As I stared at the ninth inning of Game Four of the 2005 World Series on the big screen TV at Fat City, a Champaign, Ill. bar, one question raced through my mind: Is this really happening?
The White Sox were winning by only one run and the Houston Astros had a man on second base with just one out. I pictured myself in past years watching other teams and cities celebrate a World Series, wondering if I would ever get that feeling.
Next thing I knew, Chris Burke, the pinch-hitter for the Astros, popped a ball up in the air that seemed destined for foul territory, but a diving Juan Uribe caught it as he flew into the seats. My eyes sprung open like a pogo stick. I had never seen a catch like that in my life.
This was the moment I knew they were going to win the World Series.
With two outs in the 174th game of the season, I finally realized the Chicago White Sox were the best team in baseball. After this reality had hit me, the fact that there were two outs hit me harder. Oh my God, there are two outs. There is no way this is happening.
I have been a proud White Sox fan all my life. This means that they’ve had 19 years to break my heart.
I watched them lose the American League Championship to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. The White Sox posted the best record in the American League in 2000, but I watched the Seattle Mariners sweep them in the first round of the playoffs.
Every other year, I watched and shook my head as they were eliminated from playoff contention, including 2004, when the rival Minnesota Twins celebrated their division title in Chicago, leaving me with a bitter taste.
This bitter taste would finally dissipate in 2005.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago where being Irish and baseball are the most important things in life. Lunch-table discussions in high school were mostly arguments about the Sox and Cubs. However, the working-man mentality was always seen in the White Sox and therefore, even with Cub fans, the South Side was known as a Sox town.
This is the place where I was taught to love the Chicago White Sox. This was my home.
The last time my entourage of South Siders had come to Fat City was to celebrate the first ever White Sox Bar Crawl at the University of Illinois, which happened to be when the White Sox finished up a series sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2005 playoffs.
In case you couldn’t tell we were from the South Side by our Irish faces, just ask for names. We would reply with last names like Murphy, Mayer, Sullivan, O’Connell, Phelan, or Mc-something. Those last names represented the South Side and the Chicago White Sox.
Fat City was packed with about 50 South Siders, representing their mix of black and white colors. Every pair of eyes stuck to the TV, just waiting for what we all considered a miracle.
Almost every inning, I split a pitcher of Budweiser with Ryan Best, a 19-year-old White Sox fan, to ease the nerves.
"The whole thing was so nerve-racking,” Best said. “Drinking was the only thing untying the knots in my stomach.”
Seven heart-stopping innings of unbelievable pitching by Freddy Garcia and Brandon Backe went by,until finally the White Sox broke the 0-0 stalemate.
Jermaine Dye, the White Sox right fielder, came up with a two-out single with Willie Harris on third base. Fat City erupted as all the Sox fans spilled their beer just to hug on another. Oh my God, they have the lead. This is not happening.
This is where our story begun. There were two outs and the Astros had a man on second base with Orlando Palmeiro batting.
Every person in Fat City was on their feet as Palmeiro hit a little dribbler up the middle and over the head of Bobby Jenks, the White Sox pitcher. I knew the game had to be over, but my heart still refused to beat.
There was not a sound in the normally loud Fat City. Every person leaned closer as Juan Uribe fired the baseball to the first basemen, Paul Konerko. Time froze. Every painful memory of baseball flew through my head as I gazed upon this ball floating toward first.
The ball landed in Konerko’s glove and he, along with the crowd at Fat City, turned to the umpire.
The umpire signaled out and all hell broke loose.
As if we were trying to imitate the White Sox players, we all mobbed one another. These people that were just friends or merely acquaintances became family.
I, however, sat down in my chair and poured my face into my hands. This was the most beautiful thing these blue eyes had ever seen.
Mike Sullivan, a 19-year-old White Sox fan, summed up the thoughts of thousands by saying, “It was the single greatest feeling I’ve ever had,” while reflecting on that last out.
Before I could wipe the tears away, I was brought to my feet by fellow White Sox fans and embraced.
I looked around and saw some of the toughest people I know with tears in their eyes calling their families. My mom was already calling and before she could say anything I, almost too shocked to speak, asked, “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
She calmly said, like any good mother, “Go have fun, but be careful.”
The army of Sox fans went from bar to bar to convey to Champaign just how excited we were and that they would never understand. Oh my God, the Chicago White Sox are world champions.
This, I assure you, did happen.