Saturday, April 28, 2012

Moving the Batters Boxes: A Photo Essay

Baseball’s modern era dates back to 1901, but one never knows when something new and unprecedented will occur. On August 17, 2006, for example, I attended a White Sox-Royals game with my 94-year-old uncle Adolph. The leadoff men for each team homered in the 1st and 2nd innings, the first time this happened (and hasn’t since) in Major League Baseball history. The irony wasn’t lost on being with a fan who attended his first Sox game in 1921.

I don’t know the last time umpires ordered the batters boxes to be obliterated and re-chalked during a game but it happened on the White Sox’s Opening Day on April 13, 2012. Here’s the sequence of events.

After Jake Peavy struck out the first two batters to start the game, Tigers 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate and immediately began pointing to the batters box for right-handed hitters. Tigers manager Jim Leyland came out to confer with home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson and crew chief Gary Cederstrom. Fans could only guess what was going on, although many speculated Cabrera was trying to screw with Peavy’s rhythm.

Cabera points to home plate

The umpires then summoned head groundskeeper Roger “The Sodfather” Bossard to home plate and, after some discussion, Bossard walked over to a storage room beyond the first-base dugout. Bossard and a member of his crew would reenter with a broom and a rake.

Bossard head to the storeroom

In the meantime, Sox manager Robin Ventura, two outs into his MLB managing debut, came out to find out what was going on. In true Chicago fashion, he joined the two umpires staring at the home-plate area while waiting for Bossard to return.

Ventura makes the scene

Bossard with a rake and his aide with a broom proceeded to obliterate both batters boxes while Ventura and A.J. Pierzynski kibitzed the umps.

Out go the boxes

While all this was going on, Cabrera and the on-deck hitter, the newly signed Prince Fielder ($44 million/year in combined salaries), watched from the dugout railing. Delmon Young (in sunglasses) would be arrested later that month in New York for among other things allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks to a panhandler.

$44 million sitting on a fence

The game was further delayed because the wooden frame holding the chalk for the batters boxes is stored under the center-field stands. Another crewmember was dispatched to bring it to home plate.

Call to the pen, so to speak

Bossard supervised placing the new batters boxes a few inches farther from the pitcher’s mound. Cabrera, it turned out, was correct.

New boxes go down

Finally, after a 10-minute delay, the six-time All-Star stepped up again to the plate, He flied out to right field on the first pitch. He went 0-3 with a walk. 

One pitch, one out

The Sox would go on to win, 5-2.

Another Opening Day victory

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Top 10 List: Notable White Sox Games

As I enter my 59th (or 60th) season of attending White Sox games and my 9th Opening Day (my entry on this being a third New Year’s Day is http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/04/third-new-years-day.html), it’s time to look back on my Top 10 most notable games. Ranked in order, they are:


  1. Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. Having been jaded enough by seeing Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter (see #4) and Gavin Floyd’s near no-hitter in 2008, I couldn’t possibly believe the July 23, 2009, game vs. Tampa Bay would end in a perfect game. I’d thought of attending the afternoon game when my cousin Cathy called with an invitation to join brother Jim in his seats five rows behind the first-base dugout. This game has to rank first because at the time there had been only 18 in MLB history (two more since). I was also lucky enough to take my camera; photos before during and after the game are on my Flickr set, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brulelaker/sets/72157621799747826/.
 

 After the final out, Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game

  1. Game 1, 2005 World Series. Sox fans waited 46 years for another World Series appearance and 88 years for a World Championship. Although I had attended both games of the American League Division Series (ALDS) vs. Boston and the first game (and only post-season loss) of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) vs. Los Angeles, I didn’t get a ticket to the first game of the World Series from Jim until the night before. My brother was coming into town from Denver to be here for the excitement, and we thought we’d be watching the game on television. I woke up early the next morning and, working the phones and the Internet, found a ticket in Section 508. Arriving in Chicago that day, I told him, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re sitting in the upper deck and I’m sitting downstairs behind the plate; the good news is we’re both going tonight.” I can still remember hearing “Don’t Stop Believing” blasting from the PA system after the final out of the 5-3 victory.
Jim and I before Game 1 of the 2005 World Series

  1. Game 1, 1959 World Series. The Sox had not been to the World Series since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, clinching the pennant and setting off the air-raid sirens (thanks to Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn) during the last week of the season. My uncle Adolph, a season-ticket holder, arranged for tickets for my father, brother and me in the right-field lower deck. We took Canal Street to the ballpark, and Bridgeport residents had strung clotheslines festooned with white socks along the route. The Sox won, 11-0, but lost four of the next five games. Only 10 at the time, years later I realized that as happy as we were, our father – age 42 – must have been far more excited.
 
Program cover, 1959 World Series

  1. Buehrle’s no-hitter. Despite a forecast of sub-40 degree weather, I chose to take two (but not four) of Jim’s tickets to the April 18, 2007, game vs. Texas. After five friends declined to go, all either being out-of-town or having previous engagements, Dave My Computer Guy accepted the invitation. Donning six layers of clothing and a woolen scarf, I sat down in front of a young man who proceeded to yell loudly nonstop. “I don’t know if I can keep this up all game,” he said in the first inning, but by the end of the game, everybody was screaming. Buehrle had walked Sammy Sosa, only to turn around and pick him off 1st base, bringing him to the 27th and final batter. The crowd went nuts after the third out, as did my five friends who missed out on seeing a no-hitter. 
Ticket to Buehrle's no-hitter 

  1. Last game at Comiskey Park. This was another game where I didn’t get a ticket until the last minute. Luckily, my friends convinced the third ticket holder that I would be a more deserving recipient than his not-really-serious girlfriend. Waiting for them to arrive, I took numerous photographs around the ballpark, then roamed around the stands for interior shots. Our seats were in the upper deck below the old football press box; I had seen the Chicago Cardinals play in their final season at Comiskey Park. Knowing my only chance to catch the final out was to zone-focus on 1st base, I was able to catch Harold Reynolds ground out, 2nd to 1st, and bring the curtain down on the 80-year-old ballpark. My life basically flashed before me and I would have let out a good cry if I’d known so many others did so.
The final out at the old Comiskey Park  

  1. 2008 Blackout tiebreaker. After the Sox and Twins ended the regular season tied for first place in the Central Division, a one-game tiebreaker on September 30 would determine Tampa Bay’s opponent in the ALDS. The White Sox requested everyone to wear black for the game, presenting an eerie look at the 3 p.m. start. Ordinarily the season-ticket holders – Jim split the season with them – would have had the coveted seats but it was the second night of Rosh Hashanah; since they are Conservative and we are Reform, my three cousins and I got the tickets. Returning from the men’s room at the beginning of the 7th inning of the 0-0 game, I settled in just has Jim Thome hit a towering, no-doubt home run so high and far that I looked at the Sox dugout to watch the reaction. Only later did I find it traveled 461 feet, landing in the camera area behind the center-field backdrop. The Sox won, 1-0, and there were a number of guys in that men’s room that missed the biggest highlight of the game. 
Ticket to the tie-breaker

  1. First game at new Comiskey Park. Because I split a ticket plan, we were entitled to tickets to Opening Day at the new Comiskey Park on April 18, 1991, vs. the Tigers. The day was disconcerting for many reasons. Fans walking to the new ballpark passed the old Comiskey Park in its beginning stages of demolition, with a gaping hole in the right-field corner. Aside from being a new venue for a team you’ve watched play across the street for almost 40 seasons, our seats were far higher than any before, some three rows from the back of Section 535. Those seats are now gone, thanks to a renovation prior to the 2005 season. Lastly, the game: the Tigers scored 10 runs in the 4th inning – fans were actually rooting to see what a doubledigit inning would look like on the new scoreboard – to make it 16-0, the eventual final score. Eighteen years later I would witness the Sox’s worst home loss, a 20-1 shellacking by the Twins. 
 First pitch, new Comiskey Park

  1. Last two games at Yankee Stadium. I’m bunching two games here, the fourth- and fifth-to-last games played at The House that Ruth Built in 2008. Having been to the pre-renovated stadium twice – the first for Denny McLain’s second win of his 31-win season in 1968 – and the renovated one once, I had to see the Sox final games there. It turned out tickets for the final two games of the four-game series worked best. Ironically, while in New York from September 17-19, the world financial markets were teetering on collapse, although you couldn’t tell it on the streets of Manhattan. I attended the first game with the Friedmans, who lived next door to us in Chicago and behind us in Glencoe. For the last game I was joined by John Harris and his 11-year-old son Emerson, for whom I had a ball tossed to me by Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Sox lost both games, 5-1 and 9-2, but it was a thrill being at The Stadium before the wreckers’ ball hit.
My seat for the final Sox game at Yankee Stadium

     
  1. Joe Stanka’s only Major League victory. For those too young to remember, teams once played twi-night doubleheaders. The first game started a 6 p.m. and because of the quicker pace of bygone days, you could actually get home before the sunrise. We attend a twi-nighter vs. the Tigers on September 2, 1959. The Sox won game 1, 7-2, in a snappy 2 hours and 16 minutes. Barry Latman started game 2 and was pulled in the 4th inning after falling behind 4-0. The Sox brought in reliever Joe Stanka for his Major League debut; they went on to score 11 runs in the 5th inning on the way to an 11-4 victory. He would pitch in his only other game three days later, then went on to star in Japan, where he went 26-7 for the Nankai Hawks in 1964.
Ticket to the twi-nighter 

  1.  My father’s last game. It’s a fascinating story of how without tickets the day before Bat Day in 1972 I ended up sitting in the first row behind the Yankees dugout and my parents one row behind me next to the president of the Yankees. This was all thanks to The Major, Yankees manager Ralph Houk (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/11/major-gives-us-day-to-remember.html). Sadly, it was also my father’s last Sox game, as he passed away suddenly at age 55 shortly before the beginning of the next season.
Other noteworthy games were Gavin Floyd’s near no hitter, broken up by the Twins Joe Mauer with two out in the 9th inning; game 2 of the 1993 ALCS vs. Toronto, my first post-season game since the 1959 World Series; games 1 and 2 of the 2005 ALCS, both victories vs. the Red Sox; the only game in MLB history where the leadoff men for both teams homered in the 1st and 2nd innings, seen with my 94-year-old uncle in 2006; my second game at Yankee Stadium in 1972, where I relieved myself next to a White Sox reliever (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/10/sound-of-metal-spikes-on-concrete.html); Whitey Ford's last Chicago appearence (and second-to-last MLB victory), for which I ditched school in 1967; and Twins Night, a Bill Veeck promotion for the Minnesota Twins first Chicago appearance in 1961 (a detailed report is contained in http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/10/twins-life.html).

I will forgo waxing on about the significance of White Sox baseball and this particular Opening Day to me, other than I will take time while riding the CTA Red Line to Sox Park to think about my father and uncle hopping the Wentworth Avenue streetcar some 85 years for the old ballpark across the street. The more things change, the more they stay the same.