I went to graduate school at the University of Alabama in the late 1990s. I was not a college football fan growing up, because it just wasn’t part of my family narrative. My uncle loved the Bears, so we’d go to their house to watch games on Sundays. And my dad played college basketball, albeit briefly, so I practically grew up in a basketball arena. College football just wasn’t on the menu. But all I heard when I told people I was moving to Alabama was, “Oh, the football! Football, football, football.” So, I figured, when in Rome, and my first week on campus, bought my strip of student tickets for the season. I went to the first game with my new neighbors. It was 98 degrees at 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening. Shawn Alexander scored five touchdowns versus BYU, and by the end of the first quarter, I was screaming like I’d been a Crimson Tide fan my whole life. The Tide was mostly mediocre for the first 10 years of my fandom, so don’t @ me with fair-weather nonsense.
I bring this up to provide some background for today’s first entry. And also to say this: Even when Alabama went 3-8 (2000) or 4-9 (2003), or lost to Louisiana-Monroe (2007), or went 0-6 against Auburn for a stretch (2002-07), I had confidence they’d win a national championship eventually. They had too much history not to.
The White Sox had no such history, in fact had the almost exact opposite history. The World Series was the single most unexpected event in my lifetime of fandom. I literally never expected it to happen. Perhaps that’s why memories remain so vivid all these years later.
October 22, 2005
I’m in Tuscaloosa, because it’s the Third Saturday in October, and in Alabama that means football vs. Tennessee. Last night, Greg and I went to the regular hangout from my time here. It it further off-campus than other places, and hence a bit more laid back with a somewhat older crowd. I spent time with the new gang of theater nerds that hangs out there now (easy to recognize: wearing Bama gear, a hat or a shirt, but not dripping with it like everybody else). Then we meet a couple a bit older than us, both french horn players in the Tuscaloosa Symphony. His ex-girlfriend is also a french horn player in the orchestra. What goes on at those rehearsals?? The couple has been together for a decade, and despite the fact that he sells diamonds for a living, they are not married or engaged. “I told her,” he explains to me, “‘Honey, I just sell the shit, I don’t bayh it.’”
Today, before the game, we had lunch at one of my favorite wings and beer spots. The place is packed, of course, but we snagged a table somehow. I am facing the women’s bathroom, and I see a young woman come out, followed shortly thereafter by a furtive young man. They are both flushed. I start to chuckle, and the college kid at the next table turns to me. “Did you see that, too?” he says. “He bent her over in the stawl!”
It was the afternoon game today, and the White Sox start at 7:05. We’re at another campus bar. All of the 20+ TVs have college football on them, and I ask the bartender to put on the World Series. He looks a bit quizzical at first, but I think the look on my face eliminates any thought he might have of second-guessing me.
The Sox chase Roger Clemens in the second, which thrills me to no end, and are up 3-1. The Astros come back to tie it in the third, though. Joe Crede continues his stellar defensive play and puts the Sox up 4-3 in the fourth with a solo shot. There it sits through seven. Jose Contreras gives up a double to start the eighth, and I look to see is warming up in the Sox pen. “Oh, hell, no, not Damaso Marte,” I say to nobody in particular. But Neal Cotts comes in, and then Bobby Jenks. The Sox add an insurance run and win 5-3.
I order another bourbon as another round of “Sweet Home, Alabama” plays on the loud speakers.
October 23, 2005
Back home in Chicago, on my couch. It is cold and raining, and the White Sox crowd looks like one giant poncho.
Back when my mom was coaching volleyball, and it was a big game, and the score was too close for comfort, and sitting next to my father was making my stress level worse, I would leave the gym. I’d stand at the edge of the door, sometimes pacing back and forth, always with the game in visual reach, but able to step back if it got to be too much. More often than not, my mom’s team would win, so I considered this method to be good luck.
Today, the Sox are down 4-2 in the seventh, there are two outs, and I am humming with that anxious energy. I need to get out of this room. My apartment is small, so I decide to rearrange the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. I hear that Iguchi draws a walk. I walk back out and see Dye get hit by a pitch. Konerko is up, and I feel a ground ball out coming, so I head back to the bathroom to finish throwing away old band-aids.
My phone rings, and as I walk back out to my living room to answer it, I see Paulie rounding third base.
It is my friend Matt on the phone, to cheer the grand slam. Sox up, 6-4.
I will always have to live with missing Paulie’s swing in real time. But then again, maybe me leaving the room was good luck.
Bobby Jenks silences the home crowd by giving up the tying runs in the top of the ninth. Shit. So much for my luck.
I am in front of the TV in the bottom of the ninth, however, my medicine cabinet clean enough for now. Juan Uribe flies out. But then, Scott Podsednik, oh my goodness, Scottie, walks it off with only his second home run of the season.
As he rounds the bases, Scottie’s cheeks puff in and out, as if he has to remind himself to breathe.
I know the feeling.