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MY TURN AT BAT
By Billy Lombardo
I spent my entire boyhood in Bridgeport, in the historic shadow of old Comiskey Park, but we didn't play baseball when I was a kid. I lived across the street from the Wallace Playlot, a tiny, grassless, yellow-dirt field in which the only sport was sixteen-inch softball.
I went to one baseball game as a boy. My cousin Jeff, older than me by ten years, took my brother, Stevie, and me to a White Sox game in 1971, and in front of the old park he whispered something to Stevie. I asked Jeff what he whispered to my brother, and he said he couldn't tell me but that he had a secret for me, too. Then Jeff put his arm around my shoulder, leaned close, and told me that my ears were dirty. This is my single childhood memory of baseball.
The day after the Chicago White Sox were crowned World Series Champions, there were fresh flowers on a thousand gravesthe graves of a thousand Chicago fathers who'd spent a thousand lives waiting for this day.
My father's only sport was work. He did not give me baseball.
My sons gave it to me.
When my oldest boy, Seth, was seven years old, I took him to his first game at the new Comiskey Park. While Carlton Fisk was taking a few swings during batting practice, one of his foul balls shot to our seats near the right field foul pole, banged around a dozen empty seats, and rolled under my sandaled foot. Seth looked up at me as though I'd just saddled him up on his very own pony. He had a bigger smile than I ever thought a face could have. Throughout the game he stared at the baseball and asked me to tell him again the story of how he came to hold the ball in his hands. And each time I told him the story he had witnessed himself, it grew in glory and soft focus and slow motion.
Of the hundred or so baseball games I've been to since, I only went to one without my youngest son, Kane. I sat alone at that one, the seat next to me empty.
This year, Kane and I celebrated together, in some way, every White Sox game. We were at the stadium when Paul Konerko hit his two hundredth career home run; we were there for Joe Crede's late-September walk-off homer against Cleveland in the bottom of the tenth; we were standing in the lower nosebleeds of section 509 during Game 2 of the American League Division Series when Tadahito's three-run shot against Boston proved the difference in the 54 victory. And we were at the White Sox' only postseason lossGame 1 of the ALCS. On the way home that night, I spent an hour trying to convince Kane that there was still a reason to live after the 32 defeat by the Angels.
And if we weren't there in person, we saw every pitch of the postseason on television.
When the White Sox won the American League Championship, and clinched their first World Series berth since 1959, Kane jumped in my arms and we screamed, and we laughed, and we danced in the bedroom and then went outside to scream some more because a house is too small a thing to scream in.
During the Series, we ate pizza from Smiling Joe's, gyros from Sub Tender, beefs from Johnny's. We kept meticulous score and chewed our nails to the bone as we cheered the White Sox on in Kane's bedroom. There we saw Konerko's grand slam and Podsednik's walk-off homer that won Game 2 of the Series against Houston.
And on October 25, when Geoff Blum, in his first and only World Series at bat, hit a homer in the bottom of the fourteenth to beat Houston in Game 3, I celebrated silently at the foot of Kane's bed, the volume on the TV turned down as my sons slept soundly.
Just before Kane went to sleep on the night the White Sox completed their World Series sweep, I told him what was unarguably true about this season: They did it for us. The Sox won it for you and me.
We deserved it, I told him. We were great fans, I said, and in the history of the world maybe there was no one who deserved it as much as we did.
If it weren't for you, I told him, I don't think the Sox would have been able to do it. And I told him that we would be there for the Sox next year, too, and the year after that as well.
If eighty-eight more years passed and the White Sox never came close to the glory of this year, well, we'd stand by them like soldiers, anyway. And if nothing else, we'd have this year to remember.
Kane nodded, because all of it was true.
And said sweet dreams, Dad. Like he always does.
BILLY LOMBARDO teaches at the Latin School of Chicago where he is the cofounder and faculty sponsor of Polyphony H.S., a national literary magazine for high school writers. His book The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories was selected by the Chicago Tribune as one of the best books of 2005.
© 2006 Billy Lombardo
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