SPORTS

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May 5, 2006

Searching for a new altar

I believe in the Church of Baseball.

I like other sports too, but nothing captures my attention the way our national pastime does. The long nine innings make watching a game an easygoing way to pass a summer afternoon, but there’s also the feeling that at any moment a line drive single could spark a rally or a fielder could snare a webgem. One game can last three hours, but, from the first batter to the last out, no two plays are exactly the same. It’s calming but at the same time suspenseful.

As a Berkeley, California native, I’ve been rooting for the Oakland Athletics for as long as I can remember. Still, it wasn’t until Opening Day 1999, when I watched the A’s unleash their fury on the Yankees, that I became a zealous member of the green and gold, faithful for life. At that point, names like Hudson, Tejada, and Chavez were still mostly unknown to the average fan, and future All-Stars like Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were still refining their craft down on the farm in AAA Sacramento.

Baseball became my sport, the A’s my boys, and my friends, teachers, and acquaintances all knew it. Still, after the acceptance letter arrived from Chicago, the question on everyone’s mind was: “Well, who is it going to be? Cubs or Sox?” It hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to pick a team to follow while in Hyde Park. I had planned on just carrying on a long distance relationship with the A’s. But since the question kept popping up, it seemed like the decision between Wrigley and the Cell had to be made.

It was a tough call. There are so many things to consider when picking a team to follow. The location, the quality of ballpark and fans, and the quality of concession-stand hot dogs are just a small fraction of the equation.

Since my mailing address would be smack dab in the middle of the South Side, the White Sox grabbed my attention first. In the beginning, it seemed only appropriate to root for the team closest to campus. But when push came to shove, I could not stand by that decision. Following another American League squad felt like an act of unspeakable betrayal. With the Sox and the A’s both in contention to win their divisions, rooting for both could be a serious problem come the postseason. I decided that it might just be safer to avoid any possible conflict of interest and go NL.

As I thought about it more, taking the El up to the North Side to catch a game seemed more and more attractive. With the lure of an old, classic ballpark and a clear conscience about the legitimacy of cheering teams in separate leagues, I started to stick by the Cubs. Then, I couldn’t believe my oversight of the World Series. True, Chicago and Oakland wouldn’t face off during the regular season, but they could meet in the Fall Classic when loyalty really mattered. (Editor’s note: Clearly, Kate is still new to the Chicago sports scene.) The mere thought of it was enough to rule out the Cubs. With the time to head for the Windy City drawing near, I was back to square one.

I was out of options. In a fit of indecision, I concluded that choosing a baseball team just couldn’t and shouldn’t be done rationally. I promised a decision after seeing both clubs in action, leaving everyone at home in suspense.

Then Soxtober came. Just a few weeks into the school year and the South Side was stealing the show in October baseball. Even though I was surrounded by the excitement of Chicago’s 11–1 tear that month, I couldn’t call myself a fan. I cheered on former A’s right fielder Jermaine Dye and the squad, but the whole thing never really touched my heart. I rooted for the new home team simply because I thought that it would be great to say some day in a hot-stove league years from now, “Yeah, I was a first-year at the University of Chicago when the White Sox finally buried Joe Jackson.”

The 2005 season closed without any resolution to my problem of what to do about Chicago baseball, and the spring in Hyde Park only presented new troubles. Unable to declare loyalty for either of the teams, I followed the A’s online with mlb.com, but spring just wasn’t the same without live baseball every night. I had given up on finding my Windy City team.

A few weeks ago, I finally realized that I had been looking much farther than I needed to. With another one of our Maroons broadcasts canceled due to technical difficulties, I stood in Ratner with a center field view of the diamond torn between staying to watch the game and the guilty feeling that I should leave the field to write a history paper. I compromised by settling down to some work in the empty stands on the other side of baseball’s left field fence.

While I only stuck around for a few innings, it was enough time to settle my dilemma about Chicago baseball. There’s plenty of good ball right here at J. Kyle and Stagg. So forget the Sox and the Cubs. I’ll be a Maroons fan.