Of All The Playoff Series In All The World

[from Her Rays!, October 2, 2008]

Of all the playoff series in all the seasons in all the world, you had to walk into ours.

There used to be this bar in Chicago, a great little neighborhood dive in Ravenswood my friends and I hung out at when we first moved in from the suburbs. Great food, cheap beer, a total drunken character of an owner; the place already had everything going for it but on top of all that it was a White Sox bar. On the North Side. To put this in context, this is the equivalent of a Civil War buff finding a Ulysses Grant museum in Georgia.

Yeah, we’re that petty about our baseball loyalties up here.

Anyway, the only postseason baseball we ever got to see at our favorite haunt was the 2003 Cubs-Braves and Cubs-Marlins series. Naturally our little group rooted for the Marlins, and we got our wish in grand fashion, but it was strange watching all these local fans of the other Chicago-based, non-White Sox team invade our bar for three weeks that October. People showed up in enemy colors to a Sox bar – to OUR bar – and cheered on their team. How dare they!

“I feel like a whore” was how the owner put it. “A well-paid, high-class whore.”

That place closed its doors in early 2004, and throughout the White Sox’ 2005 run my friends and I repeatedly theorized out loud how cool it would be to watch all of this postseason business at the old hangout.

Now, understand that in any other year, chances are I’d be cursing you – yes YOU, Rays fans. I’d be smashing every cowbell I could find to pieces, or heading down to the Shedd Aquarium here in Chicago to throw sharp objects at any and all rays (devil, sting, and whoever else got in my way) swimming around, or even threatening people named Ray with a violent shanking.

Except I can’t, for two reasons. First and foremost – and as a Sox fan, this is very hard for me to admit – I’ve been rooting for you. Not just your team but for those of you who’ve stuck by them and are just now rewarded for your patience. I’ve been the fan of a near-perennial also-ran for most of my life, and I feel your pain of living in the shadows of mightier, more glamorous franchises. Enjoy this moment for all you can.

The other is simpler, yet more complicated, and it has to do with the name of that bar. Yes, it taught us to temporarily embrace fans of other teams, but there has to be some kind of cosmic revenge at work here. It’s as though the owner and his bar are getting back at the Sox from beyond the IRS foreclosure grave for our sin of even thinking of leaving those other teams’ fans alone.

We once heard its name like a whisper on a haunted wind; now we see it in our face, and we see it now as the looming specter of doom facing our beloved baseball team: Ray’s.

Another friend and I were talking a few weeks back, just as the Sox hit the skids, about whose bandwagon we’d be jumping on once the Good Guys were out of it. We both agreed the Rays, because they play about as solidly as a team can and because it would just be a good outcome.

But now, oh now, you’ve gone and done it: Rays. Sox. Ray’s. Sox-Rays. Ray’s Sox. The Chicago White Sox, everyone’s favorite softball team, against the AL East champion Rays who actually have the name of the only bar-league softball team I would ever want to be a part of. The ghost of the neighborhood gem manifested on the jerseys and caps of the scary good team out of St. Pete who have to be licking their chops over the prospect of a short series against our local home run derby champions.

Then again, Ray was a huge Sox fan.

And suddenly, I have a good feeling about this series.