Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Who is that guy?
Anyone who has watched a White Sox game over the past few years knows the name Alex Snelius.
Mr. Snelius kindly donates $100 to Chicago White Sox Charities for each home run in memory of his wife.
Last night, Hawk Harrelson presented a bat signed by Ozzie and all the players who hit HRs this year, including Mark Buehrle, to Alex. Hawk signed the bat, too. Alex also spent a few minutes with Jerry Reinsdorf, who thanked Alex and his family.
Alex has donated $201,000 to CWSC through the All Star break this year – $100 for every HR since 2001. Oh, for the long ball …
From a Reader
I met a friend of CWS Charities and a blog reader, David F., at our recent Field of Greens Golf Outing. David was there to support CWSC because his shoulder did not allow him to golf. He explained to me how he became a Sox fan and then that he was scheduled to have his shoulder replaced yesterday. I asked David to send me a story he had written about being a Sox fan, that I would post it here, and that we all would wish him a speedy recovery.
So, here is David’s story about growing up a Sox fan in Skokie:
HOW DOES A NORTH SIDER BECOME A SOX FAN?
In 2005, I had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch as the Sox beat the Twins on September 23rd (and finished 19-3 after that). With pictures of that moment in my office, both my students and the next generation of family members have asked how a guy who has lived all of his life in Evanston/Skokie, been a life long Sox fan. My step son has accused his mother of going over to the “dark side” and had no true understanding until he fell in love with a woman who also cheers for the “black and white” and not the boys in that funny shade of blue.
I found myself thinking about that over the past few years, and it leads to a story. It is the story that also lets me tell about my grandfather, who, with my father was my hero, and it connects with golf, school, and the work that I am doing outside of the classroom. So, as I approach fairly major surgery in a few weeks, and questions from my 9 year old and 5 year old nephews, I thought I would write some of it down.
Going to baseball games was a normal activity for me. I was a big kid. I was 12 pounds at birth, 35 pounds at a year and too tall and big framed to ever fit properly into a Cub Scout uniform. My motor skill development as a kid lagged in some areas, and excelled in others. I started playing golf at 4. I never had the dedication that kids do today, but there were not the opportunities to do anything with it either. When I graduated high school I was a 2 handicap, but the idea of turning pro made no sense. The top guys on the tour (Nicklaus and Trevino) were making just $100,000 a year, the average guy less than $25,000. I could go to college, come back and work in a family business, and play all the golf I wanted, and make more than the average tour pro without the need to hustle through qualifying rounds and exemptions.
My family was pretty well off. We weren’t the richest people around, but we were solidly upper, middle class. My parents belonged to a country club, as did their parents. Golf was the sport in which I was best. I loved the idea of competing with myself and with the golf course. I loved to practice. Stan Kertes, the guy who taught me, gave me Hogan’s book and I really thought you had to hit balls until your hands bled. I learned to putt by the lights of a car around the putting green, with the car hikers and the caddies, playing for nickels.
I never had the skills to be a good baseball player. But it was ok, because you could be a fan. I remember listening to the Commander, Bob Elson, under the covers with my first transistor radio. My grandfather and I shared baseball. It was wonderful. My grandpa, Sam Futransky, had his first heart attack in the late 1930s, when he was 42 years old. Back then, that made him an invalid. He had to retire, and my dad came back from college to run the laundry business because his brother was in the Navy. Sam lived to be 76 – he died in the mid 60s but he could never drive a car, work, or exert himself after the heart attacks. He had several of them, and was a vital, intelligent man. He was one of the first people who had a golf cart – the doctors did not want him to walk. It was too strenuous. Oh how medicine has changed.
Sadie, my grandmother, was Sam’s driver, among all of the other things she did. In the summers, when I was about 5, I would go to the laundry plant with my dad in the mornings. We would leave the house at 5:30 and stop for breakfast at a diner. We spent a lot of time together. Around 11, my grandmother would pick me up with Sam in the car and we would go a few blocks from the plant (which was at 28th and Wabash, and later at 39th and Michigan, and still later and 36th and Lowe) to Comiskey Park. Sam and I would go to the ballgame and my dad would pick us up afterwards.
Sam taught me how to keep a scorecard and to follow statistics. It was a contest between us to read the sports section and follow the details of all of the games. He would go with me to stand outside of the locker room to get autographs and was as excited as I was when I would get a foul ball. He also taught me a lot about other people. He would see someone down on their luck and instead of just giving them a buck or a few coins; he would take the guy into the ball game with us and treat him to a nice afternoon. He did not care what color a person was, he would engage people in conversation and give them an afternoon sitting down and something to eat.
Our laundry employees were integrated. Our customers and our drivers were integrated. We did business with everyone. My dad and uncle and grandpa would say that everyone needed clean towels and uniforms and tablecloths and that the linen did not know what color the person was that was using it. I did not realize how unusual this plant and operation was until I was older. I thought it was normal. The foremen were from all races and ethnic groups. People were people and their color did not make them different.
I think that was what drew me to baseball in some ways. Color (by the late 1950s and 1960s did not matter as much as it did before then. My heroes were black, white and brown. Little Louis was the best and Minnie Minoso was amazing. Al Lopez was a gentleman. We looked at the game as 9 men on the field, all working together. Those were the things I learned.
I cannot tell you how many games I saw where we beat the evil Yankees, beat up on the KC Athletics and just saw simple, solid, well-executed fundamental baseball. A treat was the nights we stayed down and my dad would go with us. We never had season tickets. You could always get what seemed to me as great seats.
I remember more about things that happened in the stands or with Sam and one of those memories was when we saw a man with two young kids, who came up to my grandfather and thanked him. The man was black, he was taking these kids to a game, and he said that my grandfather had bought him lunch and a game ticket several years before. He had pulled himself together that day and changed his life and the day we saw him was the first time he was taking his children to a game. He never knew my grandfather’s name, but he said he had been looking for him at the gate to the ballpark for a few years to thank him.
I worked in the laundry business after college and then sold stocks and bonds, and then consulted in the financial services industry. I always followed the Sox. I would take friends from out of town to ballgames. When I was completing my term as President of a not for profit group, I took my board of directors to a ball game to celebrate. My children always spent time with me watching the Sox. I left the sales and consulting business at the age of 46 to go back to school and become a teacher. It was what I thought I wanted to do when I got out of college, but my dad had a heart attack (his first had been at 42) and I had to take over the business. I got married and never had time to do what I really love doing, until I knew my kids would be taken care of, and I had a second wife, who encouraged me to do what I wanted to do.
I went to a program at DePaul and interned at Farren School, which was at 51st, and State. I took a group of students who were in 6th grade at the time to a game. We sat in the upper deck and they saw the buildings in the Robert Taylor homes where they lived. They had never been to a ball game, even though it was 2 miles from their homes. (Many of them had never seen the lake before we went to the beach, but that is a different story.) One of the guys, Aaron, fell in love with the Sox. He started working as an usher and saying good night to people at the gates as soon as he was old enough to get a work permit. He was on the concourse for many years at the door to the Stadium Club and the last time we spoke, he was managing a group of younger ushers. He worked several jobs, went to college, and made a success of his life. He greeted me every time he saw me at the ballpark, and I could only think about the guy who came up to my grandfather. There is some magic around baseball (a friend who is a judge once said from the bench that life imitates baseball) and there is a special magic for me about the Chicago White Sox.
I was at the ballpark when Al Smith had a beer dumped on him in 1959. I watched Dick Allen and Ron Kittle and Greg Walker and every team since the mid 50s. Billy Pierce won a game the first time I came to see them play.
The White Sox are about joy for me, as any team is for their fans. As I get closer to 60 I find that almost all of my friends have reconnected with the team they grew up with. I am lucky to live in the town where I was born. I go to other cities and my friends have tickets to games so I have seen the Sox in almost every park in the AL and some in the NL. I found my old hat from 1959 in the bottom of a box in my mother’s store room. My nephew is wearing it now, after getting it cleaned.
For me, baseball is the ultimate team game (although I did play rugby which runs a close second) and golf is the ultimate individual sport. I think we are drawn to these sports because of the ethic they are based upon. Both games are about giving your all. One is as a teammate, one as you. They are about being a gentleman, and doing the right thing. They have clear rules, clear standards of conduct and behavior and clear expectations of what is right and good. That is why people are so upset over steroids. It violates the concept of truth and fairness. Nothing expresses teamwork like a well-executed hit and run or squeeze play. Nothing expresses honesty like a player calling a penalty on himself in golf. We all know what is right or wrong, we admire those who try to put it at the forefront. That is one of the reasons it is so easy to be a White Sox Fan. Ozzie, Kenny, Jerry are all about honesty. Sox players are about giving honest effort. This is a ball club that works for all it gets, and it makes you proud to support them.