Suddenly, 'it's my kind of town'

Overdue for a championship, the White Sox head to the World Series, delighting Chicago's South Side.

The last time the White Sox clinched an American League pennant, the air-raid sirens in Chicago blared for a full five minutes.

Some residents huddled in basements, convinced it was the start of World War III. (The city's fire commissioner later took responsibility.)

Sunday night, no sirens sounded - or were needed - here in a city that hasn't had a team in the World Series since those 1959 Sox, or a World Series champion in 88 years.

On the South Side, where for many the White Sox will always be the only Chicago ball club, fans whooped, and honked, and danced in the streets.

"I never thought it would happen in my lifetime," said a grinning Ovi Tisler, a computer engineering student who looks far too young to be uttering that statement. "All these years of being a second-class team in your own city. All the breaks going your way. It's amazing. We're going to come home with the World Series this year!"

This was a championship that will be known, among other things, for those breaks - and pivotal ump calls: the dropped third strike in Game 2; the uncalled catcher's interference in Game 4; the not-quite-tagout in Sunday's game that led to the game-winning run. All three of which, coincidentally, involved catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

It will also be known for stellar pitching that made up for a lack of great hitters, and for finally breaking Chicago's losing streak, giving the city its first World Series berth in 46 years.

It's setting up a storyline that should be as gripping as last year's. After all, the White Sox drought is longer than even the Red Sox's. But the White Sox have always been the other team even in their hometown - existing in the shadow of the better-known and better-loved Cubs, and hardly thought of in the rest of the country.

They lack the romance of a Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, playing in an antiseptic stadium built in 1990, just before ballpark designers discovered the retro charm of fields like Camden Yards.

Despite their decades-long losing streak and colorful history - remember the 1919 "Black Sox," who threw the World Series and were the basis for the film "Eight Men Out"? - this team isn't electrifying the whole country the way the Red Sox did a year ago, or even, really, their whole city.

Chicago is trying, half-heartedly: There's a special "Soxtober" Tribune section, and some of the windows downtown are lit up to spell "Go Sox." In the World Series, all of Chicago - minus a few disgruntled Cubs fans - will get behind the team. But this is a city divided by geography, and on the north side, no one was honking or revelling Sunday night.

In Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood - home to the old Comiskey Park-turned-US Cellular Field - none of that matters.

"Anyone can be a Cubs fan. It's unique to be a Sox fan," says Lorie "Blondie" Kolerich, decked out in Sox paraphernalia as she hollers with the rest of the fans in the packed Schaller's Pump. Her car and home are currently covered in black and white. "We've been thirsty a long time for this," she exults, cheering as the Sox get another out. "It's our year, it's about time."

At Schaller's - open since 1881 and still run by the same family - the Sox are the only baseball team anyone cares about (though the owner's son ruefully admits to being a Cubs fan). Gravestones labeled "Boston. R.I.P." and "L.A. R.I.P." sit behind the bar, and even the tissue boxes are decorated with knit White Sox covers.

"This is a blue-collar, hard-working baseball team. And they're in the World Series," said an overcome Ken Maziarka, just after the final ninth-inning out. "Money doesn't buy everything," he added, noting how little the White Sox spend compared to a team like the Yankees.

Born and raised in Bridgeport and now dean of students at the northside Loyola Academy, Mr. Maziarka, like many customers here, came to Schaller's to be with fellow fans when their team finally had its moment.

He can still remember almost every play of the last World Series the Sox were in, when he was a senior in high school. He, like most Sox fans, sees a Chicago divide that's as much about class as geography, and has only disdain for the Cubs.

"Wrigley Field is where you take your date to impress her. The Cell is where you go to watch baseball," he says. "The Cubs like to talk about attendance, but attendance at Wrigley last week was zero, and at the Cell it was 82,000."

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