Let’s face it, the only thing keeping Chicago baseball fans from taking a long walk off the short end of Navy Pier is the fact that the Blackhawks have captured the attention of most sports fans in this city. It is very apparent everywhere you look. The street vendors and the retail shops are stocked full of merchandise, and it seems just about everyone is wearing some sort of Blackhawks memorabilia. It is actually quite strange. Because as little as just three years ago, the United Center was a ghost town when the Hawks were in town. They had to run specials like $8 tickets for college and high school students just to put bodies in the seats. But that was then, and this is now, and everybody loves a winner so the crowd is back, and paying full price.
The band wagon is in full stride here in Chicago, and with the possibility of the first Stanley Cup in this city since 1961 just one win away, people are just clamoring to hop on board. But not me. Don’t get the wrong idea, I have been watching and enjoying these playoffs, and I do hope the Hawks get to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup, but I will take my place on the sideline and watch the excitement from a safe distance. The main reason is that I do not consider myself a die-hard Blackhawks fan, and I don’t want to step on the toes of those who are more deserving of this victory. Sure, I have written about the Hawks right here in this blog, and my picture at the top of this page actually shows me wearing a Blackhawks hat. My very first ever sports autograph ever was from Tony Esposito. It had to be in around 1971 or 72, and my dad took me to a sports night at Washington School back in Villa Park. Mr. Esposito talked to the crowd and answered questions, and then afterwords we all lined up to get a signed picture. Sad to say, I don’t know what happened to that picture, but I am betting my dad still has his.
You see, even with all that, I am not a dire hard Hawks fan. The true fans are the rough blue-collar crowd that hangs out in the upper level of the United Center and cheer louder than any of the fans stuck in those more expensive seats next to the glass. They are the old-time fans who used to line up at the old Chicago Stadium to buy tickets just a week in advance. They are the guys who stuck with the team even through the TV blackout years and some really rotten teams. They are the guys who used to belly up at Cheli’s Chili Bar just east of the United Center during the 1992 season when the Blackhawks last made it to the Stanley Cup, only to be swept by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. And those are the fans that will get shut out of these playoffs.
I have seen it happen before, just five years ago on the south side of town. Prior to 2005, the White Sox had only managed to break a season attendance of two million tickets a year just a handful of time, but since that World Series victory, the club has surpassed two million every year, with a record attendance of 2,957,414 in 2006, the year after the won it all. Because everyone loves a winner, and the promise of future playoffs help sell those additional tickets. Now that the team has fallen on tough times, the crowds have started to dwindle, and the two million tickets may not be as easy to sell.
During the White Sox 2005 World Series run, lifelong Sox fans started to come out of the woodwork. People who hadn’t been to a ballgame in years suddenly “had” to be there, and they were willing to pay a pretty high price to StubHub or Ebay or any number of ticket brokers to get there. And once again the average fan was cut out of the excitement. This is where the Hawks are now. It’s the Stanley Cup, and people want to be a part of the excitement. The famous want to get their face time, so suddenly Jim Belushi and Vince Vaughn and John Cusack are at the games. The big wigs from all over the city are converging on the United Center to be a part of the crowd. To show that they too are fans. But in reality, they are really just better connected.
In my lifetime I have been very lucky. I have met the right people and made the right connections, and I have seen some tremendous things. I have been to two All Star games, in Milwaukee in 2002, and here in Chicago in 2003. I have seen the Bull play in a Championship game in 1998, and was lucky enough to attend all four World Series games in 2005 in both Chicago and Houston. I could have placed a call, and I could have attended a game or two of the Stanley Cup, but then what would that say about me? I have only been to a couple of Hawks over the past five years and although I did enjoy them, it would not be fair of me to snatch a ticket away from someone who is a dire hard fan. Someone who has put in his time and deserves to be a part of the fanfare there in person.
Maybe I am being a little bit delusional. The ticket I choose not to take will surely end up in the hands of some other person calling in a favor. But at least I feel better about myself. I’m not one of those people who has to be a part of the “in” crowd. Tomorrow night while the Blackhawks are possibly clinching the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, I will be where I belong. At a White Sox game with my son and his baseball team. Sure, I will find a spot to keep an eye on the game. Cheer where I can, boo where I must. And if they should win it all during the game, I am sure Gene Honda the White Sox field announcer will call it out for everyone to hear and cheer together. And maybe the White Sox will be so inspired that they too will bring home a victory. Well, let’s not get too carried away.
Looks like it’s going to be a long baseball season. Good thing we had the Blackhawks to keep our minds off all of the bad baseball in town.
Football should be right around the corner.