High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Monday, October 17, 2005


Warning: This is likely to be boring in the extreme for anyone who is not me (and that's optimistic).

It's hyperbole to say that I was born loving baseball, but it feels like that. My sisters were 7 and 8 when I was born. The first memory I have of real interaction with them was during a White Sox game. They were glued to the black-and-white television in the back of our kitchen. It was nearly dinner time, and I knew there'd be a fight when my mother made them turn the game off. I knew which side of the fight I wanted to be on. Mom made her move and probably for the first, last, and only time in my life, I got a word in before Trish [1]: "But Mom! 30's up."

I don't remember how they deciphered my code. Probably it was Terry[2], who always paid more attention to me than the average family member. I couldn't really read (or at least not much), but I knew my numbers. In the earliest manifestation of what my good friend D. would later call my "photogenic memory," I'd memorized the batting order by uniform number. Number 30, Bucky Dent. He was Trish's crush and she cried when he was traded to the Yankees. Number 16, Brian Downing, the one Terry liked. I don't think she ever forgave me for my passion for Bill Nohorodny, a later rival of Downing's, but I was obsessed with his name.

I only needed to hear the announcers list the batting order once before I had it down pat for the game (probably there wasn't a whole lot of variation, in truth). But I had one quirk. I would always add number 28 in at a random position, giving the Sox 10 hitters. I felt it most unjust that they never let number 28 up. Number 28 was, of course, Wilbur Wood, a knuckleball pitcher. To me, he was that man who threw funny, but that was no reason not to let him bat. If the numbers in my brain are to be trusted, that was 1975.

That seems about right, because in 1976, I made my famous choice of my baseball boyfriend: Ralph Garr. My sisters laughed, but let me have his picture from a set of cardboard 5x7s we got from Shop-N-Bag by pasting hundreds of greenstamps (or something like them) into books. And when I say "we" I mean "I" on the pasting front. I suppose it's appropriate that my first exposure to racism in the family was accompanied by my first exploitation as cheap labor.

I didn't win any more friends in the era of the South Side hitmen by failing to see the charm of Richie Zisk. A part of Trish died to me when I asked for the picture of Oscar Gamble from the 1977 set. Garr continued to be my favorite, but Oscar had his place by his side. Filling out my unlikely trio was Lerrin LaGrow, a giant red-headed pitcher. By this time, I was memorizing the number of homers and RBIs each batter had. Batting average was frustrating to me, because it seemed to change at random. By the end of that season, though, I'd worked it out through trial and error and was doing something that approximated fractions in my head. (Naturally, this would come back to bite me on the ass when I was dumbstruck by the utterly bass ackward way in which they taught fractions in school.)

I don't remember my first game at Comiskey. I feel certain it was probably a frigid spring day. I know we would have sat along the right-field line, dozens of rows deep. One of us, but probably not me, would have smuggled in a greasy paper shopping bag full of popcorn. It's unlikely that this would have been my task, because, despite early training in deceit, I could not have achieved plausible deniability under the pressure of interrogation by Andy Frain [3].

When I got older and understood why my choices of baseball boyfriends were funny (sisters) or alarming (parents), I would also understand the shame of this[4]. By that time I was old enough to be entrusted with the duty of Popcorn Bag Man. My skin would crawl as I made my way through the turnstiles. not just at this tactic. My face would burn with shame everytime a vendor came by and pop and beers and popcorn and peanuts and cotton candy sailed through my hands and over my head to the people around us.

When Trish got old enough to be in her really nasty years, there was worse hell. She'd hail a vendor and buy something (often several somethings) for herself, ostentatiously peeling bills off and passing them to me or my dad to hand over. I know how I would have reacted during this phase. I hated her. I hated her for making a day at the game not enough. I hated her for making me aware that we really couldn't afford it in the first place, let alone any extras, and I hated her for making my dad feel bad.

Poor Trish. That's a lot of baggage for a 14-year-old minimum-wage earner. Especially when I've probably made up the part about my dad feeling bad. It's far more likely that he yelled at her for wasting her money on overpriced crap. In any case, I owe Trish. My own nasty years took on a very different tone, thanks to her example. Nasty in oh so many creative ways of my own, I was adamant about not asking for money from them, or even making them aware that there were cases in which I genuinely might have needed money. I probably owe several hundred dollars to LZ who spotted me money for lunch virtually everday in high school.

The hangdog-dad expression that still makes me tear up even now would've come later, when we got home. My mother almost never came to games with us. One could argue that this stems from her complete disinterest in any sports. Given that she particularly seemed to dislike baseball, it would seem sensible not to stretch the cash any further by buying a ticket for someone who didn't want to be there. Is it likely that every single trip to Comiskey resulted in a fight? Statistically, there were probably one or two times when it didn't, but I don't remember those.

Usually, it would start out being about the money. Practically, I suppose this was the best place to seek the argumentative high ground. But it always devolved into a patented mom mix of jealousy and conspiracy. Baseball was a way of taking her daughters from her (where my older brother was in all this, I couldn't tell you, but he was decidedly not part of the Clan!Og fandom). Baseball was a way for her daughters to gang up with him against her. The very sport had been designed in advance of her birth, paving the way for her, once again, to be left out.

But I'm getting well ahead of myself. The first time I went to Comiskey, I didn't know about shame anymore than I knew about the difference between white people and black people. I didn't know we couldn't really afford to go to the game. The big popcorn bag was a treat, because my dad made the best popcorn in the world: stovetop, corn oil, a little butter melted in the steaming hot lid of the pot, which you'd then turn over on to the popcorn and shake it through.

My sisters took me on the long hike down from our seats to those right behind the dugout and I knocked on the roof, looking skeptical when Terry told me that all the numbers were inside. I have a vague memory of a young man noticing me watching over his shoulder as he kept score in his own book and showing me how to do it. That must have been well after my first game, though, because I remember him letting me write, a huge, wobbly KO in the box. I still love the intricacies of keeping score, though probably no one does it by hand anymore. I love the diamonds and layered information available if you just know the code. I haven't done it in years, and I miss it.

I think it was all down hill for my sisters after Bucky left. They would move on to where I dared not follow: Shaun Cassidy, the Hardy Boys, the Bee Gees[5] and shiny satin pantsuits. But there are a few scattered memories of "Us" as a reality. I know I was a right pain in the ass one day when they took me to Ford City Mall with them (coerced or out of the goodness of their hearts, I don't know, but they certainly would rue the day). We stood in a huge crowd of screaming teenage girls for hours. I couldn't see a thing except the nightmare of polyester bellbottoms that made up the view at my eye level. Shirley this isn't where Og was born, but it was one of hir formative experiences.

I was truly working up to a tantrum when the somewhat bewildered guy on stage called my name. Say what you will about Trish (and I obviously have here), but she's an excellent woman in a bulldozer situation. Using me as a shield, she plowed through us through to the stage. The man knelt down, holding an LP with ornate cover art, and looked at me dubiously. He asked me my name. I turned and buried my face against Trish's leg. I could've sooner dug the Panama Canal than talked to him. This suited Trish just fine as she told him to sign it to her. Somewhere out there, probably still mouldering in a Salvation Army store is an autographed copy of CREAM VOLUME TWO---To Trish: All the Best, Ken Kravec.

Without my sisters, the fandom was hard to maintain. I wasn't old enought to reliably keep track of when games were on, and had no power to command the TV when they were. The lineup became unfamiliar to me. There were games with my dad, most courtesy of Straight-A tickets from school when I could pester my mother enough that she'd send in the paperwork for them. Less frequently, my sisters would come. From time to time, my friends from next door would come with us or I'd go with them. I didn't like those times as well. I wanted to watch and keep score. C would want to explore the park or torment her brother.

In 1982, I was 10 years old and a complete fanatic. It wasn't just about the Sox anymore. I would watch any game I could. I ate up the strange rules and rare occurrences. I'd tell anyone who would listen (a very small audience, consisting primarily of my grandmother, who probably couldn't hear a word I was saying) about balks and dropped third strikes and the infield fly rule. I'd been an American League fan by birth, but now I had a justification: My sense of empathetic shame went into overdrive watching pitchers try to bat.

My friends with children and grandchildren tell me that kids will inevitably sort their dinosaurs into good guys and bad guys. I did the same with teams that year. The Sox weren't doing much of anything, and the Brewers became my second favorite team. In the National League, it was the Cardinals, whose line up consisted of names to rival Nohorodny: Willie McGee, Joaquin Andujar, Ozzie Smith. Milwaukee had a pitcher named Bob McClure who turned aaaaallll the way around, facing second base as part of his wind up.

I'm sure the members of my household were grateful that, in those days, there was one 5-game round of playoffs in each series, because I was relentless. For the first time in my life, I held my ground about the TV. I went on and on about the evils of the Braves and the Angels. It was imperative that the World Series be the Brewers and the Cardinals and that the Brewers triumph. They didn't---a taste of disappointment that would prepare me for the 1983 ALDS.

It's late now and this is long enough for the moment. I regret to inform anyone who has made it this far, though, that this will likely be at least a two-part series.


[1] I'm not changing their names to protect the innocent because: (a) they're not; (b) the bitches have the same first initial; (c) most of you know them anyway, and I trust you're not going to ruin their political aspirations by revealing their child enslavement and poor taste in music and fashion.

[2] See note 1.

[3] Def. Security firm providing underskilled, underpaid bodies to block the exits when sporting and/or cultural events get out of hand in Chi Town. UsageThe dude just downed three urinal cakes, then took a dump in the trough in the men's room. Better grab that Andy Frain.

[4] Shame about stupid things that were beyond the control of me and my family. Shame regarding my very favorite baby blue and orange plaid flare pants (which, I felt, were set off to their best advantage when paired with a velour vest in a different shade of blue worn over a polkadot peasant blouse with Holly Hobbies around the bottom) was a long time in coming.

[5] In case you have doubts about their innocence, they are entirely to blame for the fact that I knew about the Bee Gees Sergeant Pepper long before I'd ever heard of the Beatles.



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