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06-14-2002, 08:36 AM
From AOL sports....

It's South Side vs. North Side When Chicago Teams Play

.c The Associated Press

CHICAGO (June 13) -- Every year, a player or two will try to claim the Crosstown Series is just another couple of games, no different than a series against, say, Kansas City or Cincinnati.

Frank Thomas hears this and simply shakes his head. After all these years, he knows better. The Crosstown Series isn't just baseball, it's the sport's equivalent of a civil war.

"The fans hate each other really, really bad and they definitely want to beat each other,'' said Thomas, who qualifies as an expert after spending his entire career with the White Sox on the South Side and living in Chicago in the offseason.

"In those six games, it's like all that really matters to a lot of our fans is the city bragging rights.''

And no wonder. Baseball roots run deep in Chicago, with loyalties passed down from generation to generation. South Siders root for the White Sox while North Siders cheer for the Cubs. Even families who move from one side of town to the other hold tight to their original allegiance.

There's no switching sides, either. When the Cubs are playing their NL schedule, White Sox fans still root against them and vice versa. When the White Sox made the playoffs two years ago, Cubs fans turned their attention to football rather than jump on the bandwagon.

For 50 weeks out of the year, fans jaw back and forth in bars, offices and backyards about whose team is better, eagerly awaiting the two weekends where things can be settled on the field.

"I enjoy it,'' Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "It's a little rougher than you would think. It reminds me of the Cardinals, maybe a little dirtier. Dirtier means more vocal.''

The fans will be out early and the beer will be flowing Friday at Wrigley Field, where Crosstown I will be played. The North Siders will travel to Comiskey Park in two weeks for Crosstown II.

Fans will cheer for their own team and come up with creative ways to insult the other. They'll taunt the players, starting with batting practice. As the day wears on, there's bound to be a fight or two.

And as if any more drama is needed, there's an added subplot with Jon Garland starting for the White Sox on Friday. That would be the same Jon Garland who was the Cubs' No. 1 draft pick in 1997. Traded to the White Sox in July 1998, he's developed into a promising young pitcher.

"It'll be crazy,'' Baylor said. "Some guys have never experienced it. They'll find the difference, I guarantee you. People are out early for BP. Once they see the crush of all the media there, they'll understand something's up.''

And regardless of what they say, the players get into it, too. OK, they may not be as passionate as Ron Santo, who, almost 30 years later, still burns about being exiled to the South Side at the end of his career. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko even said he'd go to a game at Wrigley as a fan.

"As far as the fans and atmosphere, Wrigley and Fenway Park are the two best places,'' he said. "I'd go out of my way to go to a game at Wrigley. That's a great place.''

But with the stadiums packed and the fans screaming, the players can't help but get caught up in the excitement. Three years ago, after the upstart White Sox had beaten the Cubs at Wrigley, Ray Durham stood on a walkway outside the visitor's clubhouse and laughed as Cubs fans below heckled him.

When Jose Valentin homered at Wrigley last year, he stunned Cubs fans with what sure looked like an imitation of Sammy Sosa's kiss-blowing, heart-thumping routine.

"We know it's a big series,'' White Sox infielder Tony Graffanino said. "We know there will be a lot of excitement, a lot of electricity form the fans. Hopefully they will help us raise our game to another level.''

Both teams come into the weekend struggling. The White Sox are at .500 and just four games out of the AL Central, but their potent offense has been sluggish the past few weeks. They might score 10 runs one day, but struggle to get two the next.

The Cubs' woes, as usual, go far deeper. Expected to challenge for the NL Central title this year, they're instead 26-38 and 10 games out. Their rotation is solid, but the bullpen is shaky and their offense practically nonexistent.

Moises Alou and Fred McGriff were supposed to give the Cubs one of the best 3-4-5 punches in the NL, but Sosa has been a one-man show again so far.

"We might have to buy some runs. They might have to do the same thing,'' White Sox manager Jerry Manuel joked. "Then again, in that type of series, both offenses could break loose.

"You can flip a coin in this thing. You never know what's going to happen.'