Since my ceremonial first pitch debut on Monday is still top of mind and the White Sox had their only off-day of the spring yesterday, I thought I would fill this space with my 10 all-time Sox memories. While I listed my favorite first (how could I not?) it was too difficult to rank the entire list.
* THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON — The 2005 run to the title was simply the best, except for that August and September bump in the road. From the great start that led to a 15-game lead in August to the 11-1 record in the postseason, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The fact that I was able to share the excitement with my Dad (we attended Game 1 of the Series together) and fellow Sox friends, made it unforgettable.
* LUCKY NUMBER 11 – I was 11-years-old and lucky enough to be able to attend Game 1 of the 1959 World Series between the Sox and the Dodgers. After 40 years without appearing in the Fall Classic, the Sox made it count this day by overwhelming LA 11-0 with Early Wynn getting the victory and Ted Kluszewski slamming two home runs. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there as the NL champs won the Series four games to two.
* THE WHITE HOUSE — I could have included this with the first entry, but the fact it was so special I had to list it separately. Through the generosity of friend and Sox fan Kevin Sullivan, I was able to join the White Sox when they were honored by President Bush at the White House in February of 2006. When Sully, then the head of communications in the Department of Education, called for my birthdate and social security number, it was the beginning of a priceless experience.
* MY CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH – This is the moment that gave me the idea to create the list. My first reaction to the invitation was “no,” but how could I live with myself if I didn’t take advantage of what is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Thanks to Jeff Overton and Paul Jensen of Camelback Ranch for asking me to do it. And I’m glad Sox communications czar Scott Reifert was there to give me the business about bouncing it into the glove of Sox minor league catcher Donny Lucy.
* THE CLUBHOUSE VISIT — It’s not every day that a youngster, just shy of being a teenager, gets the chance to visit his favorite team’s clubhouse. So, when my uncle was able to somehow arrange for me to enter the Sox inner domain, it was an out-of-body experience. I was able to meet my heroes–Nellie Fox and Wynn among team–but the best part involved Sox utility infielder Sammy Esposito. Esposito, a Chicago high school baseball and basketball standout, was also a part-time assistant basketball coach under the legendary John Baratto at East Chicago (IN) Washington High School in my then-hometown. When Esposito found out I was from East Chicago, he took me around the clubhouse introducing me as one of his guys. I’ve always wanted to get it touch with Esposito, who was the longtime baseball coach at North Carolina State, to tell him how much that meant to me.
* FATHER AND SON — My Dad, Seymour Berke, is a loyal Sox fan who passed the passion on to me. Some of the most memorable times in my childhood occurred when I took a bus after school, met him at work and we drove to Comiskey Park. It served as the foundation for a life of rooting for the South Siders. When the Sox won in 2005, my dad said something very profound: “All those years, all those games, we finally did it.”
* FANTASY CAMP — During the last season at old Comiskey Park, ex-Cub catcher Randy Hundley organized a three-day weekend fantasy camp at the venerable ballpark. How could I resist? Wanting to share it with somebody, I enlisted college friend Mike Griffin, who was immediately ready and willing. From the first day, where I stroked an opposite field single off of the “Iron Mike,” to facing former major leaguers Bart Johnson and Bill “Soup” Campbell to catching a fly ball off of the bat of ex-Sox ace Gary Peters, it was a thrill to be there.
* WHITE SOX BOYS CAMP — As a collegian, I spent two summers as a counselor at the Chicago White Sox Boys Camp in Brothertown, Wisconsin. It was there that I met a number of White Sox scouts and front office personnel. One of those who spent some time at the camp was former Sox outfielder John Mostil. Mostil patrolled centerfield for the Sox in the years right after the Black Sox scandal. He was a .301 hitter, who during his career made Babe Ruth‘s all-time All-Star team. He is also known as the only major league centerfielder to catch a foul ball. Before his death in 1970 I was honored to spend an afternoon at his Whiting, IN, home watching and talking baseball.
* No. 8 – As childhood heroes Fox, Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio and Billy Pierce ended their careers (although Minoso didn’t really end it for quite a while), a new Sox favorite emerged during my high school years–Pete Ward. A third baseman myself, I was drawn to Ward after he had two outstanding years and named The Sporting News Rookie Player of the Year. I even wore No. 8 and made it my lucky number because that’s the number he wore. To make a long story short, through a set of unusual circumstances, Pete and I have become friends and every time he visits New York we get together. To become close to one of your childhood heroes is pretty special.
* EARLY WYNN’S MASTERPIECE — The most memorable Sox regular season game I ever attended happened on May 1, 1959, early in the AL championship season. It was a nail-biter against the Red Sox that turned into a pitcher’s duel between Chicago’s Wynn and Boston’s Tom Brewer. Through seven and a half innings, the game was scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Wynn aided his own cause by smashing a dramatic solo homer for the only run of the game. He retired the Red Sox in the top of the ninth for the win and a one-hitter, surrendering only a first inning single to Pete Runnels, combined with 14 strikeouts. Months later, after winning 22 games, Wynn was honored with the Cy Young Award.