Can't beat fun at the old ball park... especially if you love heckling.
Growing up a White Sox fan in Chicago is not easy. With an apology to step-children everywhere (I happen to be one)... Sox fans are the mistreated, unwanted, ignored step-children of Chicago. Actually it is more accurate to say we are mistreated, unwanted, and ignored by the entire sporting world. If you don't believe me, check out this graphic from ESPN (The self proclaimed "World Wide Leader in Sports").
By the way, the inspiration for this graphic was the Cubs/Indians World Series. So this graphic about the World Series omitted the White Sox World Series win from only 10 years earlier.
However, in addition to being able to proudly say I was a counter-culture rebel, there was one huge advantage of being a Chicago White Sox fan. Thanks to @donkeypong mentioning Rickey Henderson in his recent post about baseball jerseys, I was reminded of this forgotten perk.
As soon as I got my driver’s license, I began attending at least 10 to 15 White Sox games each season. Being a poor high school or college student meant that I had to purchase the cheapest tickets available. Luckily there were always plenty of tickets available. In fact, the stadium was usually 2/3 empty. (It is hard to ignore a team if you go their stadium).
Being a huge fan who hated the idea of his beloved team's stadium looking empty on TV, I made the supreme sacrifice of moving from the cheap seats to one of the many vacant seats near home plate. I referred to this action as "seat picking"... but that is a post for another day. On the weekend, I may have needed to sit in the first row of the outfield. No matter what, I always made sure I was close enough to interact with the players.
"Interact" had two meanings. "Interacting" with a member of the White Sox entailed my telling them how much better than their Cub counterparts they were. "Interacting" with the opposing players was much different. Before a game began, I would choose one opposing player to annoy. My goal was to annoy them so much that they would acknowledge me in some way. My buddies and I had a few rules. We would never swear, say anything that a little kid should not hear, mention the player's family or yell in a fellow fan's ear. We especially loved using very dated terms that people in the 1940s would toss around at ball games. As a result, many visitors got to hear me shout, "You're a bum!" a couple of dozen times each game. If any of our fellow Sox fans seemed to be annoyed, we would tone it down. On most occasions though, the people around us appeared to enjoy the show.
I was usually more like the laughing guy behind those two really angry people.
One of my favorites was Tori Hunter of the Minnesota Twins. I honestly can't remember exactly what we were yelling at him one particular night, but I am sure we were talking about his "rag arm" quite a bit. That was of course until, with a man on second and two outs, a liner fell in front of Hunter. He snatched it up, fired home and beat our runner by at least four feet. He immediately turned to my friends and I and began miming that his arm was a noodle. We tipped our caps.
My second favorite was Jose Canseco. At a game in 1991 or 1992, Canseco was playing right field for the Oakland A's. My friends and I who were sitting in the first row of right field, were all over him all game long. We had plenty of material to choose from. Not only had Canseco already begun raising suspicions that he was using steroids, he had been involved with Madonna. For good measure, we made sure to mix in a steady dose of reminding Canseco how much better Frank Thomas was than him. After several innings of cheating and Madonna related badgering, Canseco stepped to the plate. He crushed a steroid-aided go ahead home run. When he returned to his position, he turned to my friends and I, clenched his fists above his head and began shaking them like he had just been proclaimed "champion of the world".
Not Jose Canseco... but he did shake his fists like this for just as long.
A bit deflated, we quieted down as the home half of the inning began. One hit fell. Then another. Next, Frank Thomas stepped to the plate. He walloped a three-run homer that may still be sailing over the Chicago Skies. We exploded and began imitating Cansecos gesture. He scowled at us. We did not tip our caps to him.
Although those were fun, my absolute proudest moment as a heckler occurred during the twilight of the great Rickey Henderson's career. On this occasion I was able to sit in the first row near the visitor's on deck circle. When the future Hall-of-Famer stepped into the circle to take his swings, I began reminding him how old he was. I'm pretty sure the words "over-the-hill", "washed up", and "bum" were used quite a few times. Henderson glanced back at me as he walked to the plate.
I had won!
I had gotten into the head of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer! He would not be able to concentrate and would strike out for sure. You are welcome White Sox. I am at your service and will accept my award for best fan ever.
Not so fast.
Henderson masterfully worked the count and earned a walk. He promptly stole second base. Then he stole third. Finally he scored on a sacrifice fly. As he walked back to the dugout, he pointed at me and laughed. I immediately sprang to my feet and gave him a one-man standing ovation. Not only had this baseball great shown the crowd a glimpse of what he once was, he showed me he had a sense of humor.
I'd like to think he still laughs at me every once in a while.
I'm pretty sure if I did any of this today, I'd be arrested.
I miss the good old days.