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Embrace the season

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 7, 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday has left the world mourning the loss of a great man and wondering who will be selected to lead the Catholic Church at this critical time. Luckily for us Americans, however, we have been handed a welcome distraction from all of our sorrows: the start of baseball season. The first regular season game of the year took place in the Bronx on Sunday night, when the Yankees upended their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. For most other teams, however, Monday afternoon marked the start of the 2005 campaign. Ballparks across the nation welcomed fans back to cheer on their favorite teams and partake in some of America’s most time-honored traditions.

It is rather appropriate that Major League Baseball raised its curtain on 2005 just as many of its fans found themselves in a state of grief. For over 150 years, baseball has provided Americans with welcomed relief during tumultuous times. Though the game is thought to have been invented during the 1840s, it was the Civil War that permitted it to flourish, when Union soldiers played the game as a way to pass the time during an otherwise grim period. Similarly, baseball provided relief on the home front during the Second World War. Although great players like Ted Williams had to abandon the game in order to defend the country, the major leagues gave Americans an opportunity to read about something other than troop movements and casualties in the morning newspapers. In addition, the war precipitated the formation of the first all-female league, which was immortalized in the Tom Hanks movie A League of their Own.

Even when baseball was not distracting people from the horrors of war, it still provided people with a temporary escape from their daily lives. In order to appreciate baseball’s importance in American culture, one need not to look any further than the way in which we have come to idolize those who play the game. Babe Ruth has long been considered a symbol of the fast-paced, excessive lifestyle of the 1920s; Lou Gehrig is looked upon as a source of courage and perseverance in the face of a hopeless situation; and Jackie Robinson’s emergence with the Brooklyn Dodgers is heralded as a key moment in the Civil Rights movement.

Nowadays people enjoy the games for the same reasons. Although overpaid players, elevated ticket prices, and steroid scandals may have caused baseball to lose some of its innocence, millions of fans still eagerly anticipate hearing the umpire yell “Play ball” for the first time each year. In my hometown of Chicago, the beginning of the baseball season is always an exciting time, as the rivalry between the city’s two teams is renewed. True baseball fans in the Windy City must choose between the White Sox and the Cubs, and simply “rooting for Chicago” is completely unacceptable. As a popular South Side song reiterates, “And when it comes to baseball, we have two favorite clubs: the Go-Go White Sox and whoever plays the Cubs!”

As a White Sox fan, the onset of spring always allows me the opportunity to trash talk some of my North-side rivals. I usually take some time to remind them that the Cubs have not won a World Series since the Roosevelt Administration (Theodore Roosevelt that is). Also, I usually make sure that they are aware that Harry Caray spent more seasons as the White Sox announcer than he did as the voice of the Cubs. Finally, I like to point out that, unlike those who flock to Wrigley Field to simply drink and people-watch, Sox fans actually go to baseball games in order to watch baseball.

In addition to some good natured Cubs-bashing, I also enjoy the start of baseball season because it allows me to become reacquainted with many of the institutions that have become a part of my White Sox experiences. Certainly, I always enjoy ballpark food, and U.S. Cellular Field has some of the best in baseball. In addition to staples such as hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn, “the Cell” also has great pizza, curly fries and churros.

In addition to the great cuisine, I also look forward to hearing the familiar tune of the ballpark organ. On the South Side, Nancy Faust has been the White Sox organist for several decades, and she has become a sort of local celebrity. In addition to the always familiar, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” she also plays classic tunes such as “Runaround Sue,” “My Kind of Town” and “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” which has been adopted as the unofficial fight song of the White Sox.

While the food and music always add to the ballpark experience, my personal favorite aspect of White Sox games is sadly no longer with us. From the 1960s until the 1990s, a man known as “Andy the Clown” became a fixture on the South Side. Never employed by the team, Andy was simply a fan who would attend every home game dressed in a cheap clown suit, with a light-up nose, and a bowling hat. In addition to his festive appearance he would also kind of sing out his cheers. He became famous for his battle cry, “C’mooooooooooon you White Sox.” While I was always entertained by Andy’s antics, others were not. When the Sox moved into a new stadium in 1991, management made it clear that he would no longer be welcome at home games. Andy died several years later, and South Side lore says that it was due to a broken heart.

I like to remember Andy’s legacy by wearing my Andy the Clown t-shirt shirt to games. Not only is this a great conversation starter with the old timers at the park, but it also usually guarantees you at least one free beverage during the game. I am sure many of you have your own favorite institutions that come with baseball season whether it be wearing your team’s cap or scouring the paper for scores every day. Now that it is beginning to warm up it is high time we take advantage of what can be a much-needed distraction from books, tests and the world around us. So while we are still in South Bend for the next few weeks, go check out a Notre Dame or Silverhawks match. Enjoy a day at the old ball game!

Molly Acker is a junior communications and humanistic studies major at Saint Mary’s. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.