia? 

“Six? When will we be back? I have to be at work at five Monday.” Paul didn’t look like he’d be ready for work by Christmas, let alone in less than 48 hours.

“I’ll have you back before you have to go to work, Paul. Don’t worry.” 

Again, I made a promise I had no idea I could keep; but this was the decisive game. If we won, we’d go to the World Series. There was no room for crying now. As Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmy Dugan, said so perfectly in the movie A League Of Their Own “There’s no crying in baseball!”

“I’m calling you all at ten tonight. Let me know if you’re in or not. If you are, we drive to LA. Okay?” 

All nodded in agreement. 

I raced home and began my frantic search on the Internet for tickets. You don’t really think you’ll get tickets, do you? That’s a long, long drive to make with no tickets.

The Angels Web site said nothing was available. Period. Don’t come to the ballpark, it warned, and scalpers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Hmmm. That’s aphone call I didn’t want to have to make: “Honey, I’m in the Orange County jail. Can you wire me bail?” 

A thought flashed into my head. As a boy, I recollected my dad telling me about the legendary 1927 Dempsey-Tunney heavyweight championship fight held at Chicago’s Soldier Field. He told me it was the biggest sports event of the century. Over 100,000 people packed the stadium. 

“You were at that fight, Dad?” I had asked. ”Sure was.”  

“How’d you get tickets?” 

“Tickets. Who had tickets? We were kids. We snuck into all the big events, all the big games. There was no way we were gonna miss ‘em. I saw Notre Dame beat USC there, too, in ’29, 13 to 12. 112,000 fans. Largest crowd to ever see a football game.” 

“Weren’t you afraid of getting caught?” 

“Son, you’ll learn someday you might only get one chance to smell the roses. Better do it when you can.” 

Jolted back to reality, I thought: That’s it. No matter what, we’re getting into Game 5 even if we have to sneak in. Of course, as a fifty-year-old man I didn’t give much thought to the fact that Dad was a young lad when he performed those stealthy feats. Nonetheless, I was determined to be inside The Big A to see this game. Life was not going to pass me by. Not now. Not on this one. No more regrets. 

Mike was the only one who met me the next morning. It seemed that Dominic had forgotten he had committed to meet with his study group all day. He was attending ASU grad school and he couldn’t compromise his time; and Paul decided that work Monday over-rode destiny. If they only knew. I made both those excuses more than once. 

“Blow it off,” I had pleaded with Dominic late the night before on the phone. 

“I can’t, Dad. I made a promise to the group. We have a huge project due this week. We can’t miss the deadline.” 

The stone had turned, for sure. It was the son lecturing the father that responsibility comes before fun. Someday, he’ll have this story to tell to his son, I thought. 

Mike and I arrived in Anaheim by noon, five and one-half hours before the first pitch. The employee parking lot was all that was open, just letting in the earliest arriving staff. The stadium would not open for another three hours. We made small talk with Bob, the lot attendant, who informed us that he had heard a rumor earlier in the morning that Angels’ management might be releasing some tickets when the box office opened. 

“Really?” we asked in unison. “There might be tickets?” 

“Don’t know for sure,” said Bob. “Box office opens in a coupl’a hours. I guess you’ll just have to go there and find out.” 

We huddled and put our game plan together. I would stay with the car, which I’d have to keep moving since the public lots weren’t open yet. He would scope the outside of the stadium to find out if Bob’s rumor might have any truth to it. If Mike went the scalper route, we made an agreement to spend up to $350.00 per ticket to get in. We hadn’t come all this way to watch the game from some bar next to Disneyland. I wasn’t going to feel like Goofy with his pal, Mickey Mouse. 

After about an hour, Mike called me on his cell. 

“Scuttlebutt here is that when they open the box office some last-minute tickets might be available. But, I’ll need to stand in line to get a number.” 

“Well, get in line then,” I ordered my buddy. “And keep me posted.” 

It seemed like hours before Mike called again. When he did, my heart raced with anticipation. 

“I’ve got a number. I’m 59,” Mike’s voice crackled in my earpiece. “59! 59!” I shouted into my headset as I drove through the mid-afternoon Anaheim traffic, circling the stadium for the fourteenth time. “Do you know the significance of that number?” I asked Mike, screaming now. 

“Yeah, it means there’s 58 friggin’ people ahead of me.” 

My New Yorker pal’s wisecrack didn’t fluster me. 

“No, no, Mike! 59? 1959? The last time the Sox won the pennant! It’s an omen.I’m feelin’ it, man. California dreamin’, Baby!” 

Southern California’s karma flowed. I stayed on the phone. I couldn’t hang-up now. I wouldn’t be able to stand the tension waiting for his number to be called. When it was, I heard Mike ask for the two best seats in the house. 

“Well, what do they got?” I shrieked. “What do they got?” 

I sensed a hesitation before he answered me. No fear. Not now. 

“How’s second row, box seats, right in line with third? $125.00 each?” came his cool-as-a-cucumber reply. 

“Are you kidding?” I hollered. “Yes! Take ‘em! Take ‘em!” 

By this time, the lots had opened. I parked the car and ran to where Mike had said to meet him--between the Disney-like, huge, twin, red, batting helmets standing like sentinels outside the stadium’s main entrance. 

“Unbelievable!” I cried when I saw him. I hugged this Yankee fan, this devotee of champion of champions. 

We headed for the turnstiles and quickly found our seats. It immediately became apparent that we were on the enemy’s side of the ballpark as we were surrounded in a sea of red, jersey festooned, Angels fans. The seats, though, as described, were right in line with third base, about 75 feet from the field, close to the action in a beautifully manicured ballpark. A mist began to fall, then became a light rain as dusk came. Twilight passed and, as forecast, the rain fell harder through a gloriously cool night. The stadium looked grand as its huge lights twinkled and washed over the emerald-green field. I was about to watch my White Sox in a decisive league championship game, a rarity indeed for any Sox fan. 

Our seats were two seats in from the aisle. The four seats in front of us, as well as the two to our right, stayed empty up until about fifteen minutes before the first pitch when they were filled by six people all decked out in genuine Angels jerseys and starter jackets. High rollers, I thought. As the first person took their seat next to me, a lady a little younger than me with a bright smile, I thought that I might as well break the news to her she’d soon discover. 

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m a Sox fan,” I said with a devilish grin. 

She looked at me, a little perplexed. She didn’t respond immediately but after a moment tersely asked, “How did you get these seats?” 

“I bought ‘em,” I said, throwing some Cracker Jack in my mouth. 

She looked even more puzzled. The others in her entourage scanned me suspiciously, seemingly all at once. The tone of her voice inched-up slightly, as did the volume. 

“Do you know whose seats these are?” 

“Yeah, dere mine.” 

I answered in my best Chicago-ese with maybe a twinge of Jim Croce’s lyrics about Leroy Brown being from the baddest part of town ringing in my ears. Had this verbal sparring occurred at Chicago’s old Comiskey Park, fisticuffs surely would have followed. 

Looking stunned, she tilted her head sideways and eyed the rest of her group, each now crane-necked into her interrogation. 

She turned back to me and said, “I don’t believe it. Let’s see your tickets.” 

A demand. This lady wasn’t fooling. 

“Look. See. Row B. Seat 10,” I replied, holding out my ticket stub, as did Mike. The eyebrows rose on her siblings. Seemingly still not satisfied with my answers to her questioning, she went on. 

“Do you know who we are?” 

“Angels fans?” 

I couldn’t help the smart-aleck response. Memories of stern warnings from my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Arthur, popped into my head. She had always lectured me that “smart-mouthing,” as she called it, would get me in trouble some day. I prayed this wasn’t the day for my reprisal at the hands of this lady in red. 

“You really don’t know, do you? These are Art Moreno’s box seats. Owner of the Angels? We’re his sisters and brother, and these are our spouses.” 

She then went on to explain that her brother used these as extra VIP seats. Magic Johnson and his guest had been in them last night, she said. Guessing their brother had no takers for tonight’s contest, they surmised that he must have released these two seats just before the game. It seemed that the number 59 Mike had pulled in the ticket lottery was a premonition that really paid off. 

Incredulous at our enormous luck, but nevertheless, still all South-sider, I turned to my Brooklyn buddy, silent during the whole ordeal, and said, “Hey, Mike. Whadya know? You bought Artie Moreno’s seats!” 

We high-fived each other. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends back in Chicago, some I was still in touch with since kindergarten. “Yeah, that’s right, Murph, I was there. I went to Anaheim. I was there, man, can you believe it? That’s right, yeah…in the owner’s box seats… yeah…” And, if the Sox won the game, then it would be even more inconceivable. No one would believe me. 

And they did win. With the Sox behind going into the top of the seventh, 3 to 2, things hadn’t looked good especially with the rain continuing to fall. But Joe Crede tied the game that inning with a solo homerun and then put us ahead for good in the top of the eighth with his run-scoring hit. When Paul Konerko stepped on the bag at first for the last out in the bottom of the ninth sealing the victory, I experienced a joy that I couldn’t explain. I cheered uncontrollably along with thousands of other Sox fans that also managed to be there to witness this incredible feat as we rushed toward our heroes on the field. We were champs! 

But, more meaningfully for me, I overcame my anxieties and made all this happen for myself. I chose to go, to be in the stadium, to be at the game. As it turned out, I didn’t need to sneak in like Dad did all those years ago at Soldier Field. The Sox would go on to win the World Series sweeping the Houston Astros in four games, becoming World Champions again--the first time since 1917. The curse of the 1919 Black Sox would be lifted forever as would my own curse and the memory of the missed opportunities of my youth. 

As Mike and I drove home that night through a thunderous rainstorm in the desert expanse between Anaheim and Phoenix, I telephoned one of my brothers. The skies flashed in a 360-degree lightning show. It was something that I had never experienced. It was indescribable. Adrenaline rushed through me. I had never felt this way before. I wasn’t afraid. My life’s most constant companion, fear, had seemed to become a distant memory. At that very moment, I felt free. 

“You were there for all of us, you know. For everyone in the family, everyone in the neighborhood. You know that, don’t you?” my oldest brother said. “We couldn’t believe you were there. It made watching it so much more exciting knowing you were in the park.” 

He struggled to talk, his emotions getting the best of him, but went on. 

“Dad was the biggest Sox fan… if he could’ve have only been here… known you were there… ” 

“I know. I know,” I said, choking back my own tears. The cliché seemed trite but  told him I knew our Dad was there with me as was, in my heart, every White Sox fan I had ever known.  

The next day, I sent a bouquet of roses to Dad’s grave.

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