Here’s my husband Mike Knezovich back with another guest post.
Chris Sale stands 6’7” tall, weighs less than I do (I’m 5’ 10”) and when he’s on the mound pitching for the Chicago White Sox on a windy day, his uniform flaps around him like a loose nylon jacket on a
speeding motorcyclist. Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers baseball announcer Vin Scully refers to him as “Mr. Bones.”
And I love him. Chris Sale that is. He’s won 15 games and lost five. He makes great hitters look like me when I was a little leaguer. And he is the quintessential White Sox story—that is, a great story, but still somehow not the story.
This Sunday night on ESPN, Sale will be on the mound against the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander—last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player. For true blue baseball fans, it’s a match made in heaven. For lots of casual fans, it will be the first they’ve heard or seen about Mr. Bones. That’s just the way it is with the Chicago White Sox. They’re like the solid big brother to their shrill drama queen little sister on the North Side.
I grew up in a household where both Chicago teams were always on the radio and TV. My mom and dad were both baseball fans, but my mom was the greater influence – Esther was the type who talked and yelled at the radio or TV during games. She grew up near Pittsburgh and worked summers as a waitress in Cleveland. An independent-minded woman who embodied feminism before that word existed, she was a fan of the great Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians and eventually, the White Sox (in fact, he owned the White Sox two different times). Veeck put up the exploding scoreboard and (gasp) added players’ names to the back of their uniforms while he was here in Chicago. He also got Harry Caray to sing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” at Comiskey, introduced uniforms that included shorts, and oversaw the debacle/triumph known as “Disco Demolition.” He was not boring.
Veeck was a renegade who irked the establishment. Exactly the kind of person my mom adored. Between that and our proximity (when I and other school patrol boys got a special outing to a ball game, it was to Comiskey Park on the South Side), the Sox became mine, and I became theirs.
A friend who works in baseball once said to me, “It’s important to care deeply about something that doesn’t matter.” That’s how it is with baseball, and for me, with the White Sox. There has been heartbreak (Damn Yankees and others in the 50s and 60s, Oakland As during the 70s, the strike in ‘94) and indescribable joy (2005!).
Back in 1983, I introduced Beth to my parents at a game at old Comiskey Park. The day after our wedding, Beth and I and some dear friends who had traveled in from Washington, D.C went to a game. In July of 1985, just before our first wedding anniversary, Beth and I visited her eye doctor for a follow-up visit after a last-gasp surgery to save her eyesight. We learned that she would not see again.
Before heading back to Urbana to face our new reality, we drove to Comiskey to have a Polish sausage with onions (“wit” onions is the correct pronunciation), and take in a ball game. Twenty years later, in 2005, Beth and I and her Seeing Eye dog Hanni got seats in the handicapped section for the playoffs against Boston. Later, I sprung for game 1 of the World Series.
This year the White Sox are defying low expectations and leading their division. They’ve had a parade of rookie pitchers come through in the clutch. They have a rookie manager who’s never managed at any level before. A starting pitcher who is excelling after unprecedented surgery to fix a gruesome injury (a chest muscle tore free of the bone). They have Yankee castoffs (Jose Quintana and Dewayne Wise) and a Red Sox throwaway (Kevin Youkilis) starting. A guy from Cuba nicknamed “Tank” starts in left and one of his countrymen, Alexei Ramirez (“The Cuban Missile”) plays a sparkling shortstop.
It can be irksome, the way the White Sox story routinely gets lost in the shuffle. Then again, on a whim, Beth and I can decide to get on the Red Line, get off two stops later, get tickets at a decent price, have some great food, and see this phenomenal baseball team. So really, it’s just about right. They’re not a media sensation. They’re a baseball team. My baseball team.