Third Pitch

26 Oct

Chicago sports fans make big, bold predictions all the time: Jay Cutler is going to have an MVP season. The Cubs are going to win the World Series. Derrick Rose is going to stay healthy this year.

Most of them never come true.

They also make smaller, more specific predictions: Rizzo’s going to hit a homer. Jimmy Butler is going to sink a game-winning three at the buzzer. Hawks are gonna get a power play goal right here.

While they have better odds, still most of them never come true.

But every once in a while, our prayers are answered.

This is a tale about a called shot of Ruthian proportions. The only difference is, there’s no dispute over it’s legitimacy.

The story begins in 1917, the last year the Chicago White Sox won a World Series. Three years later in 1920, one of their biggest fans was born. Her name was Gertrude Kunka, my grandmother.

She grew up at Comiskey Park, architect Zachary Taylor Davis’ “Baseball Palace of the World”, cheering on her South Side Sox. Her father John even took her to the very first All-Star game, held at Comiskey Park in 1933 amidst the Chicago World’s Fair.

She passed her devotion to the Sox down to her seven children. It was something the family bonded over. She’d take them to ballgames, listen to the Sox on the radio, and instill a love for the game in her kids, that most fanatically infested itself in my father.

When the Sox clinched the pennant in September of 1959, she and my Grandpa Len, took their kids to Midway Airport to greet the American League Champions as they got off the plane. They would eventually lose the World Series 4-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1983 my father would take my grandmother back to the park for the 50th Anniversary of the first All-Star game, to see the annual Old-Timer’s game.

In that same magical season, when the White Sox clinched the American League West Division Title my dad took the woman who would later become my mother to twenty games down the stretch. They went 18-1, with one rainout. My mother, who grew up in Indiana and the North Side of Chicago asked, “Do they always win?”

The night they clinched  the A.L. West, my  dad said to mom, “Let’s go see Grandma.”  Despite the late hour and over mom’s objection, they went.  Sure enough, Grandma was waiting up for them.

They would eventually lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series 3-1.

In 1991 when the New Comiskey opened, we were all there, including Grandma.

 

The 1st game at New Comiskey Park Left to right: my dad, Genevieve, Stephanie, Stanley, me, Grandma, mom, Becky (Zack would be born 3 months later)

The 1st game at New Comiskey Park
Left to right: my dad, Genevieve, Stephanie, Stanley, me, Grandma, my mom, Becky (Zack would be born 3 months later)

 

She died in 1997, having never seen her favorite team win a World Series.

2005 came around, and the Sox thrilled us all season long. They went wire-to-wire leading the American League Central Division, and looked prime to make a run.

My father had been a season ticket holder since 1991, and was entitled to playoff tickets. He divided the tickets as best he could among his six children.

I was lucky enough to get to go to Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, along with my sister Genevieve, little brother Zack, and my Old Man.

We sat in the lower box, down the right field line, about halfway up the aisle.

After the Sox took Game 1 by a score of 14-2, we expected them to keep rolling in Game 2.

That was not the case.

The White Sox got behind early, and trailed 4-0 heading into the 5th inning. David “Boomer” Wells had only allowed two hits through the first four innings.

A couple of base hits by Carl Everett, Aaron Rowand, and Joe Crede and the White Sox now trailed 4-2.

We beamed with excitement, this could be our inning we all thought to ourselves.

Then, former Sox utility-man Tony Graffanino would hand the sox a gift, and boot a Juan Uribe ground ball.

With 2-on, 2-out, down by 2, White Sox 2B Tadahito Iguchi came to the plate.

Then, my Old Man did something I’d never heard him do before.

He leaned over to me, my sister and my brother, and said, “Watch this…. third pitch.”

I was baffled at first. Third pitch? What’s that? What is he talking about?

I gave him a confused look. He nodded his head.

“Third pitch,” he said again.

Tadahito Iguchi was a crafty Japanese hitter. He hit .278 during the regular season with 15 home runs.

I didn’t think about that as he came to the plate, all I could think about was my father’s two simple words… third pitch.

Big Boomer Wells reached back and missed with a first pitch breaking ball.

Ball one.

Next, he hit the corner with an 91 mph fastball.

Strike one.

Then, he throws a 1-1 slider low and inside.

 

 

Iguchi took a mighty swing and smacked that pitch 370 feet over the left field wall, and I flew out of my seat.

I didn’t even see the ball land in the bullpen, because I turned to my dad with the most serious look of disbelief and awe that I’d ever felt in my life. He never makes those kinds of predictions! He’s not one of those guys who shoots his mouth off and throws out wild wishes and crazy hopes. How in the world did he know?

Then, he explained it all, with two more simple words.

He looked up to the sky, and with a tear in his eye, he said, “Thanks Grandma.”

That home run wasn’t a lucky guess, it was divine intervention. Of course my Grandma was watching the game from above. She may have season tickets for the Angels now, but still pulls for her Sox.

And it is my firm belief that she pulled that ball over the left field fence, and put the White Sox ahead 5-4.

They would go on to win that game 5-4.

The White Sox would go 11-1 in the postseason, and win the world series. Their first in 88 years.

We went to the parade downtown, and maybe Grandma was helping again, when my dad was picked out of the crowd of thousands to be interviewed by ABC 7.

I say hi to Grandma every time I visit the ballpark, give her a kiss and thank her for that little home run, and being the matriarch of my fantastic White Sox family.

The family memorial brick outside of U.S. Cellular Field

The family memorial brick outside of U.S. Cellular Field

 

4 Responses to “Third Pitch”

  1. Cathy Rose October 27, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    What a lovely tribute to grandma and your whole family.  I may not be blood but I am so proud to be your Aunt.

    Love all of you so much and I am very proud of you. 

    Sent from Samsung tablet

    • jakeberent October 27, 2015 at 12:23 am #

      Thanks Aunt Cathy! Always great to hear from you.

  2. notsooldman October 27, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    You didn’t just kiss the Blarney Stone, you’re sitting on it.
    This one’s a home run. Grandma (and Gramps) are smiling on you.

  3. Steph Mc October 28, 2015 at 12:55 am #

    Great job Jake! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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