How sweet it continues to be for White Sox

Opening night was a time for the White Sox and their fans to look back and once again celebrate their 2005 championship.

Originally Published: April 2, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Nearly 40,000 people witnessed something Sunday night that just about no living members of their species had ever experienced.

A baseball team from Chicago unfurled a banner that said: "World Series Champions."

And then an even more incredible thing happened: Nobody woke up, saying: "Boy, I had the weirdest dream."

Jim Thome
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonJim Thome made his debut with the White Sox a rousing success by blasting a two-run homer in the fourth inning Sunday.
No, because this actually happened, in our actual lifetimes. The Chicago White Sox are your defending World Series champs. And they'll continue to be your defending champs until someone else cracks open a case of Chandon Brut.

So those 40,000 people will remember this night. Unfortunately, their enduring memory may be that about 9.8 billion raindrops fell out of the skies and forced most of them to go home in the fourth inning, many hours before the White Sox finished off a 10-4 thumping of the Indians at 1:10 a.m. Central Daylight Time.

But once those folks dry off, they'll also remember standing there, clicking their cameras, as fireworks crackled in the twilight. And video clips of a magical October danced across the Jumbotron. And one by one, the men responsible for that banner trotted out to the third baseline to soak in the cheers.

And the men standing along that third baseline are going to remember, too. They are going to be reliving that slice of life for the rest of their existences.

"I'm never going to forget this Opening Day," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I've been in a lot of Opening Days in my life. But this was the most special. I've never been in an Opening Day like this one."

That, of course, is because he has spent most of his Opening Days wearing the uniform of this team, in this town. And there is no other manager roaming our continent who has experienced what he experienced Sunday night.

That scene, that moment, is the coolest thing about sports. And also the cruelest thing.

Not much else goes on in our lives that lets us hold on to our favorite moments for nearly six months. But that's how it works in sports.

You get to live in That Moment because it suspends itself in time, stuck in that final freeze frame of triumph and glory, unaffected by any other events that might dare unfold on the planet.

For all those months.

Then you find yourself heading back to the ballpark, not an empty seat between you and Montana. Then they play that highlight video, unfurl that banner, let you bask in That Moment all over again.

It couldn't possibly get any cooler than that. Except for one little complication:

Then they go and start another season.

And most of the time, those new seasons don't look a lot like the season that came before. Ask the 2005 Red Sox. Or the 2004 Marlins. Or the 2003 Angels.

In fact, you have to journey back five years just to find the last time the defending World Series champs even won a postseason game, let alone another trip to the ring store.

But before these White Sox can start worrying about next October, they had to get Opening Day out of the way. (Plus several other days that appear to remain on the schedule.)

And unlike the people in the seats -- who aren't sure they want to let go of a season that felt so good -- the people who wear the uniforms know it's time to start writing their next screenplay.

"For the players, we know we have a job to do, and we have to start over," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "The fans want to live in the moment. You could tell just from the way they reacted tonight. Any mention of the World Series got an ovation. But we're ready to move on."

Well, if Sunday was the first day of moving on, this was about as perfect a way to get moving as they could have thought up -- outside of the fact that it took a six-hour baseball game (counting a 2-hour, 57-minute rain delay) to do it.

Drop a banner. Feel the goosebumps. And beat the hated Indians. Pretty good night -- even if it wasn't a real dry night.

"To be honest, this was probably one of the most nervous games I've ever pitched in," White Sox starter Mark Buehrle said. "Coming off last year, the crowd was really into it. The guys on the other club have been kind of mouthing off, talking about how they were a better team than us. So I really wanted us to come out and do just what we did."

Of course, if real life had followed Buehrle's script, he wouldn't have been uttering those words at 1:30 a.m. And he wouldn't have been uttering them after a night in which the monsoon had forced him out of the game so early, he didn't even get a win out of it.

Last year on Opening Day, you might recall, Buehrle finished off the Indians in 1 hour, 51 minutes. In this game, the rain delay lasted an hour longer than that.

So talk about your pressure-packed games. He not only had to pitch this one, he had to try to get five innings in before Hurricane Chicago moved in.

"If it wasn't for ESPN taking those 2-minute-and-25-second commercial breaks every inning," Buehrle chuckled, "we might have gotten it in."

But then again, they would have just hated to miss out on that rain delay -- which set an unofficial franchise record for Longest Opening Day Rain Delay in History after a World Series Banner Got Unveiled.

For the players, we know we have a job to do, and we have to start over. The fans want to live in the moment. You could tell just from the way they reacted tonight. Any mention of the World Series got an ovation.
But we're ready to move on.
White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski

Asked how they killed all that time, Pierzynski revealed: "We sat around and watched the World Series DVD for a while there -- and made fun of everyone who showed up on it. But mostly Aaron Rowand."

Rowand, alas, wasn't around to defend himself, since he was traded to the Phillies over the winter. But he still managed to take part in the rain-delay ridicule festivities.

"Yeah, we were texting him back and forth," his buddy, Pierzynski, said. "About the best [insult] he came up with was [to Pierzynski]: 'Get a haircut.' But I told him he was just jealous because he doesn't have any hair."

There were about 637 people left in the seats when this tussle finally resumed at 11:21 p.m. But they seemed pretty darned delighted to be there, because all those people who remembered they had a life and went home missed out on the real fun.

This was a 3-3 game, you see, when the rain forest arrived, but the festivities that followed the delay were slightly more one-sided.

The White Sox roared out of their rain cellar and put up seven runs over the next three innings -- on just four hits. But one of those hits was Jim Thome's first home run as a White Sox. And it might have clanked off the 105th floor of the Sears Tower if the right field seats hadn't gotten in its way.

It happened to be the 431st home run of Thome's career. And, poetically, the White Sox estimated that it traveled exactly 431 feet. So given that trend, we can't wait to see Thome's 600th homer.

It was tough to tell who was more stoked by that rocket -- the crowd, the White Sox dugout or Thome himself. When he reached home plate, he and Paul Konerko did the old fist-pound salute in lieu of high fives, and "he almost broke my fist," Konerko reported.

"Hey, Thome's a hero now, because he hit a home run," Pierzynski quipped. "He got a curtain call in front of 40 people."

Hmm. Why do we think it won't be his last curtain call? If you go back to the end of spring training, it was Thome's ninth home run in his last 25 at-bats -- from a man who hit only seven homers last year in Philadelphia (in 59 injury-plagued games).

"We've been seeing that for a week now," Konerko said. "You can just tell -- he's locked."

"I looked at the scoreboard," Guillen said, "and it said the guy had more homers than [any visiting player] in this ballpark. This guy hit 18 homers here. Hopefully, he's going to hit another 60."

Wait. Did he say 60? Asked what the chances were of that Wizard of Oz prediction coming true, Thome replied: "I would say very slim. I try not to go there."

Meanwhile, his old team, the Indians, wish he hadn't gone there, either -- not against them, at least.

"It's always good to see him," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. "But it will be strange to see him hitting against us 19 times a year."

Well, if it's any consolation, it's strange for Thome, too.

"Everyone knows my history in Cleveland," Thome said. "Very fond memories. I have a ton of respect for everyone over there that I played with. … The bottom line is, it was neat. It brought a lot of memories of old. I was telling the guys in the dugout it seemed different being on that side than the other side."

But Thome's home run wasn't the only thing about this night that seemed different. Familiar as the outcome may have looked from afar, this was a White Sox game that wasn't exactly an instant replay of 2005.

Thanks to the rain, for instance, Buehrle lasted only four innings in this game. He pitched into the sixth in every start last year.

And Jermaine Dye had two (count 'em, two) infield hits in this game. He had eight infield hits last year.

Juan Uribe, who walked 34 times last season, walked twice on Sunday. The new center fielder, Brian Anderson, hit one double in his month and a half with the White Sox last year -- so naturally, he doubled on the first pitch he saw. And Thome's homer was longer than any home run the White Sox hit last year (of course).

But weird as all that may have been, there was no doubt which part of this night was the most different:

A World Series championship banner was hung on a left field light tower, in Chicago, as the men who made that possible watched it drop … and videos played on the big board in center field just to prove this had really happened.

And you know what? We're pretty sure it did. No kidding.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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