In the running for "Best fan story of the year" is SungWoo Lee. You would remember him during his trip to Kansas City this summer in which the Royals and fellow fans made it the ultimate experience. Expect him to be on television Tuesday evening for Game 1 as Erin Andrews chats with him for a half inning about being a Royals fan in South Korea for 20 years and what that experience is like.
Baseball has such a global outreach that you can find fans of teams anywhere. Take the Chicago White Sox for example and South Side Sox. People listen to our podcast in more than 25 countries with the most popular listening destinations in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Canada. So I know that the White Sox contingency exists outside of North America.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to take an adventure. For the first time in my life, I left the country and visited Paris for a short stay before chunneling to London. The anticipation was overwhelming counting down the days to fly away. One small problem; In my excitement booking the trip, I totally disregarded the White Sox. Foolish me, our flight was on September 26th and it had us landing in Paris the morning of the 27th. Which meant I was going to miss out not only Paul Konerko's farewell, but the season finale. Now I was going to learn first hand the difficulties following my beloved team while being so far away and I didn't want to miss any of the action.
Which is why, I reached out to probably the only White Sox fan in Paris. His name is Ken, but we as a community know him as ParisSox. I gave him a tall task to help me with my problem:
1) Needed to find a place that had Wi-Fi.
2) Needed to find a place that had good food
3) Needed to find a place that would have the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers game (Girlfriend is a die- hard Bears fan and if I couldn't miss the Sox finale, she couldn't miss the Bears game)
If you haven't been to Paris, just know that there are a lot of places that have Wi-Fi, great food and plenty of places to drink. That's not going to be a problem, but finding a place that carries American football I thought was going to be a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, ParisSox knew exactly where that needle was. A sports bar called The Great Canadian.
Yes, a Canadian sports bar. Imagine what a stereotypical Canadian sports bar would be. If you picture Hockey memorabilia plastered everywhere, maple leafs, and wood paneling covering every inch of space, you my friend have The Great Canadian. Why they have NFL Sunday Ticket is beyond me, but according to ParisSox, its the only place in Paris that has it. Good to keep in mind if ever visiting the city of lights during football season and you can't miss a game.
The time difference alone makes it almost impossible for these fans to watch games live and if it wasn't for the writing of Jim Margalus, Steve Peters, Patrick Nolan, and larry I have no clue where they would get the information on the team to quench their White Sox thirst. ParisSox was kind enough to share his experience being a Sox fan abroad.
Josh: First question is always the same when meeting a Sox fan. How did you become a White Sox fan?
ParisSox: I was five years old, and my friends forced me to make a choice. I was in Schaumburg at the time and I remember vividly that the White Sox were good and the Cubs were bad. My dad was a Sox fan and my grandfather was a Sox fan so it was an easy choice.
Josh: So, why Paris?
ParisSox: I was a tourist and absolutely in love with the place. I learned while having dinner with another ex-pat that I could actually get an Irish passport because my father was born in Ireland. With an Irish passport, you can live and work anywhere in Europe. On the plane ride home I decided in five years I was going to move there.
It was a big risk but it was a calculated risk. You have your experience and you have your education to trust that you can always go back if it doesn't work out.
Josh: What's it like being a White Sox fans overseas?
ParisSox: When I first moved here it was really hard. I didn't know if the blog (SSS) existed or if there were any blogs. I was following Chicago Tribune Sports, which we won't go there. It was really hard to get good information. It was hard to watch the games because MLB.tv wasn't ready yet. I was fading away from paying attention.
Now with MLB.tv and the app for the iPhone and iPad to watch anywhere, along with the blog its almost as if I am in Chicago. The only thing I miss is the emotional element of being around other fans. Like I can imagine Paul Konerko's last game and all of the emotion watching the highlights but its not the same as being there. You miss that camaraderie. Something great happens and I just want to tell someone. I tell my wife and she's absolutely no idea what I'm talking about.
Josh: Since being in France the only baseball related thing I have seen is an Eiffel Tower souvenir baseball.
ParisSox: They have a souvenir baseball?
Josh: Believe it or not.
ParisSox: Cool, I have to get one for my daughter.
Josh: What have you learned about France and their affiliation with baseball? Does anyone in France watch or understand the game?
ParisSox: There are leagues. Guys sign up to be members and each city has a team. Its like a softball league where they play in parks and there are not a lot of people.
The French do have a national team and in March during Spring Training they went to play against the San Diego Padres minor leaguers to learn and get better.
But in France and Paris nobody follows it or understands it. The hardest thing is that I have been trying to teach my wife. For someone who doesn't get baseball, watching it is impossible for them to learn. If you have no reference, all you see is the pitcher and hitter on TV without knowing who is behind them. Why is he swinging? Why is he not? Why is the umpire doing this for a strike? And why does he do nothing for a ball? Why when he hits it and gets caught he is out and the other time he is not (because it bounced beforehand)? Its incredibly difficult to teach unless you are watching it live. When we finally saw a game live, suddenly she understood it.
Josh: Where did you take her to watch a game?
ParisSox: U.S. Cellular Field.
Josh: What was that like for her?
ParisSox: It was great. She loved it not so much for the game but for the picnic. To the French its like one big outdoor picnic.
Josh: What's the experience like attending a sporting event in France compared to the United States?
ParisSox: Its very similar. People wear jerseys and paint their faces. Lots of singing which is weird. Its like every team has their own theme song. But the fandom is pretty strong.
What I did learn about Europe is when we went to London to watch the Bears and we talked to some French people who went, I asked them "Why are you a fan of the Bears?" They said "Well don't really follow them but we like the sport so we just picked a team."
Not sure if any of the other international fans say the same thing about the White Sox but it would be interesting to find out how they are White Sox fans. With american football they like a team for whatever reason but there's no emotional attachment to that team.
Josh: We've seen Major League Baseball play games in Japan and this past season the Dodgers andDiamondbacks started the year in Australia. Do you think it would be worthwhile for Major League Baseball to try and expand into Europe?
ParisSox: Yes, absolutely. Most notably in Holland because it is so popular there. They are building a stadium in which they've called Major League Baseball to consult with them to make sure they were doing it right. They actually shipped infield dirt from America to make sure they were getting the right kind to meet standards, with the hope that will get Major League games there.
I think its worth it. People who understand cricket can easily understand baseball. I think baseball has lot of potential in the UK, in Holland, and baseball is big in Belgium. I have a friend from Belgium who is a Yankees fan so I have one guy who I can talk baseball with.
Josh: For White Sox fans that are in Paris during baseball season, where do you recommend to watch the games?
ParisSox: My apartment (laughs). There was a bar owned by a White Sox fan from Chicago called Millers Pub. I don't know if it still exists. There is a bar in the 19th, that is a restaurant/bar themed after the Blues Brothers, and they show the World Series. Sometimes the BBC plays baseball, but other than that, its a real challenge.