Commentary

Passion runs deep on South Side

Originally Published: April 13, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPN.com

You are a White Sox fan.

You cinch it up and hunker down, just like Hawk tells you, and when you're all cinched and hunkered, you dream about 2005, when the impossible became reality. You love those memories.

[+] EnlargeBarack Obama
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe leader of the free world owns a home on the South Side and often sports a Sox cap.
You also love Ozzie's never-ending yap, the sweetest Spanglish you've ever heard, and you love Kenny's cool confidence or arrogance, take your pick. You love A.J.'s smirks and his smarts, because they pay off more than a broken slot machine, and you love Buehrle's quick pitches, throwing like he's late for a date with a five-point buck, and you love big, bad Bobby Jenks because he kind of looks like your cousin from Bridgeport. You love Paulie and J.D., because they swing for the fences, like they ought to.

You loved Jerry Reinsdorf. Then you hated him. Then you loved him again. Then you hated him again. Now he's got a lifetime pass. A World Series will do that for you. White Flag trade? Who can remember that far back?

If you are of a certain age, you will always love Little Louie, Nellie Fox, Dick Allen, Billy Pierce, the Winning Ugly crew, Disco Demolition and you wish the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson visited your backyard to impart words of wisdom.

If you're a little younger, you cherish Joe Crede's defense, Aaron Rowand's hustle, El Duque's one inning and Robin Ventura's very existence. You cheered for Jim Thome's 500th homer like he hit them all here and you wish Big Hurt would've retired on the South Side. In your head, you hear Gene Honda calling him to the plate, and you see him stand there, willing to take a walk or smack a home run.

Geoff Blum and Scott Podsednik can drink on your tab anytime.

You are a White Sox fan and you drive to the game -- and always try to park on a side street for free. You have eaten a grilled cheese at Jimbo's and washed it down with a beer ... or six. You wish you could still smoke in the park. You know it's not politically correct, but you do.

'We're hard-core'

You are Scott Johnsen. It's Opening Day and you're decked out in an authentic Sox jersey and a Sox hat. You have a Sox tattoo that runs from your left shoulder halfway down your massive arm, just shy of the full-color Bears logo that adorns your equally massive forearm. That was a going-away gift from a buddy, when you left for the Army. You're a mechanic now, or you were until you got laid off.

You don't look like a soldier, with your gauge earrings and spike piercing protruding from the space under your bottom lip. But you were. You missed the 2005 season when you were stationed in Seattle. You asked for leave, but got denied. You thought about going AWOL, but instead you locked yourself in your apartment, turned off your phone and turned on the TV. Now, you're back, living by Midway, and you want to be here when the Sox win it all again. How do you describe your fellow fans? "We're hard-core," you say. "You have to be hard-core. We were bad for a lot of years. We're South Siders, blue collar."

You are a Sox Sider. You live on the South Side, but you don't have to, to be a real fan. It doesn't really matter. It hasn't in years, decades, maybe a generation. Gentrification. Projects going up, projects coming down. Where there were once Irish and Italians butting heads, it's black, white, Latinos from a dozen countries.

"It's not just about living here," you say. "Most people don't live here anymore. It's all about where you grew up and remembering what it was like. This team is like that."

No, the whole South Side mindset is beyond geography. It's more about an ideal, a historical yearning perhaps. A South Sider has a timeless sense of being overlooked, underappreciated, downtrodden, but still tough.

Always tough. Tough enough where you don't care about ephemeral things, like respect from the so-called experts.

"We're better when we're underdogs," you say. "Pick us last every year, I don't care."

Brotherly love

You are Michael Seymour. You are 57 and live in St. Charles. You have no connection to the South Side. You grew up with three brothers and a single mother. The only time your mother, God bless her heart, could get you boys to a game was at night. You became a Sox fan. The Seymour brothers made it to Opening Day every year, until they started passing away. You're at Opening Day with younger brother Steve, a 55-year-old with a full head of white hair. Your younger brothers Doug and Kevin both died of heart disease in the past nine years. But you two are here.

You love the team, not the side of town they play on.

Unlocking 'The Cell'

You are a White Sox fan, and you still call it Sox Park, even though it was named for Old Man Comiskey from 1976 until U.S. Cellular, a cell-phone company you probably don't use, forced itself unto your tongue in 2003. Maybe you still call it Comiskey or you call it The Cell, because it's funny and for a while it seemed like someone was getting arrested there every night.

One thing's for damn sure, you don't call it U.S. Cellular Field.

You like going there because it's not Wrigley Field. You hate Wrigley, even more than you hated Sosa, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Ronnie Woo Woo. You hate Wrigley because of what it stands for -- tourists, fake fans and stuck-up suburbanites.

'Do better than the Cubs'

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesPaul Konerko's grand slam helped carry the Sox to the 2005 World Series crown.
You are Paul Konerko, the captain of the Chicago White Sox. You know your fans as well as anyone on the team. You know how they feel like second-class citizens in their own city, because for a long while you probably felt the same way. Baseball players might act like they don't need the media, don't want the media buzzing around their lockers, but when the nightly news leads with your rivals, every night, you get a South Side-sized chip on your shoulder, too.

"I think the mindset is to do better than the Cubs," you tell a reporter on Opening Day. "I think some fans are like that. Since we've won the World Series, some fans are just more focused on us."

You've been around long enough to know that when you play for a Major League Baseball team, you're not really playing for a city. You're playing for yourself, your family, your teammates, and, yes, you want to win for your leather-lunged fans, too. But you did feel the fans lift you across the bases in that World Series game when you slugged that grand slam. And now you know the fans have changed since that fall. When you win it all, "with that comes the expectation that you have to do that every year," you say. And you kind of like that pressure.

Pure honesty

You are Ozzie Guillen. You have come to define the White Sox for the past two decades, first as a player and then as the manager. Your hair is perfect, jet black from the bottle. You swear like a Beverly housewife with a broken dishwasher, and everyone loves you for it. It's real, it's natural. You talk like you swallowed a truth serum in a Quentin Tarantino movie. "One thing about myself," you say, "I never lie to the fans, and I never will." If your team is garbage this year, "I'll say they stink when they stink." What else should you say?

You have no filter. Maybe it's better that way. Fans can smell a liar like the old hog yards and slaughterhouses that the TV broadcasters waxed nostalgic about during the '05 Series. When the Sox stunk in 2007, you suffered through it. When the Sox collapsed down the stretch in 2006, you didn't hide. You joked around with the media in an empty clubhouse before games as you watched teams pass you by. You keep saying you can quit at anytime, retire to your boat in Miami, your compound in Venezuela. But here you are. Can you leave this life? You don't really know.

April optimism abounds

You are a White Sox fan, and you are optimistic. It's April, the squad is 3-3, and the season will unfold soon enough. Now is still the time to dream. And, yeah, if you were in charge, maybe you don't stick with Dewayne Wise in center, Chris Getz at second and the rotund Bartolo Colon at the back of the five-man rotation. But you know that Kenny has a plan. After all, who thought Podsednik for Lee was a great deal? A.J. Pierzynski? Then later, Brandon McCarthy for John Danks? Carlos Quentin? All madness.

You are Kenny Williams and you're spouting the optimism of April.

"I think the average Sox fan feels great, and not only about this season, but where we're positioned for the future," you say. "To a large degree, that makes me feel good, that they've gotten to a point where they can trust us to put a competitive team on the field or go down fighting."

Fueled by disrespect

You are a White Sox fan and you have a chip on your shoulder, just like Kenny usually does, because the White Sox won the whole thing and brought a parade to downtown that crisp October afternoon, and more than half the city just didn't give a damn. It was as if the Red Sox won.

And you feed off that disrespect, even though "Da Mare" is a Sox fan and President Obama is a Sox fan and the only leader of the free world to have a summer home on the South Side of Chicago.

But it all comes back to respect and that other team in town. The Cubs get the celebrities to come to their games and bellow out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and gab about how great Wrigley is, and how real baseball is played on the North Side, just because that stadium has some plants on the walls, an old scoreboard with no replays and a bunch of bars flanking its expanse.

But then you think about this: The Sox have Obama, Daley and the late, great Bernie Mac. The Cubs have Rod Blagojevich, George Will and Jim Belushi.

And you know that while everyone is all about the North Side nowadays, the South Side birthed Chicago's intellectual heart and its musical soul. The South Side has jazz and the University of Chicago, Saul Bellow and Richard Wright, Upton Sinclair's "Jungle" and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH, Kanye West and Muddy Waters. The South Side is the proving ground of the Daleys and the atom bomb.

But you know that's just history.

The Sox century

You are a White Sox fan.

You probably weren't there when Paulie hit that grand slam, or when A.J. deked the entire Angels team, from Josh Paul to Gene Autry. You probably couldn't afford a ticket. But you felt it, didn't you? The South Side was back.

And after two down years -- and really what's two years when it took 88 to win one -- you came alive again during that week last fall. You got tickets and you wore black, like Johnny Cash in concert. You willed the team to win, didn't you? You were a part of it.

You are a White Sox fan, and it's better to love something and feel pain sometimes, because you were rewarded once and you never know when fate will smile on your hard-core, tattooed arm once again.

One thing's for sure, only one baseball team has won it all this century in the great city of Chicago.

You are a White Sox fan, and you know the score.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPN Chicago.com

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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