Like most sports fans, I was born into my fandom. My dad would sit me down and watch the Bears of course, but mainly we watched the White Sox when I was little. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way, not that I really had a choice in the matter. Hell, check out this 1983 onesie I was wearing, way before it was cool.
My earliest White Sox memories came from the bat of Frank Thomas, the glove of Robin Ventura, the voices of Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek, the thighs of Bo Jackson, and of course, the Harley Davidson of Carlton Fisk. I have a vague recollection of “Old” Comiskey Park and sitting in the upper deck for the second-ever game at “New” Comiskey Park, where my father and I had to help an elderly woman up those impossibly steep stairs.
It wasn’t just these memories though. I am sure that my fandom mirrors many others. I would sit and listen as I was told stories of Minnie Minoso during those heartbreaking years where the White Sox lost out to some otherworldly Yankees teams. I sat in awe of the double-play combination of Nellie Fox — whose career high in strike outs was 18, yes, 18!!!–and Luis Aparicio. I heard all about the exploits of Jim Landis in center field. Yes, there were stories, there were favorites, and I ate it all up.
Also like many White Sox fans, or Chicago sports fans in general, I suffered through a lot of lean years. I read the book Minnie and the Mick. I embraced the odd history of the franchise from the miserly Charles Comiskey to the utterly outrageous Bill Veeck. Like the true masochists that we all are, I went back and researched the 1919 “Black Sox” and have always loved the movie Eight Men Out. The black cloud that would be a constant reminder of being a second-class citizen in the Second City.
That all changed — albeit briefly — of course in 2005. I can tell you where I watched every playoff game that year, and with whom I watched with. This was a bittersweet moment for me. The only game I did not watch every pitch of was game 1 of the ALCS versus the Angels. The reason? My grandfather’s wake. I caught just enough of the game to see Joe Crede make it interesting late, but alas, it was not to be.
As one relationship was severed, it brought my father, brother, and myself closer together. I distinctly remember my brother and I on the “red line” drinking cheap vodka mixed with Gatorade. We didn’t grow up together — we are half-siblings — but this was the moment that we truly became brothers. It happened on our way to a White Sox game. Yes, love for this team runs deep in the Link blood and holds so many happy memories for me beyond just baseball.
After that glorious run, we entered the “mired in mediocrity” portion of being a White Sox fan. Kind of sounds like the 20 years leading up to 2005, doesn’t it? That quote will always stand out to me as the moment that I knew that the dynamic had changed. We were standing on the precipice of something, but I wasn’t entirely sure what. Then bam! Chris Sale traded … Adam Eaton traded … Jose Quintana traded … and so on. These were not your uncle Jerry’s White Sox any more.
It was easy to get accustomed to knowing that your team had a shot — albeit a poor one — to make the playoffs every year. For one reason or another though, they always seemed to come up short. For a team like the White Sox, it was just enough to keep the fan base engaged throughout the season, but not enough to fill the stadium. For those of us cognizant of what this team truly has been since the mid-90’s, a painstaking tear down and rebuild was a welcome sight.
Unlike the Bears — who seem to be coming out on the bright side of their own rebuilding effort — baseball teams play 162, not 16. It is exceedingly difficult to follow a full baseball season even in the best of times, but during the worst? This season is testing the mettle of even the most hard-core White Sox fans, a fan base that prides itself on being hard-core. What other fan base knows the name of their longtime organist? I mean seriously, if you don’t know who Nancy Faust is, you aren’t a real White Sox fan.
So where does that leave us? Are we looking forward to sunnier days ahead? Are we supposed to give up on the major league club and focus on the minor league affiliates where all the talent is at? I am trying very hard to avoid doing this but it’s becoming an inevitability at this point. I am not sure if this is how the die hard Cubs fans were during those awful 100-loss seasons, but as of right now, Birmingham, Winston-Salem, and Kannapolis are all more intriguing than Chicago.
That’s good though, right? That’s what a rebuild is all about. Get players in the pipeline and allow them to play together and come to Chicago together. What I think has me, and many other fans, so impatient is the fact that this rebuild started with such and bang. The farm system gained instant credibility after two trades (Sale and Eaton), the signing of Cuban phenom Luis Robert, followed by the Quintana trade. In a very short period of time, the White Sox acquired a very talented crop of legitimate prospects.
But since then, the player acquisitions have been few and far between. There have been a glut of injuries, many of them to important prospects. The promotions from one level to the next have been sluggish at best. As tough as 2017 was to watch, this was always going to be the season that induced the most gag-worthy moments. No offense to the Nicky Delmonico‘s and Adam Engel‘s of the world, but those players were never more than placeholders.
White Sox fans were simply not prepared for hitting bottom. There was a misconception that the rebuild was mostly complete heading into 2018, all we had to do was wait for the reinforcements to show up. No, this team needed to hit bottom before being able to start the ascension toward becoming competitive again. That is what makes it so difficult to watch. This is akin to seeing your loved one falling quickly down the rabbit hole of anguish, unsure of where the ground is to stop their fall.
I love this team and chances are, if you are reading this, then you do too. Sure, a baseball team is not a friend, family member, or loved one. Hell, it’s not even a person, but does that make it any more difficult to watch? For many of us, we have turned to the extended family for support. Checking box scores on a daily basis to see how Michael Kopech threw that day or if Eloy Jimenez hit another bomb or if Zack Collins’ swing change is the real deal.
The silver lining in all of this is that even though the White Sox have not hit the depths of their despair yet, there is a foundation in place for the inevitable bounce back. We know that even if this doesn’t go fully as planned that some day soon, the clouds are going to part and the sun will shine again at 35th and Shields.
We have taken a lot of abuse as Chicago sports fans, they don’t call us the city of broad shoulders for nothing. I take solace in the fact that the team which has brought so many emotions, both elation and disappointment, has finally chosen the right lane. I am comforted knowing that Rick Hahn finally convinced Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf to do what needed to be done.
Even though this team is almost unwatchable right now, there is a sense that everything will be fine, and that is all right by me.
I will just leave this here …
I’m not crying … you’re crying!
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