Column: Yes, this is real

By Mike Szwaja

Staging a World Series in Chicago is like having a Hawaiian Tropic Miss Bikini contest in Fairbanks, Alaska on New Year’s Day. It’s just unfathomable.

I walked into a sporting goods store on Tuesday and spotted the White Sox hats the players will wear on the field starting Saturday at “The Cell,” complete with the World Series logo affixed to the side of the cap. Seeing the logo on that hat did something to me.

I remember a tour guide at the Grand Canyon telling me sometimes he has to look away when he stands at the Canyon’s edge, just to make sure what he’s seeing is really there. I thought of that moment as I stood there, staring, becoming completely engulfed in the image of a World Series patch on a White Sox hat. I think that’s when it hit me; the World Series was really coming to Chicago.

During Chicago’s most underrated sports talk radio show, “Silvy and Carmen,” on ESPN Radio 1000, Marc Silverman told MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on Wednesday he thought the commissioner’s contract contained a clause that prohibited Chicago from hosting the Series. I had to laugh, and so did Selig, mostly because we never thought it would happen again.

Some point to the perceived jinxes (see the goat at Wrigley and the 1919 Black Sox on the South Side). The more reasonable ones, point to poor performances and untimely mistakes. Not everyone who remembers Bartman remembers Alex Gonzalez’s error, which proved to be more costly than the Bartman play in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

Still, had the Cubs made it to the Series in 2003, people wouldn’t have been all that surprised. They had the pitching. They had the sluggers. They caught the ball. They ran the bases. People expected them to be there.

Now flashback to those baseball forecast issues printed by all the major sports magazines last March. The common perception was that the 2005 White Sox would finish third or fourth in a weak AL Central, behind the Twins, Indians and even the lowly Tigers.

Then they played the games, and we realized the AL Central wasn’t all that bad, and that the White Sox were the team with the golden pitching arms in the division, which equated to a division championship. Pardon the pun, but this team came out of left field, and that’s what makes the White Sox’s appearance in the World Series all the more surprising.

Speaking of left field, that’s where the ride to the top started for general manager Kenny Williams and the White Sox. The benefits of the Carlos Lee/Scott Podsednik trade made the White Sox serious contenders.

Podsednik showed GM’s around the league – ahem … Jim Hendry – that a productive lead-off hitter can do just as much, if not more, for a team than a power hitter.

And with the money saved in the Podsednik trade, Williams brought the following key contributors to his team: A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi and Orlando Hernandez.

All Pierzynski did was set a career-high in home runs (18). He managed his pitchers with precision and skill Sox fans haven’t seen since Carlton Fisk flashed signs to White Sox pitchers. And he’ll never quit, especially on plays like questionable dropped-third strikes.

Iguchi might be the best two-hitter I’ve ever seen. The bottom line is Iguchi is the best White Sox second baseman since I started watching the team. My apologies go out to Ray Durham, but Iguchi is better.

And Hernandez has had his flashes, none brighter than his logjam work in Game 3 of the ALDS in Boston.

The fruits of the Podsednik trade finish a close second to the starting pitching when pinpointing the success of the White Sox. We’ll probably never see four-straight complete games in the playoffs again. And if we do, it certainly won’t be by an American League team.

So, yeah, big deal. Chicago is hosting a World Series, which hasn’t happened since 1959. Winning is the bigger deal. Neither team has won the Series since the 1917 White Sox.

The 2005 World Series will be a pitching duel for sure, but look for the young, hungry, well-rested White Sox pitching staff to prevail. And, like always, the winning team will have to be a little lucky, which makes it super difficult to predict a winner. But I’ll go ahead and say White Sox in six in front of the home fans. It would only be fitting for a city that’s been through too much to get back on baseball’s pedestal.

Just don’t forget to look away for a second when it finally happens, just to make sure what you’re seeing is real.

Mike Szwaja graduated in May with a degree in journalism, after writing columns for the Daily Illini for four years. He maintains a sports blog at http://mikeszwaja.blogpsot.com.