As the jumbotron at U.S. Cellular Field let us know, there are traditions, and there are White Sox traditions. The architects behind this new field, the Sox marketing staff, and the fans on the South Side for this Monday night game wanted to make those traditions clear to us.
Unlike Wrigley and all its surrounding festivities, U.S. Cellular has been firmly planted in the middle of nowhere. Sure, the Red Line on the El stops right there, but I didn’t see any restaurants, bars. Really, just the highway and some warehouses served for ambiance. In fact, the stadium literally has its back turned on the city. The opportunity to have Chicago’s skyline behind the outfield is missed. Maybe this is because of the wind, but it’s a shame.
The concrete hallways to get to our seats are lined with a seemingly endless timeline. The White Sox have been a team since forever, and have been winning a good chunk of that time. Ceiling high graphics won’t let us forget.
Walking into the half-empty stadium, I wondered – why is this team second rate in the second city? Once they started playing, my wonder turned into downright confusion. This team can PLAY.
Just like almost every other game on our road trip, this outing started with runs scored in the 1st inning. The A’s handily hit a home run to left field, with the White Sox outfielder not even flinching or feigning he could catch it. The Sox answer with a run in the bottom of the 1st. The next few innings pass quickly and without scoring. The defense is spot on for both teams.
In the bottom of the 5th, the Sox tie it up with a solo home run. The inexplicably prominent pinwheel/hard candy looking decorations light up. Fireworks blast off in the outfield, over the warehouses. Too bad this celebration can’t happen with the Sears Tower for a backdrop.
As the 8th inning arrives, we are nervous about the potential of extra innings. The weather is more like October than the first day of June. The temperature is approaching 45 degrees. Clouds threaten to bring back the rain from the afternoon. As good as this game is, I want it to end in 9 innings. Somehow.
The answer comes with Jim Thome. He fulfills all that is right with baseball. He pulls his socks up. He used to play for the Phillies. He’s quietly making his way into the history books. The various screens and jumbotrons in the park are overloading us with stats. Thome is one home run above Mike Schmidt’s record and just another home run shy of 550.
So when Thome gets up and knocks the ball to that sweet spot in left field, we see history. We also see the Sox take the lead 5-2. There is hope of getting out before the rain.
But just like October baseball, meaningful baseball, usually unfolds, the teams keep it interesting. The closer for the White Sox who has an amazing 1.00 ERA at home allows a hit in the top of the 9th as the rain starts to fall. We get nervous. But this guy does what he came to do. He closes the game without another run. At the last swing and a miss, we run through the concrete walls of the stadium, down the ramps with screaming fans, treating this win as big as it felt.