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I learned to be a Chicago White Sox fan from my dad.
He loved sports, and once we moved near Chicago, the major league teams available in the city were like a playground for him.
My dad worked long and hard hours, but my memory of attending so many professional games in the city was proof he did have leisure time.
I can still feel the excitement when the crowd would roar. I can taste the mustard and pickle relish on the hot dogs. I remember wishing for a ball to be hit towards me. I would catch it. The ball would be my trophy.
We lived in Skokie, a northern suburb, which gave us easy access to the city via car or the “L” (elevated mass transit). This meant we were closer to Wrigley Field, the home of the Cubs, than to Comiskey Park, on the south side, the home of the White Sox. But we attended games at both ball parks.
As a fourth grade student at East Prairie, I remember the White Sox race to the American League pennant in 1959 when they won 94 games. That was the year they finally beat the perennial favorites, the hated Yankees!
A majority of the kids at school were Cub fans, but I was fanatic for the Sox.
My favorite players on the Sox were second baseman Nellie Fox, shortstop Luis Aparico, and center fielder Jim Landis. I also recall Early Wynn winning the Cy Young Award in 1959 to help the White Sox win the American League crown.
“Nellie” was a nickname for Jacob Nelson Fox. Since my mom’s name was Nell, that made Nellie Fox even more special to me. But it was Fox’s hard work at playing the game, his determination and competitiveness, that made him special.
Even today, I can see Fox in his left-handed batting stance, crotching down, getting smaller, using a choked-up grip on his bat, waiting for the next pitch, his cheek bulging from an ever-present wad of tobacco.
He was a hustler turning double plays with Aparicio, and a relentless hitter, a great bunter, who rarely struck out. He had an eye for the ball.
Today, my 1959 Topps baseball card confirms that Fox was a little guy. It states he was 5’8″ and 150 pounds. Despite his small frame though, he learned to get on base and score without hitting home runs.
When I checked his record, I was reminded how much he stood out from the rest.
During his fourteen-year White Sox career, beginning in 1949, he was voted a Most Valuable Player one time, an All-Star twelve years, and won three Golden Glove Awards. It took him over thirty years to make it to Cooperstown, but he was admitted to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1997, twenty-two years after his death.
I can still hear the ballgames on our car radio during family vacations.
Jim Landis dives for a ball in center field. Luis Aparico fields a sharply hit ground ball; he flips it towards second. Nellie scrambles towards the base, touches the bag with his foot, and throws the runner out at first.
I was never the ball player my dad wanted me to be, but I was always a White Sox fan.
Go Nellie! Go-Go Sox!
Until next time, happy writing and reading!