By Ben Strauss-
(CBS) In the summer of 1997, when the Cubs played the White Sox at Comiskey Park it felt like the World Series—to me, at least. It was a glorious June afternoon and I was there for interleague play’s maiden voyage, sitting along the first base line with my dad, butterflies dancing in my 11-year-old stomach.
When Jaime Navarro gave up a triple to Brian McRae to lead off the game and the Sox went on to lose 8-3, it may as well have been the end of the world. One game had settled the long-simmering blood feud between two fan bases whose teams shared a city but hadn’t met since the 1906 World Series. There were even throwback uniforms to celebrate.
I was inconsolable trudging to the red line afterward knowing that the fate of the universe now hung on the right shoulder of Doug Drabek the next night. The Sox would win the next two games and, luckily, the earth would go on spinning.
The Cubs and Sox will meet tonight at U.S. Cellular Field to decidedly less fanfare, in a makeup game that is more afterthought than main event. Eleven-year-olds around the city, decked out in their Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews jerseys, will likely not be glued to their televisions.
When the Sox and Cubs hooked up for three games earlier this season, the theme was apathy. Empty seats abounded at both Wrigley and the Cell. Interest was moderate, at best, and three Cubs wins were little more than a mild diversion from a Blackhawks Stanley Cup run.
It could be the play on the field—two teams stumbling through a six-month season hoping better days are ahead. It could be too much of a good thing—six games between the Cubs and Sox from 1999 through 2012. It could be the Blackhawks or the general decline of baseball as America’s pastime.
It could be all of these things or none of them. But it shouldn’t matter.
There is something enduring about the Cubs and White Sox, like good versus evil—the evil, of course, always in the eye of the beholder. The rivalry is a smorgasbord of bad blood, beginning with South Side vs. North Side and the political, racial and socioeconomic undertones that come with it. It has proximity, hatred, passion, and the stereotypes to match: a nation of Williams Ligues and a nation of Steve Bartmans (Sorry, Sox fans, if that doesn’t seem fair).
I grew up counting the number of players from each team on Phil Rogers’ All-City team each year. I once ran home from camp just in time to catch a Ricky Gutierrez grand slam beat the Sox. On a summer vacation during college, trapped without air conditioning or cable, I dragged a handful of friends to a bar to see Damaso Marte walk Todd Walker to force in the winning run.
The greatest memories, though, were going to Sox-Cubs games at U.S. Cellular. Usually you’d get off the train at 35th Street, look up at the empty upper deck and have no idea there was a Major League baseball game that night. For Cubs games during those years, it was an occasion, the possibility of what baseball could be.
The seasons may be lost, the next few weeks part garage sale, part a bridge between a Blackhawks parade and Marc Trestman’s opening press conference at training camp (it’s less than three weeks away, by the way). But tonight, a Chicago tradition is renewed. It’s a tradition worth appreciating.
Back in 1997, the Sox were 30-35 a month ahead of the White Flag trade. The Cubs were 27-40, and going nowhere. Today the White Sox are 34-51; the Cubs 38-48.
That’s not so different.
Ben is a contributing writer to The New York Times covering sports in Chicago and around the Midwest. His writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago magazine. Ben grew up on the North Side of Chicago and graduated from Ithaca College, where he majored in journalism and politics. You can follow him on Twitter@BenStrauss. You can read more of his work here.