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How I Became A Sox Fan

by Kevin Kaufman

            “I can understand the mentality of the 23-year-old college graduate from out of town who lands a job in Chicago.  Where’s he going to live?  Which team is he going to adopt?  Where is he going to find more people his age, more nightlife, more opportunity to meet the opposite sex?  Cubbie-town, of course.” 

            — Richard Roeper, Sox and the City.

 

The above quote sums up what I did when I first moved to Chicago.  I arrived in 1995 from East Lansing via Cleveland, yet I’m a Sox fan.  I’m like the adult convert to Catholicism.  As many infant-baptized Catholics ask, “why did you do that?”  Lifelong Sox fans ask the same question.  At first, I couldn’t desert my loyalty to Cleveland, but the Cubs were in the National League and the odds of an Indians-Cubs World Series were remote.  So, I made more trips to Wrigleyville than Bridgeport.  Coming from the outside, all of the charm seemed to be on the North side.

 This dual fandom would have remained intact if I didn’t do something that seemed like a good idea at the time.  For the 1996 baseball season, I became a security guard for the Chicago Cubs.  Now, not only was I a Cubs fan, but I was, however tangential, a part of the scene.  At first, the experience was great.  I got to throw drunks out, check out all of the pretty girls in the bleachers, and be at a ballpark for the better part of a summer.  I got to know some great folks, fellow employees and fans alike, and that first year was actually a lot of fun.  Something was happening though.  I didn’t get to watch the games, especially because the majority of my time at Wrigley was spent in the bleachers with my back to the game.  Every once in a while my family in Cleveland would spot me on Sportscenter, which was cool, but it usually meant I was doing one of the less desirable tasks, like breaking up a fight, fetching a ball from the shrubs, fetching a fan from the shrubs, etc.  I also realized that I didn’t like the National League style of play.  For all of the criticism of the American League being a station-to-station league, the Cubs of the late Nineties didn’t exactly burn up the base paths.  Give me a DH over a pitcher batting any day; it’s like watching a dog on ice, especially Randy Johnson. 

 If I stopped after that first year, I would still be a Cubs fan, truthfully.  Not only did I stay on for two more years, but I also worked two Cubs Conventions.  The overwhelming memory I associate with Cubs Convention is of a time when I was working at a café in East Lansing.  One weekend a Star Trek Convention was taking place across the street.  Denise Crosby’s documentary, Trekkie, is a pretty accurate picture of the scene.  The costumes, the lack of women, the invented language (Klingon for those who don’t know) were all on display, and while I don’t care how anyone gets their kicks, I couldn’t help but think of William Shatner’s classic rant from Saturday Night Live, “Move out of your mother’s basement and get a life!”  After three days among the most dedicated Cub fans, I felt exactly the same way. 

 The turn away from the Cubs was complete the last year that I worked at Wrigley Field, 1998. The love for a decaying relic struck me as borderline religious fanaticism.  Wrigley Field, while a nice enough place, is falling apart.  The bathrooms are in horrible shape, the stands are crumbling and while some of the seats are wonderful, many of them are awful.  Yet, every game bus loads of people come to see the park, sing the song and drink a beer with Harry, or toast his memory.  People asked, “don’t you love it here?” and the answer was, “only when the it’s empty.”  1998 was also the year of Sammy and Kerry Wood. This was the first playoff push in ten years and the embrace by so many casual fans of the culture of losing was just plain nauseating.  People, like me, transplanted to Chicago, acting as though this losing was romantic.  Twentysomethings, mugging for the cameras, saying that they had waited their “whole life for this” drove me crazy.

 It wasn’t just the Cubs and their fans, the worship of losing and a decrepit park that turned me to the south side of town.  It had a lot to do with the Sox as well.  Almost as soon as I moved to the city, I started going to Sox games, usually against the Cleveland Indians.  When I started working at Wrigley Field, I started going more regularly to Comiskey.  I loved the atmosphere compared to Wrigley.  You may be asking “what atmosphere?” I loved being able to walk up to the ticket window the day of the game and get a decent ticket, just like when I grew up.  I loved going to games and not being crowded.  I liked walking the concourse with ease, not waiting for twenty minutes in the concession line, and clean bathrooms.  I felt a kinship with the fans as I started to get to know the history of the ball club.  It wasn’t forced down my throat like all of the Cubs history.  Without trying, I know what a black cat, billy goat and a Bartman mean to a Cubs fan.  The Sox fans had it right.  Losing is not romantic or glorious; it just sucks.  Sox fans were upset with losing and demanded more from their team.

 The event that made me abandon Cleveland had little to do with baseball.  When the Cleveland Browns left, I simply could not believe it.  As much as the town loved the Indians, it was (and always will be) a Browns town.  If the Browns weren’t loyal, why should I stay loyal to the team?  They obviously didn’t care about the fans, why should I care about them?  I hadn’t lived there for over 10 years (now 20) and have no plans for going back.  It didn’t hurt that the Indians began to tank after the 1997 season and I was still attending games at US Cellular Field.  At that point something else happened, the Sox hired someone I took an immediate interest in, Jerry Manuel.

Expressing an admiration for Jerry Manuel makes most of Soxdom scream, “Not that guy!  That zombie! Ugh, he was horrible!”  I avoid that argument, but when the Sox hired him I was immediately impressed with him and the organization.  One of my biggest pet peeves in all of sport is the continual recycling of coaches and managers.  It is amazing how many times “good baseball men” or “good football guys” can secure a job, even though their past performance is mediocre at best.  The Sox, since I’ve been watching anyway, have gone the opposite route.  They give younger, less experienced candidates a chance, something I wish more teams would do.  Manuel was different from most coaches.  He was soft spoken, believed in non-violence, earning him the nickname Gandhi, and was passionate about his faith.  What’s more, unlike so many in professional sports, he seemed genuine.  My admiration for Manuel stems from the fact that I’m not much of a rah-rah guy.  I don’t particularly thrive on being yelled at, so for me, Manuel was the perfect coach.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t what the Sox needed and he was dismissed after the 2003 season, to much applause from White Sox fans.  It was, however, one of the main reasons I consider myself a Sox fan.  I found myself openly rooting for this guy I so admired.  When they made it to the 2000 playoffs, I was thrilled; after the sweep I was crushed.

 The 2003 playoffs made me feel like a Sox fan because of the Cubs.  As the Cubs progressed through the playoffs, my feelings alternated from anger to fear to disgust and back to anger.  I could not believe all of the hype connected to the Cubs and their playoff run.  People running into the streets, partying like it was VE day just made me crazy.  What’s more, after trying to embrace some civic pride and wish the Cubs well, I found myself rooting for the Florida Marlins.  It felt like something out of Star Wars, I gave into my hate, my turn to the dark side almost complete.  What completed my training, to keep the Jedi/Sith metaphor going, was a surprise that still shocks me. 

 My 2004 season tickets are forever remembered as “The Greatest Christmas Present Ever.”  My wife, God Bless her holy name, wanted to give me a present that was special because the summer and fall of 2003 had been particularly hard for us.  She had a complicated pregnancy and our son was born six weeks premature.  I never saw this kind of present coming and I still thank her for it to this day.  Season tickets were just incredible.  The big box of tickets arriving; the extra benefits; having a ticket representative was such a treat that it made me giddy.  I loved knowing that my seats were waiting.  I was a part of the park and I wasn’t working either, this was strict enjoyment.  The 2004 season ended in disappointment, but being a season ticket holder was such a great experience that I was completely and utterly devoted to the Sox.

 Being devoted was a good thing because it made 2005 all the sweeter.  I was hotly anticipating the season.  If the Sox had won ten years earlier, I wouldn’t have cared.  If it were five years earlier, I would have enjoyed it, but not nearly as much.  When the Sox won in 2005, I wanted to shake hands and hug everyone I saw in a Sox cap.  I went to the parade and cheered like no tomorrow.  The White Sox are my team.  I wasn’t born into it, but like those adult Catholic converts, I’m a true believer. 

 


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