"Away" for the 1st time: Twins vs. White Sox - Comiskey Park, 8/21/2002
The summer of 2002 found me on the verge of a major move. I had accepted the invitation to seminary training at Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, Illinois. And as nice as “Evanston” sounds, any look at a map worth its weight would tell you that I was moving to Chicago. In mid-August I packed the Buick LeSabre with a Laz-y-Boy, a Trinitron TV, all of my clothes, and embarked on my first solo road trip. I hadn’t driven in Chicago before, so I thought that packing the car to the point where I could only see out of the driver’s side window would help me conquer my fears. If you can’t see the crazy driving around you, it doesn’t exist right?
I learned not to do that again.
But I also learned that humans are humans, no matter where you go. It was what we call an immersion experience. I was going to be there, surrounded by other humans who were going to be there, in numbers and diversity previously only seen on movies by this farm kid. In my mind, however, there was a lifeline in the storm. Something that I could hold onto as I prepared for the move, for the commitment to my next three years of existence being "away," carried out in this foreign land of White Sox fans. You see, the Minnesota Twins were moving to Chicago the same day I was!
When the schedule for 2002 came out, I had no idea how much I would depend on the winds of fate, and the flight schedules of my favorite squad. At that point in the winter I hadn’t even decided to go to more schooling, let alone which city would be my new “home.” Needless to say I hadn't given the schedule much thought, outside of the day to day Aberdeen American News weekly MLB schedule. So as I began to finalize my move-in date with the campus, I remember Dan Gladden casually mentioning that the Twins would be heading out on the road to Chicago in the week ahead. Before smartphones and Twins apps, Dan Gladden broke news like this. Like a fortune telling saint.
I began to ask questions that had no immediate answers. Do they allow Twins fans into the White Sox ballpark? Can a human who has never driven in Chicago before actually navigate to the game? Is Wrigley Field different than Comiskey Park? How does a person buy a ticket without internet in his apartment yet utilizing only a bag phone from some tech startup called Verizon?
Wow...those questions make 2002 seem like a different planet.
Upon arrival in Evanston on August 20th, I began plotting my course. I listened to the Twins reign victorious that night on Chicago sports radio via an actual radio. I celebrated and imagined what it would be like to cheer such a victory in person on enemy soil. I called the ticket office, was assured that sell-outs don't happen, and I planned my route. Those who I encountered around the campus said, "Dear Lord don't try driving there." My apartment literally was touching a stop on el train system's purple line. So for 2 bucks, I could be driven right to the stadium's front gates on Sox & 35th Red Line stop! 90 minutes later, dressed in my bright white with navy blue pinstripe replica Twins jersey and favorite black Twins ballcap, I arrived at Comiskey. It didn't take too many stops on the el train to determine that most people in this new "home" of mine were NOT Twins fans...
So with some trepidation I approached the ticket offices at the front of the stadium. And to what should my wondering eyes appear, but a vision of "home" and hope...Dick Bremer! There he was! Television star, and voice for the majority of my summer evening experiences, out on the sidewalk, surrounded by a huddle of 8-10 Twins fans all decked out in Twins gear...all absolutely second-guessing whether or not attending this game was a wise decision.
I am so glad that we made the community decision to enter Comiskey that day. The crowd was awesome. The staff was so helpful. And the game...well, that's another story.
We took an early lead thanks to the heroics of the man, the myth, the legend: Bobby Kielty. His single staked us out to a 1-0 lead. The world was our oyster! The sweep was on!
Then, Jose Valentin tried to kill me. Emotionally and physically. There is actual video evidence of this near-death experience thanks to the miracle of ESPN highlights on youtube. At the 11:40 mark in this classic film you can see me, in my shiny white Twins jersey and black cap, standing next to the poor soul who took Valentin's homerun off his stomach! This is why wearing a glove in the outfield is a thing no matter your age, and why taking a Pepsi and nachos break almost cost me big time.
What you can't see in the highlight is what makes being in the ballpark so amazing. When Valentin hit that ball, he crushed it...foul. It was foul. From my choice location in the right field corner, I watched it travel over the 1st base line foul territory and into the crowd. And then, all of a sudden, it bent like Valentin and was headed for my nachos.
On the radio, its sounds like a homerun and a deflated announcer. On TV, it looks straight as an arrow and depressing as heck. In person, it was exhilerating and potentially life-ending :)
The Twins lost 10-1. 17,225 people (40% capacity) witnessed it live, and I was one of them. I was in love with a team that was en route to the playoffs, and had welcomed me into a foreign land and a new chapter in my life with a rousing, flaming, bag of poo of a game. But they were there. My home had met me away. And I was grateful.
The Twins would return to my new “home” exactly a month later, and a few of my closest friends (Alex, Derek, and Tim) would make the journey from Rapid City, SD as well to take in the sights and sounds of the big city with me. Friday night, Saturday afternoon…two more absolute jokes of competitive baseball ?. My first ever live rain delay ruined Rick Reed's roll in Friday's game and we fell 10-2. Saturday brought sunnier skies, a few more runs, and my second near-death experience at Comiskey Park in 2002.
We were right behind the Twins bullpen, and the players were so friendly and welcoming. Then I hocked a loogie on JC Romero by accident. He chose not to end my life, and I will forever be a fan of JC because of it. I can’t even imagine how he must have felt, losing like that, rough stadium, rough trip, away from home…and the idiot in the Twins jersey forgets that he is leaning on a rail that drops straight into the bullpen. The look on his face when he leaped up from his seat went from anger to confusion to plain disappointment in a matter of seconds. But he accepted my apology. The box score will not record the save that JC gave me that day, but I always will.
I’m not condoning ever spitting onto the ground in a public place, most people would argue that it is absolutely disgusting. But this farm kid had seasonal allergies, experienced the green pollinating grass and lake effect wind, and forgot his immediate surroundings. The score was 14-4, but I could care less. My friends reminded me I wasn't forgotten now matter how far away I was, the Twins reminded me that I can still be me in this new place, and JC Romero reminded me that somehow, someway, it was all going to be ok.
So how about you? What was your first "away" game experience? Can you track down the highlights? Does the box score summarize your experience? When I'm asked "Why would you go to all of the away games in 2023?" my answer necessarily needs to start here, at Comiskey Park in 2002, where it all began for me. Bonus shout out an amazing 2002 Twins cast of characters, and their arch-nemesis White Sox for providing me the three whoopings that started me on my path towards "All 81."
I look forward to hearing about your first "away" experiences! How did you get to the game? What was the atmosphere like? Attendance? Food? Near-death experiences? :)
Grace and peace,
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