a stream of conscious account of the first game between the Chicago White Soxs and Tampa Rays (formerly the more impressively titled Tampa Bay Devil Rays) MLB playoffs October 2008.
First blood came on the hands of the Rays, and the ignominious beginning to Soxtober is underway. However, glory still feels at hand as Chicago hammers three nails into an impending coffin. But wait for the champagne to pop. Because the bottle may not be in the Southsiders’ dugout just yet. As the third inning continues to unfold the Rays make their rebuttal, pointing out that the real battle has only just begun.
There are many things to keep in mind as the tension builds. Such as, what would Lenin think of a corporate themed stadium in St. Petersburg (,Florida)?
Then all questions mean nothing save for one: the Rays have four nails to the Sox’s own three -- who will win this game? It only feels wide open. The chances are miserably equal for both. No one wants to admit it. Not the old ladies, social security plugging them in right behind home plate; never mind the Ray attired fans, silent till the team returned the Sox’s punches; forget about the few slivers of Southside coloring Tropicana Stadium. And always take salt with the opinions of bar dwelling fans, brewing the frenzy that makes games worth watching. There’s only one way to know the answer to the one question on their lips, few, if any, ask with balanced objectivity. No one knows till the ninth has left a body dead and done.
Some will say blech at the thought of an objective appraisal of the field. For what is baseball, or any game, other than the wild intensity meant to replace the battle royale? We can no longer club each other with wanton abandon, but we can take out all the day’s frustrations on a small ball to center field, up into the bleachers. The work hours are miserable, though lightening with every strike the Southside fires home. The Rays will swim past the pathetic nature of their name, once glorious and fun to pronounce, now a sad spittle with no punch, to run home relief from everyday failings.
The Ray's pitcher, a fine standing #33, waddles the game along, slowly cutting down the offensive assault. However, some might feel he’s taking too long to effect the closing. He’s only tiring himself, but the fans are on their feet, thumbs down demanding the third out, lending their breath to stave off 33’s huffing throws, wilds gusts that dust off the plate leading to full counts. Then all is forgiven as the outs total to rejecting any future Sox batters.
Breathe easy fans. The quiet exchange of positions is underway, and there is no need to fear. No one can fail for now.
Somewhere on Addison Avenue, the bars are dotted blue. And though it feels like blasphemy, even they are keeping their eyes on screens devoted to the Sox. Sweating and chugging to the sticky conclusion of one foot closer to Chicago civil war. Or perhaps one less dream for the windy city. There is no center of gravity, drawing the weight of chance to one certainty over another.
Just once, there are whispers, it would be nice to hear the announcers talk about something other than their own boredom. This late in the season, though the really riveting action has begun, they’ve exhausted everything they have to discuss. As good and easy a job it may be, after hundreds of games there is only the well worn hackneyed observations already made, to be replayed for the audience that barely pays any attention.
Commentating takes a moment to sprinkle a little spice, exchanging a few words with Ozzie, the Sox’s beleaguered manager. Tired eyes watch his team firmly trying not to fumble the ball, while half a city screams for the failure of his players. Boiling blood cracks his eyes, and he intends to lead his team, but has to break from the battlefield to make a few remarks. He says what anyone would expect. We hope it all comes to mean something.
Meanwhile Swisher is busy decorating his bat rather than notice the clouds looming over the lip of the stadium. The camera angle reveals little, other than the voodoo essence of his scribbling. But the magic must be miss aligned, as it charms a Ray to second base. However, the Rays only have intentions of delivering a can of corn. So the innings march to the gutted period, the fifth.
Much to the chagrin of Steve Erwin, the ray tank holds the attention of simpler fans. Already a cover up is underway, to shuttle off the body of a man who tried to pet one. Details are sketchy. However, what is known is that a carcass vanished into the bowels of the stadium shortly before vendors emerged with hotdogs. It will be a tragedy quickly forgotten because there’s a game to play. And Pierzynski’s failure to rob the Ray’s has whipped their devilish fans back from questions about odd flavors and Indian tales of the Wendigo.
This is the speculative inning. All the fury of the opening volley is simmering. Fans and commentators are settled into the war. Now we can discuss the averages, and injuries, and the strategies that brought our respective fellows here. An error brings a collective cry, a mix of anguish and joy. However, it doesn’t renew the boiling pot. Only the simmer remains to steadily wait for a chance to scald or scold.
The velour field looks in need of a good shampoo, but it holds no ball. While the Rays position another nail, a highlight reel reminds everyone what happened five minutes ago. Focuses are too much on moment to moment. No one is sure a past exists and that is for the best. All the failures of the regular season are forgotten in part, and forgiven so long as reminders do not arrive. For the Soxs, that latter time is now. Vasquez is quickly sacrificed for the good of Chicago.
The Rays’ nail is secure, but the coffin is far from closed.
Though this may set the tone, it doesn‘t mean everything. While the series may not be defined by an opening loss, the sun doesn‘t shine on anyone in Tropicana Stadium. There are miles left to trip over one‘s own feet.
The Ray‘s are an impish bunch. Feisty with one another since Spring training, and various altercations all season long. Tack on the fact they‘ve been branded twice, first as the worst and now as contenders, and you have a recipe for crowded taverns. This is the type of team bar owners love. Losses cooled over buckets of brew, the atmosphere is ripe for the sight of that rarest of “regulars”, the fair weather fan. These are the wearers of pressed jerseys and T-shirts that never knew a drop of beer. They don’t know the games die hards have learned since the age of six. Shots of such and what not to foist the luck of the team, and ritual chants in sacred garb, that even through a television, can change the outcome of any encounter. The Soxs have their own such people, make no mistake. However, this is Tampa territory. So their flocks get the first word.
It makes sense that the weather has gotten chilly in Chicago. The cold slap of Fall is heralding more than just the temperature. This is a tense time for the city as two teams venture into the Post struggle. Someone will be left out in the cold when this is all over, but the question of who is guardedly not spoken. Not because the fans don’t have a feeling. Rather, because neither may have the chance to gloat. Jaws clenched, the people know what they want, but won’t whisper for fear it may change the rotation of the world.
Now the Rays’ fans holler at the top of their lungs. Cow bells clamor for the final hammer fall. Cushioned by a three run lead, they feel more than comfortable proclaiming their glory. It certainly seems impending. Even the most steely Soxs fan must admit that perhaps the planning for the next game should begin. Some win may still be salvaged in the course of this series. What it will mean is another matter entirely.
This is the time when long memories begin invoking the great moments and players of past victories. Names are spoken with hushed revere. Perhaps the ghosts of yester-year will lend a hand to now. On the other side of the coin, the past serves to prove why wins are guaranteed.
However, some thoughts can’t help but turn to wonder, why is there a blimp view of an enclosed stadium?
Leaning hard on the remains of the game, the Rays are dropping into a three point stance. They intend to run through the Soxs and be done without a full ninth. It would seem like a good strategy except the Soxs’ swings have become lackluster. The paper tiger is being labeled a denizen of Chicago and a train is intending to run it down. There’s still a glimmer in the eyes of fans, but the black and white is running red.
Another pitcher goes down to appease the gods, and the Soxs’ wonder what the point was, until the final out arrives. A brilliant strike out that leaves the road three outs to an exit. You can tell by the looks from the dugout that the White Soxs are anxious to get out of here. They have already shifted their daydreams to the possibilities tomorrow may bring. However, there is the dripping wound that today leaves behind. It can be dressed this evening but only the next encounter will reveal how much the blood loss affected the team.
The long bony finger of a man, born and raised in the eighty-eight years it took the Soxs to find the World Series, points to the horizon. He can see a come from behind that only the Southside can magic. His dreamy eyes are moist with tears. He can recollect the death of his own father, decades too far from seeing his beloved team victorious. Though the son carries on, it was a bittersweet sight to behold when that trophy came to Chicago. Since then he lingers on the sweet rather than bitter. He’s seen war, gas famine, and death. But nothing makes his heart flutter more than the swing of the team, scything down the competition. He knows how the worm can turn and has a shot of Tequila ready to accentuate the point. This day isn’t over till three ravens are buried. One for each base with no fourth to carry home. He doesn’t expect or demand anything. Too many years have taken the edge off that hatchet of fandom. He only waits for the promise to be fulfilled and carried on by his own children. And his manner seems to be the way as Konerko’s homer proves the old fans often know best.
The gap is lessening, but the short hop across feels like an illusion. Maybe the team could traverse it in one fell swoop. Maybe they’ll leap out to find the edge an inch too far. Either way, some chance has to be taken before the first out multiplies.
The Rays remain confident though the smugness has left their faces. It could return in a flash, buoyed by a second out. Meanwhile, the old man is pointing, sipping his shot. “No one knows,” he mutters. It’s the only thing he’ll risk saying. But even that may have been too much. The world no longer turns the way it used to anymore.
I got distracted and didn't catch the end of the game. Perhaps that's what stymied my career in sportswriting -- people typically want to know how the games end. I couldn't help thinking, at the time, There'll be like 87 baseball games this week, but this may be my only chance to watch two squirrels banging.