So, how did I get here?
My very first game at Comiskey Park was a June loss to the Yankees in the storied summer of 1977. Richie Zisk hit a home run deep to left-center field, over the roof and out of the park. Mind you, before the plate was moved up in the early 1980s, hitting a ball out of Comiskey Park was a rare and massive feat—more so when accomplished by the notoriously spaghetti-strand-swinging Chisox.
When you’re a kid, you forget a lot, so I don’t remember much from that first game. But watching Zisk’s clout soar higher and higher, then disappearing to leave everyone sitting around me to wonder what happened, that was magic. You don’t let go of that stuff.
A couple of years later, I was with a friend at jacket day. We bought general admission tickets, but for a sold-out weekend game, we couldn’t find seats together. So we watched the game from the Picnic Area.
Bummer, right? Well, we lingered long enough after the game, somehow not getting shooed out of the park, that we eventually made our way down to the White Sox dugout (the shock of all the tobacco stains!) and crashed the field to run the bases, ending with a slide into home.
Glory was first and briefly glimpsed in 1983, when the club went from also-ran to world-beater in the space of one exceptional second half, losing only 15 games after July and winning the AL West by an almost-impossible 20 games.
That late dominance made the team’s frozen bats in the ALCS vs. Baltimore all the more heartbreaking. My dad had enough connections to the team to score us ALCS seats, although even a child might question those contacts when our prime, fifteen dollar seats were wedged into the armpit of old, support column-scarred Comiskey. The Orioles came to town and brutalized us, right in front of my naive eyes, 11-1. Ron Kittle hit a double in his first at-bat, and the next chance he had, O’s starter Mike Flanagan kneecapped Kitty, knocking him out of the series.
The last time I can remember crying over a defeat was the next day, when Britt Burns lost a 10-inning heartbreaker, knocking the 99-win White Sox out of the playoffs. Curse ye, Tito Landrum!
Things get a little muddled after that, from “The Hawk Wants You” to those detestable curly-C unis to Hawk & Wimpy’s you can put it on the board...YES! to the exploding plastic inevitable of the falling-short 1993 and (sort of) 1994 division winners.
In September 1990, I drove up from Texas to see the White Sox play in Comiskey for the last time, and fancied myself bold for peeling a few chips of white paint off of the walls as a souvenir when I left, not fully comprehending that in mere weeks the glorious Palace would be reduced to looter-luring rubble.
By April of the next year, I was flying up to Chicago to see the White Sox debut in “Comiskey Park II,” and the less said about that day, the better. Although, to be fair, I sat out those agonizing final innings with my future best man, Jim Gasick, who’d soon become the father of one of our newest SSS contributors. Dig the intergenerational interplay!
I responded to getting what remains the best job in sports I’ve ever had by immediately taking a day off to watch the White Sox be embarrassed by the Seattle Mariners in the 2000 ALDS. Even grew a Jerry Manuel playoff beard for that ... one ... game. Somehow I’m still struck enough by that club to be wearing a 2000 A.L. Central Division Champions shirt as I type today—or maybe I’ve just stopped buying commemorative gear.
[In 1983, my dad and I were so eager to get “playoff shirts,” back in an era where the clothing wasn’t printed up automatically, win or lose, that we went to the local “shopping mall” and made “custom” A.L. West Champions shirts by ... arranging iron-on letters on a white cotton ringer T. It’s sort of funny to think not a single T-shirt design was widely available upon division clinch by a team that ran away from the pack by 20 games.]
I hardly need to get into 2005, right? Aside from seeing plenty of regular season games, I was lucky enough to get seats behind home plate for the entire run of the playoffs. (OK, like 30 rows behind, I’m not the M&Ms dude.) Took a Bill Veeck shower on that 80-degree ALDS Game 1 day and kissed the Minnie statue on the cheek for good luck. Stood stunned as A.J. Pierzynski ran to first to rescue the series against the Angels. Watched the wintry mix up in the stadium lights prior to Game 1 of the World Series. Lost my voice cheering the PK grand slam and Scotty Pods game-winner. And was one of a million at the parade a few days later.
Coincidentally, the very first baseball games I’d ever covered were in the September meltdown of 2005. Specifically, I was at the Joe Crede walk-off game on September 20, which represented the first pause in two weeks of the Pale Hose’s fall free-fall. The Cleveland Indians had carved seven games off the White Sox lead already, and before Crede’s dramatics, there was palpable panic at the park. Natch, I fumbled my way through the Sox clubhouse and thought not of decorum while plopping down to chat with Jermaine Dye (Sitting on a locker chair! Strictly verboten) to rap, and making Cliff Politte delay a couple of cold ones to talk to me postgame for a Sox game program feature.
Blackout 2008? I was there, thrilled to the core. Never has there been a White Sox game louder and more intimidating than that blackout crowd.
And then, after continuing to write dozens of features for the White Sox, and even a groundbreaking tome about Ozzie Guillen, I was able to cover the team full-time as a beat writer, wire to wire.
Yep, driving overnight with Mark Gonzales when our postgame flight in Minny got banged and we needed to get to Detroit the next day. Missing the first game of a doubleheader when my plane to the Motor City turned around and headed back to O’Hare midway through the trip. Becoming part of a Guinness world record for biggest crowd to wear lucha libre masks when the Anaheim Angels crowd got bored with, you know, watching baseball. Writing off-day copy in the pitch black of a grotty K.C. hotel after one of their charming Wizard of Oz specials blew the roof off of Kauffman, pleading just one more minute out of the laptop battery. Writing Blackhawks and White Sox copy on a Blackberry while covering both teams during the NHL playoffs, after my state-issued “netbook” had spat out its last bytes. Panicking when the Tampa TSA neglected to re-pack my camera gear, which a smarter man might have discovered sometime before arriving at Yankee Stadium that night.
Getting a chance to break up Hawk’s pregame reverie in the broadcast booth with a bum rush, breathlessly telling him how much his love of the game, and sense of the fun of the game, helped me fall in love with baseball. (Being on a first-name basis with a legend from then on.) Standing in a major league dugout and taking a pause to call my dad one of untold times, just remind myself, holy crap, I’m in a major league dugout. Having story subjects cross the field, or climb up into the press box, to say job well done. Working overtime—or taking extra time—to get it right. Playing fair, even if not everyone else is playing by the same rules.
I’ve already lived a dream life with the White Sox. And now, I get to cover them again, piloting South Side Sox.
Ol’ Minnie must be looking out for me up there.
Big shoes to fill, here. The indefatigable Jim Margalus led South Side Sox to its lofty and rightful status as the best White Sox site on the planet.
But, that said, big plans to fill them.
Which brings me to an important end note: South Side Sox is changing.
There will be more voices featured here. The bulk of the writing you read this season may well come from writers who have yet to grace these pages.
As the managing editor of this site, I plan to do much of both.
Managing SSS is a job in itself, especially with additional writers in the mix, not to mention Twitter, The Facebook and undoubtedly every one of the numerous media requests that will demand my time as the Grand Poohbah of this extraordinary site.
Being an editor will also factor in, with additional voices on board. Copy will be clean, colorful, crisp. I will be editing copy and updating stories as necessary, as the dull hum behind all of those voices.
In fact, contrary to this maudlin scrapbook scrape through my White Sox life, you should see my byline on site not front and center, but just blending right in with everyone else’s.
For now, allow us a bit of a spring training ourselves, as everything and everyone still is getting sorted out. We’ve got to run through some drills before submitting that Opening Day lineup card.
I will say we’ve already got a new annual feature coming from KenWo4LiFe that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. I hope it will be just the first of many.
Nothing left for me to say but: South Side Sox fans, sit back, relax, and strap it down.
Brett Ballantini is the managing editor of South Side Sox. Both Chris Sale and Edwin Jackson admired his rainbow assortment of Chuck Taylors.