Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You Can Put it On the Board...... YES!!!

Do you ever just sit at a ballpark and take in the sights and sounds around you? Stare at the fans, all involved in their own analysis of the game, breath in the smell of kosher hot dogs and beer, envision yourself standing on the dirt in the infield?

Sometimes when I'm at a ballgame I get this "wow-factor" feeling.I feel like it's like my first time at a ballgame. I'm entranced by the geometry of the baselines, the perfect green of the outfield, the players spotted across the field all paying intense attention to a little ball about to leave a glove.

And it's like life is perfect.

I could have cared less what was going on outside of that stadium. When I'm at a ballgame I feel at home. I feel alive- like this is where I'm supposed to be. In the 5th inning of Monday's home opener, I turned to my friend and said "You know that 'is this Heaven line' on Field of Dreams? I honestly haven't ever agreed with something more. When I die, I want to sit right here. Right at this field- every single day... and watch players execute a game. That is perfect- that's Heaven."

He looked at me, laughed, and said "It's a good thing I've known you for like a year and know you routinely go all baseball poetic on people, or else I'd tell you I'm not going on any more margarita runs for you today and cut you off."

My point here is- Monday's White Sox home opener was one of those spine tingling, goosebumb games. From the pitching, to the offence, to Buehrle's web gem of the year, to Rios and PK going yard, to the return of a glimpse of Ozzie ball (get em on, get em over, get em in). It was one of those games that reminds me of how much I love baseball- and why I spent the entire off season praying for first pitch to get here as quickly as possible.

I'm not going to try and mask myself into some professional blogger who drove to Chicago, got there 30 minutes before the game, and sat nicely in my seat keeping score and eating nachos. Instead I'm going to be real and honestly recount my day- because it was awesome. Yes I drank, yes I had a good time, and I plan on honestly depicting it to you all. Those of you who know me would call "bullshit" if I even attempted to pretend like I was all professional baseball fan on Monday's game anyways. :)

I left Peoria around 7:30 anticipating traffic- It wasn't too bad and I listened to Mully and Hanley on 670 The Score. That's a pre-game ritual of mine that I tend to annoy my friends with when they drive to Chicago with me. I don't like the drives to games by myself, but I have always been a "coffee and MLB Network in the morning" kinda girl, and sipping on a 24 oz black coffee and listening to sports news talk calms me and helps the time pass. I also enjoy all the pre-game talk and excitement as fans from the Chicago area call in and give their "professional" opinion on the upcoming 2010 season.

Around 9:20 I started getting into what I like to call the "oh shit" part of 55. That's right after you pass Arsenal Bridge about 50-60 minutes from Bridgeport. I hate Arsenal Bridge with every bone in my body due to bridge inspection last season on my way to SOX/LAA that caused my roommate and I to miss the Sox opening video which, if you know me, is the equivalent to missing the previews of a movie, only way worse. I effing hate it. I'm a creature of habit and if I miss seeing that video, people will hear me bitch for a good 2 innings. I hate to drone on and on about it but it needs to be said that I cure Arsenal Bridge every time I pass it regardless of traffic.

Anyways, as soon as you pass that bridge it's like passing into an alternate universe. It's as if God drops 40 additional cars on the highway and you start "Chicago Driving" which means you literally play cat and mouse with everyone around you, and you get points above your car for how many different times you can touch all 3-4 lanes. In and out passing gets you 5 additional, by the way.
I was calling and getting calls from my two friends, Steph and Brandon who were both going to be at the game as well- a pack of beer in my passenger seat screamed out the inevitable: It was almost 10:00am and I needed to start tailgaiting.

Around 10:15 I finally found my way to the Ashland Street exit. Most of you are probably wondering why I take Ashland off 55. I'll tell you. It's so much easier to take Ashland the 2 miles down to 35th and take 35th up to USCF. I only say this because, and Amanda will attest, I will always, and I mean always, take the wrong exit on the Dan Ryan. It never fails. I will end up in downtown Chicago and almost get run over by a semi and then end up crying trying to figure out how to get on Lakeshore and then remember which exit I was supposed to actually take.

I shouldn't be allowed to drive in Chicago. Honestly.

After arriving at USCF, I threw some beer in my purse, and sought after my friend Stephanie who was there with her friends and co-workers from the Bulls/Sox Training Academy. After running into a very awesome Ron Kittle who scared the crap out of me when he came up and said "Hey I'm loving the jersey!" (yes it was throw back, no it wasn't a Kittle. It was Baines. I'm sure Ron didn't mind though), I gave him a hug and we conversed briefly.

Ron Kittle may be one of the coolest guys in the world. He's always super nice to everyone, reaches out to his facebook followers daily (in fact, one lady came up to us while we were talking and said "I'm your friend on facebook!"... Ron just has one of those faces) and makes time for all his fans.

Right afterwards I ran into Dr. David Fletcher- my boss and founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum. He was busy rushing around and tending to our special guest, Bob Feller. I wont go into the specifics because you're going to get a huge blog on it later- but we hosted Feller for the 70 year reunion of his no-no pitched on Opening Day against the White Sox when he played for the Tribe. (In attendance at our event was also Moose Skowron. Talk about cool).

After finding Stephanie, another run in with Kittle, and finding my friend who had my ticket, I finally got a chance to knock down a few beers.

One of the coolest things is that one of the ladies in attendance in Stephanie's pack of friends had a legit Sox World Series ring. Don't ask me what she did in the Sox organization to get the ring, because I have no idea. All I know is that I got to wear it. Now that, my friends, is a surreal experience.

So it's 20 minutes before game time and my check-list is as follows:

5 beers- Check
Run in with former White Sox great Ron Kittle- Double Check
Meeting with baseball legend Bob Feller- Check
Wearing the White Sox World Series Ring- Check.
Needless to say things were starting out well- and they were only going to get better.

Like I said I'm really particular about getting inside the ballpark to see the opening video. If you guys haven't seen it, the youtube video is right under this paragraph :) It's insane how cool it is. It starts off going through a trophy case of just tons of historical White Sox memorabilia (the fans always cheer the loudest passing over the names and jerseys, pics, etc of guys like The Big Hurt, Harold Baines, and of course all the guys from the 05 Season)... then it goes to a video montage of all these awesome historical moments from the past years to the song "He's a Pirate" from Pirates of the Caribbean. Whoever put the video together is just genius. I love how they show Fisk's double tag at the plate, the lights being shutout for the last time at Old Comiskey from an aerial view, Bo Jackson's homer, when Luke Appling got his car at Luke Appling Night, Tony LaRussa throwing the base when he managed here, the 2000 AL Central celebration at the Metrodome, moving across from Old to New Comiskey, Burl's Perfect and no-no, Brian Anderson's diving catch to end game 163 in 08,and of course different highlights from 1917 season, Go-Go Sox, Winning Ugly, Southside Hitmen, etc.

Well rest assured, I made it in in time to watch it, getting goosebumbs as usual.

The National Anthem was sang as members of the armed services brought a whole-field American Flag out and an aerial show ended the anthem. I've personally never seen one of the aerial shows before. I have no idea how they time that out so perfectly when those US Navy jets fly overhead, but it really is just the icing on the cake on Opening Day. It's like the whole world is cheering for you. I don't specifically mean for the White Sox, but for baseball. When you're in the stadium it's like you're shut off to the world. You're not really caring nor are you paying attention to anything else that's going on outside. Sure it's an open stadium but there's 35,000+ people there are concentrating on the same exact thing for over 3 hours... and you tend to forget that there are other things going on in the world, the jet's are kind of a proverbial "Play Ball!" that just gives you chills.

I was excited to get things going with Mark Buehrle on the mound. I mean, who doesn't want to see Mr. Perfect? I knew it would be a shorter game (I was right, the game's official time ended up being 2:24), because if there's one person who will go out on the mound and work with purpose, it's Burls. He didn't disappoint. Two ground outs from Cabrera and Sizemore and a fly out from Choo ended the inning in quick 1-2-3 fashion which follows Buehrle's pitching style perfectly-his fielders always backing him up as he's not a big strike out guy.

I have a weird superstition- I don't get up before there's a hit made in a game. I psych myself out and feel like if I get up when the visiting team is up before someone gets the first hit, then they'll hit it... and if I get up before the first hit is made and the Sox are up, then they won't get a hit. So I stay in my seat. I spent the middle of the 1st trying to find Anthony, the jet-pack margarita man (Yes I'm on a first name basis with him. Don't judge me), and finally settled on a beer as I didn't want to miss the first at-bats of the Sox 2010 season. Pierre and Bacon both grounded out but TCQ solved my superstitious problems by doubling on a line drive to right field.

I'm just glad I didn't get up to go meet my friend Brandon before Paulie's at-bat. With Quentin on 2nd, PK stepped into the batters box and launched a long fly to right field. It was the first "rise to your feet" moment of the season and I nearly spilled my beer everywhere as Quentin and Konerko rounded the bases and the exploding score-board went off for the first time this season. Na-na-na-na hey hey hey... goodbye!

White Sox 2, Tribe 0.

After a home run is hit with two outs in the inning you still DON'T GET UP. You just simply dont. Long balls give a team momentum and even with 2 outs and no one on base, you expect the adrenaline to be pumping and the fans are only hoping for the best. So I stayed in my seat and watched Kotsay take a walk after working the count full.

Rios' first at-bat of the 2010 season lead to a force out with Kotsay out at 2nd. The inning was over, and I was ready for a margarita (I've really never been a huge beer girl at ball games. Especially since you get to keep the cups the margarita's come in, and they don't make you put ice in them. Fun fact- go to a ballgame and ask for no ice in your drinks like premade vodka/lemonade. You just simply get more liquor. Win-win.

I moved down to the left field seats right behind the bullpen to sit with my friend Brandon, one of the local weathermen for our CBS affiliate down here in Peoria, and fellow huge White Sox fan. Brandon and I have a tendency to get really loud, really obnoxious, and become huge smart asses when we're together- but Brandon's worse than me. It wasn't long before we were taunting Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley, and our own bullpen rookie, Sergio Santos. "Hey Santos! You're not at Wrigley! Quit lookin at the girls and pay attention to the game! We don't do that on the Southside.. we PAY ATTENTION THE THE BALL GAME!"

I have no idea if Santos even knew what we were saying, but it didn't cease to be funny. I have no problems taunting our own players. Last year I was at a game where Ryan Sweeney was just brutalized. I felt kinda bad for him, because a lot of the time when a young player "sucks" we should really be screaming at our front office and management for not sending him down to get the at-bats he needs to become a good player, instead of bringing the player down for not being developed enough to be in a big league uniform. However, when players pull crap like flirting with girls in the stands when they're in the bullpen, they deserve to be ridiculed. Santos needed to recognize that that's not how we role on the Southside. If he wants to play around during the game and pass out his number to anything with a bra strap showing then he can go elsewhere (and I'm sure you all know where I mean by elsewhere). Here on the Southside we take our baseball seriously.

The first hit of the game for the Tribe came in the Top of the 2nd from Travis Hafner but didn't capitalize into anything as LaPorta quickly grounded into a DP after a fly out from Peralta.

Another thing my friends and especially my roommate will tell you is that I don't allow people to talk when AJ Pierzynski is up to bat. I seriously love him as a player. If I could say I have a favorite player on the team, it's AJ. I love his attitude and how he plays the game. Not to mention he's just plain good and a highly under appreciated catcher.
Well, AJ grounded out in his first at-bat of the 2010 season, something I noticed a lot of during Spring Training. Teahen walked and was then out caught stealing 2nd after a fly out from Ramirez.
Another single started the 3rd but is followed by another scoreless inning despite hits from both Grudzielanek and A. Cabrera. That would be the last hit Buehrle gave up to an Indian for the rest of his outing.

The Sox scored another 2 runs in the 3rd off a Beckham single, Quentin HBP, Beck's taking 3rd on a wild pitch during PK's at-bat, Konerko walk to load the bases, force out by Kotsay that scores Beckham, and another wild pitch by Westbrook to score Quentin.

Sox 4, Tribe 0

Now here's where we get the difference between the 2009 White Sox and the 2010(at least the way they played Monday). In 2009 we would have loaded the bases eleventy billion times and ended the inning on a strike out by just about anyone on the team. True we capitalized off poor defense by the Tribe but get em on, get em over, get em in, right? I'm not going to be picky on exactly how we get em in.. as long as they get in!

Now I'd like to jump straight up to the 5th inning when after a ground out by Mark Grudzielanek, Burls worked a count to Lou Marson 2-2. What happened next is typical Buehrle. I say typical because this guy rarely does anything that doesn't amaze me.
Marson hit a sharp ground ball up the middle which Buehrle DEFLECTED off his shin. He said post-game that he wasn't even thinking, he just knew that if the balls coming in that direction he's going to throw any body party that he possibly can out there to deflect it. It deflected off to the first base side and Burl's took off after it. AJ came up to cover Paulie but he didn't need to.

Mark Buehrle, proving why he is being presented with a Gold Glove this Saturday, ran past Marson, shuffled to the ball, grabbed it with his gloved hand, flipped it backwards BETWEEN HIS LEGS without looking to Paul Konerko who barehanded it, making the out. (Video below)

I mean... wtf. I can not even explain to anyone reading this the thought going through my mind when I saw that play. That is the 2nd time I've been at USCF when Mark Buehrle has given me goosebumbs (the last time was of course his no-no in 07). I just remember looking at Brandon going " ARE YOU FRIGGIN KIDDING ME?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" Buehrle got up off the ground, started laughing (this guy laughs when he does something awesome. Have you noticed that? It's like he cant believe it happened to him, and guess what- no one else can either!), and AJ fist pumped as he and Paulie congratulated him.

The entire crowd went nuts, yelling "MVP! MVP!" and "BUEHRLE!"... I just had a disbelief moment. I couldn't comprehend as I watched the replay on the jumbo-tron how he could have possibly made that play. Paulie catching it barehanded was just icing on the cake.

Buehrle got out of the inning and we backed up our awesome starting pitcher again with a double by Beckham, Carlos Quentin getting ANOTHER BB with a hit by pitch (this guy really crowds the plate- in case you haven't noticed by his record setting HBP's), a walk to Konerko to once again load the bases, and another ground out by Mark Kotsay scoring Gordon Beckham.

White Sox 5, Tribe .........stilllll 0.

Buehrle continued his Tribe masacre to the 8th, ending up with a stat line of 7IP, 3 Hits, 3 SO, 1 walk, and a steller 0.00 ERA.

JJ Putz, newly acquired from the NY Mets, showed us his stuff as he struck out his first two batters faced. To say the crowd was on their feet is an understatment. A single from Michael Brantley (and more taunting from our section) followed by a fly out by Cabrera ending the 8th and we were home free.

Enter Alex Rios.

Talk about being awesome at the plate, and defensively on Monday. Not only did he make a diving catch to end the game in the 9th after a lights out performance from Matt Thornton (2 strike outs and a line out), but he also hit a solo bomb after being down 0-2 in the count in the 8th- just to solidify our lead for Mr. Perfect.

So Burls got the win his 8th Opening Day start this year which sets a franchise record previously held by Billy Pierce. (Had he started in 2007 instead of Contreras it would be 9 straight and we wouldn't have seen Sizemore go deep in the first at-bat of that God-awful season. I also believe that was the same year that Buehrle got hit by a ground ball up the middle that took him out of the game and caused Nick Masset to come in for the REALLY REALLY long the 2nd game of the season.) Buehrle now also officially leads the majors in Quality Starts with 189.

AJ Pierzynski, as I mentioned before is an extreamly under appreciated catcher. He caught his 10,000th inning on Monday.
Paul Konerko also set a record with opening day starts as well, surpassing a record previously held by none other than The Big Hurt.

After the game was over, it was time to head down to Schallers for some Jameson and lemonades with my friends. To say we were all on a huge high for the 2010 season is an understatment. We couldn't have been more excited. The field rang with echos of "Let's Go White Sox," "Buehrle," "Ozzie," etc. It was one of those games were you stop and stare at the field after the game and just thank God that such a sport exists.

There's something so poignant and beautiful about the game of baseball. It takes you away from every hard ship you may have or any worry in the world and puts you in a dream where the most important things in life are hard hit line drives in the gap, solid strike-outs, a good manager who makes you laugh, bubblegum, sunflower seeds, beer, and Kosher hot dogs with extra grilled onions and mustard. For 9 innings the only thing you have to worry about is strike zones and good defense and hanging sliders.

How many times can you go somewhere and see someone make an out like Mark Buehrle did and spend the entire day talking about it with people you don't even know? Baseball brings us all together as Americans. This is our sport- this is what we live and die for. There may be deception and drama and greed in the creases of the American Pasttime, but they're ironed out by moments when the crowd rises to its feet from a long ball, a diving catch to end an inning, a bullpen that comes in with comrodery to get a starter out of a jam, and the 5 year old in front of you playing with his AJ Pierzynski bobblehead.

So to all my fellow White Sox fans, Cub fans, Cardinal fans, and fan's of any other team that just love baseball as much as I do- welcome to 2010. It's going to be a pleasure chronicalling the season with all of you and I look foward to any and comments and feedback about games/plays/etc. You don't have to agree with my opininos (they will not always be pro-sox) but I think we can always agree that we are a family in one aspect: our love for baseball.
I also urge all of you tonight to catch up on what's going on with your local Minor League affiliate teams, as it's opening day for them. To those minor leaguers of you who read my site- good luck in continuing your chase to the dream. I hope someday to be writing about you on Opening Day when you're sporting a major league uniform :)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome recap! Even after all this time, I still start to tear up near the end of the opening video. All the memories of Sox past and present come rushing to the foreground and I feel like a little kid waiting for the Sox to run out onto the field and play ball.

    I take time out to soak up every bit of the atmosphere every time I'm at the park. At some point, you will find me walking around the entire park (on whichever level my seats are on) just looking at everything. It's a ritual I've had since my youth, walking in every nook and cranny I could get into in the old park.