Love at first sight: It’s possible Bitmoji has changed her mind about Scotty Pods already.
The day is beautiful, low 60s and sunny, as good as it gets in early April. I’m on the Red Line, rumbling toward the South Side to meet up with Wally. Wally is a Missouri native and a Cardinals fan first and foremost. But the White Sox are his 1(a) team, and he’s nearly as passionate as I am. I know this is for real, because his love for the Sox goes back to the days of Frank, Robin, and Jack McDowell. Wally and I have attended two Sox games together, and they lost both. Badly. This is our last chance, and we both know it. We’re superstitious enough to realize that there is no way we’ll ever attend another game together if we get our third strike today.
The train is screaming through the subway tunnel, and the couple behind me is debating the best way to Midway Airport. The woman says that she called CTA, and they told her to transfer to the Orange Line at Lake. I turn around. “That’s actually not the best way. There are lots of stairs involved, which is annoying with a suitcase, and it’s not that well marked. Transfer at Roosevelt Road. Lots of signs and an escalator. Much easier. In fact, I’m getting off there. You can follow me.”
The woman, Kathy, is grateful. She’s heading to Florida to visit her sister. Her husband, Roger, is wearing a Sox hat. He’s going to Opening Day, too. We trade fan stories for the rest of the trip: best games, favorite players, funniest ballpark memories.
At Roosevelt Road, I guide Kathy to her train. She is genuinely thankful and seemingly a little surprised to find such a friendly soul. It’s good karma, I tell myself. And you need all the good karma you can get on Opening Day.
I meet Wally at a bar on South Michigan Avenue for a drink and remote broadcast by a sports radio team that I like. At the park, I walk to Parking Lot A to step on old home plate. As I do this, a man nearby asks, “Why are you doing that?”
“For luck. I do it every game.” I reply.
“Doesn’t seem to be working,” he grumbles.
“Maybe I just haven’t been doing it enough yet. Maybe luck is cumulative.”
I buy a scorecard outside Gate 4 at a kiosk manned by an older African-American. I decline the pencil, because of course I brought my own.
* * *
“What do you think the keys are to the season?” Wally asks in between handfuls of peanuts.
“Two things,” I say, popping a nut into my mouth, the spent shells falling to my feet. “One: Can Jermaine Dye even come close to replacing Mags in right field? And two: Is A.J. Pierzynski just a troublemaker or is he That Guy that we’ve been needing for so long?”
While nervous about offensive capabilities — new guy Tadahito Iguchi looked terrible in each of his three strikeouts — I’m thrilled with the show of pitching prowess. And other new guy Scott Podsednik does looks to be speedy. Wally and I decide to put a stamp on our euphoria and buy some Sox merchandise. When we get to Grandstand — if they don’t have it in Sox colors, you don’t need it — I can’t believe my eyes: there’s a line to get in. To a store. Selling Sox merchandise. There’s a bouncer at the door and everything. What is this, Studio 54? Wally and I wait in line for 10 minutes, and the bouncer says this is typical early in the season, and when the Sox win. “When they lose,” he says, “people walk by like they got blinders on, like we’re not even here.”
New purchases in hand, Wally and I wander the neighborhood a bit. We come across guys playing bags in the street and drinking Modelo Especial out of the back of their minivan. They invite us to join them, and how can we say no?
We then hit a couple of neighborhood bars, also packed. One bartender shrugs, “On Opening Day, everybody thinks they’re going to win the World Series.”
On our way out of one bar, I run into Roger, my friend from the morning’s El ride, on his way in.
“Must be destiny,” he says. “It’s going to be a good season.”
To top off the day, I win $265 in my NCAA office pool when North Carolina beats Illinois that evening. The only sour note is a local sports columnist’s take on the upcoming season: He writes that White Sox fans have no reason to think this team will be more than .500, they let their best player go, their pitchers are B+ at best, they will be offensively inept. Perhaps he is right, but that doesn’t matter right now.
Tomorrow, I will worry. Today is Opening Day. And anything is possible.