On Sunday afternoon, a cold rain fell on Sox Park — not hard enough to stop the game on the field, but hard enough to send home all the “fans” who weren’t determined to witness every inning played by a team that had lost 10 games in a row, and was, by the bottom of the 8th, on the way to losing its 11th to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“By the time the game ended, there were a hundred people,” estimates David Allen, one of those bitter-enders. “The outfield was completely empty. If an individual person was talking, you could hear it.”
That’s not even enough people to hold the “SELL THE TEAM” signs that have been appearing in the stands. The Sox started the game 7-21, but Allen would have sat in the rain to watch an 0-28 team. He was The Omega Fan.
“I’m the kind of fan the team wants,” he boasts. “I come out no matter what. I have this irrational fear of missing games, because the coolest thing in the world is going to happen.”
A cool thing happened. The Sox rallied for seven runs in the bottom of the ninth, ending with a three-run homer by Andrew Vaughn, for their first win since April 15.
Being a White Sox fan has always been, as Hunter S. Thompson once wrote about the early days of the National Football League, “a very hip and private kind of vice to be into.” That has never been truer than this year, when statisticians are estimating the team has a 7 percent chance of making the playoffs, and “a diehard Chicago White Sox fan” called into ESPN 1000 to rant for seven uninterrupted minutes that “the product on the field is pathetic” and fans are in “a dysfunctional and abusive relationship with the front office.”
Who’s still going to Sox games? David Allen is. The 17-year season ticket holder has put too much effort into following his team to quit now. On Tuesday’s 47-degree evening, Allen again took his seat in the upper deck, behind home plate, to watch the Sox play the Minnesota Twins. He wore a Joe Crede jersey — one of 40 Sox jerseys he owns. Beneath him, the lower deck was so sparsely populated that fans appeared to be social distancing. Only the left field bleachers were crowded, with fans who had brought their pets for Dog Night. The official attendance was 13,094, but that included season ticket holders who paid and didn’t show — including most of Allen’s Section 530 friends. Allen figured there were 3,000 on hand.
“For a weekday night, this has been about normal,” he says. “It’s been pretty tough, attendance-wise. I was surprised the upper deck was open. Usually, when it’s this bad, they’ll shut it down and tell everyone to sit downstairs.”
Allen, who is 43, grew up a White Sox fan. When he was a boy, growing up in Cicero and Lemont, his mother took him to 20 or 25 games a year at Comiskey Park.
“I was at a White Sox game when I was a baby,” he says. “I always said my first real job’s paycheck would go to season tickets. I got my first real job in 2006. I just missed the World Series.”
The job was teaching school in Rockford. Allen and his wife lived in Capron, a small town 81 miles from the ballpark. He made the round trip 60 or 70 times a year — even on school nights, when he wouldn’t get home until midnight: “for a few years, I drove the most miles to be here.” Now, he lives in North Aurora, and the pitch clock has shortened games to two-and-a-half hours, so his nights end by 10.
It has been a life of true devotion. Unlike being a Cubs fan — or a Yankee fan, or a Red Sox fan — there is little romance or reward to being a White Sox fan. They don’t play in a historic stadium. Only 30-ballpark completists feel compelled to visit Guaranteed Rate Field.
“This park was built at the exact wrong time,” Allen says. “Everyone thought stadiums were going to be the big thing. Then the Orioles went retro with Camden Yards. This is a relic of the early ’90s. You’re coming here because you’re here to watch the White Sox. It’s not a destination.”
The White Sox went to one World Series between 1917 and 2005, but never captured the baseball world’s affection as lovable losers. No Sox player was named to the MLB All-Century Team. Sox Hall of Famers — Ted Lyons, Ray Schalk, Luke Appling, Frank Thomas — did not define their eras.
“No one’s breaking into SportsCenter to show a White Sox player,” Allen says. “If you’re not going to have the history or the stadium, you’ve got to have a superstar.”
Cubs fans wish the Sox well. Sox fans bring “Yuppie Scum Go Back to Wrigley” signs to crosstown classic games. The Sox are the second city’s second team.
“It is easier for a Cubs fan to not be threatened by the Sox winning because they’re going to thrive no matter what,” Allen says. “If the Cubs start winning, the Sox may or may not get media coverage. They’ve both been in Chicago forever, but the Cubs just seem to have the history and the storied franchise.”
Also, he says, “my mom would kill me if I became a Cubs fan.”
For the first five innings, the Sox and Twins were almost hitless. Allen blamed the cold weather. The Twins scored on a sacrifice fly in the 6th, then the Sox took the lead on a two-run homer by Eloy Jimenez in the 7th. In the 8th, Alex Colome — a journeyman pitcher just called up from Charlotte — came on in relief and blew the save by giving up a home run.
“That’s about right for this season,” Allen grumbled. “The bullpen gives up any lead we have. I have been programmed this year not to get excited about anything. The Sox are desperate for anybody who can pitch now. You wait for one reliever, then the next one trips up.”
After nine innings, the game was tied, 2-2. The Dog Day crowd was abandoning the bleachers. Not even dogs want to sit through a White Sox game this year. Allen stayed in his seat. He’d stay for 18 innings, if the game went on that long. He didn’t have to. In the bottom of the 10th, Andrew Benintendi singled home the winning run. Allen stood and pounded his gloves together. It was the first time this season the Sox had won two in a row.
“Unlike most Sox fans, I’m an optimist,” Allen said. “I think they’re going to be a fun team.”
Fun or not, Allen will be at the ballpark. He’s The Omega Fan.