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  • South side blackout

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    Matthew Cianchetti AKA Foulke You

    On a drizzly night in September of 2008, the White Sox finished the 162 game gauntlet with a makeup game win against the Tigers and found themselves in a dead heat with their biggest division rivals, the Minnesota Twins. By virtue of a coin flip, the White Sox had won the right to host the tiebreaker game 163 to decide the AL Central crown. Having the home field advantage for the winner take all affair was huge in that particular season as both teams were dominant at home and both teams were designed to take advantage of their own ballparks. At the time, the Sox were heavily built around home runs while the Twins were built around speed and contact hitting. The bouncy turf at the old HHH Metrodome wreaked havoc on opponents as Twins hitters practically swung down on the baseball to initiate bouncing bleeders through the infield. Any Sox fan no doubt has nightmares at the thought of Nick Punto at the dome going 4 for 5 with nary a hit cracking 80 mph exit velocity. There would be no dome or fake turf on tap that September night. The Twins were about to have their season blacked out.

    When it was clear the Sox had won the makeup game 162 against Detroit to force the tiebreaker scenario, the Sox immediately put tickets on sale that same night. One of the benefits of this particular affair being unplanned and last minute scheduling was the fact that it was essentially a playoff game without the league red tape. Any true fan knows that the playoffs can often squeeze out the little guy with high secondary pricing and sponsor reserved tickets. This game 163 was not going to have many corporate fans or celebrities in the house. It was 40,000 rabid White Sox supporters that were coming out to see the South Side 9 win a division title. The team marketing department put out a call to arms: “BLACKOUT”. Taking a page out of “white out” games that had become popular in various basketball playoff arenas, the team was asking all fans attending the game to come dressed in black. They would be giving out black towels to each fan entering the ballpark. I immediately thought this was such was a creative and cool idea but I was skeptical of how many fans would come to the ballpark in black. Most of the “white out” games in the NBA have the teams supplying free white team shirts on each seat just in case the person attending doesn’t have that color. In this case, the team was asking their fans to supply the black garb. Throw in the fact that Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy, and the team mostly had to rely on radio, TV, their website, and other more traditional communication methods to get the word out. I was lucky enough to score two bleacher tickets in the last row to this ballgame. Money was much tighter for me back in 2008, so there would be no StubHub purchases if I couldn’t get them at regular price on Ticketmaster. I was elated to secure two to the most important game of the year.

    As I arrived at the ballpark in my black Ken Griffey Jr. jersey T shirt, black jeans, and black Sox hat, I was stunned while looking around to see EVERYONE did what they were asked and dressed in black. I didn't see a single fan who missed the memo. A beat writer would later go on to say that the only fans not wearing black were the extremely small showing of Twins fans who made the drive to Chicago. As I entered the concourse, I remember seeing Roger Bossard and grounds crew wetting down the infield and baselines even more than usual to slow the Twins running game. There would be no speed advantage for the Twins here and they would be facing a crowd that was hungry for a division title. The blackout promotion was a stunning success that came together so perfectly and so organically, they couldn’t have planned it any better. In addition to being one of the best baseball games I’ve ever witnessed, the result of the promotion was the most rabid and loud crowd I have personally been in attendance for. The place was buzzing with every pitch, every out, and every play. The entire season was on the line in this one ballgame. After watching a rebroadcast of this game at a later time, I laughed when I heard the announcers say the black towels and black shirts made the crowd look like swarming locusts.

    Ron Darling is a current Mets announcer was doing the color commentating back in '08 on TBS for the blackout game and when Jim Margalus of Sox Machine asked him about it years later, he had this to say:

    This is a good story for your fans: We do two segments to open a postseason game. The first segment is about whatever, the second segment is about whatever. The first segment we did, we could barely get out loud-enough words because the fans were just delirious, going crazy.

    The second segment, we decided not to do -- which I've never done, before or after that game -- because the crowd noise was so good, and the shots of the fans in all black were too good, that our second segment, we just had the director take pictures of the fans.

    That's never happened before or after in any postseason game I've done, and that says a lot about Chicago White Sox fans. They were hungry and delirious that night, and I remember getting goosebumps, and I don't really get goosebumps that often anymore because I'm old and gray, but they gave me goosebumps that night.
    One of the other unsaid things about this particular season and game is that this was going on during the Cubs “It’s Gonna Happen!” 2008 season of “destiny” so it often felt as if the Sox were “crashing the party” to an extent that year given the amount of blanket media attention focused on our North Side neighbors. (Hint: It didn’t happen that year) Most Sox fans have the key moments of this the blackout game burned into memory: The pitching heroics of John Danks. Griffey throwing out Michael Cuddyer at home plate with AJ holding on to the ball, Jim Thome’s bomb to the CF concourse, and of course, Brian Anderson’s diving catch for the 3rd out sealing the deal and clinching a division title. Each big moment shook the ballpark with noise.

    So why is a tiebreaker game from 13 years ago so special and talked about by our fanbase? Sure, the stakes were high, the atmosphere and energy were unbelievable as was the game itself...but the Sox ended up falling to the Rays in 4 games a week later. It might seem silly to fans of the Cardinals, Yankees, or Red Sox who see playoff success with regularity to celebrate a simple division title win. So the question is, how is the original blackout game still relevant to the 2021 team? The truthful reason is that the White Sox haven’t had a lot to cheer for since 2008. It’s been a rough decade plus for the South Side 9. We’ve had some heartbreaking September collapses in 2010 and 2012 where it seemed the postseason was attainable. We’ve seen failed draft picks like Gordon Beckham, Courtney Hawkins, Tyler Flowers, and more. We’ve seen forgettable trades and free agents that were supposed to put the team on the map again like Adam Dunn, Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Keppinger, and others. We saw a generational pitcher get traded out of town in Chris Sale and watch him celebrate a title in Boston. We’ve seen one of the most nationally embarrassing seasons in recent memory in 2016. Some of the lowlights featured Adam LaRoche and his idiot son, Chris Sale cutting up jerseys, a horrid naming rights change to the ballpark, Todd Frazier stuffing Adam Eaton in a locker, and a nightmare Memorial Day Massacre in Kansas City that exposed them as pretenders. We've also seen the messy manager departures of Ozzie Guillen and the sleepy listless guidance of Robin Ventura who made a much better player than a manager. We gutted out a complete teardown and rebuild of the roster that triggered multiple epic losing seasons to get to this point. We struck out on signing top tier free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. We suffered through an unimaginable pandemic year that impacted the entire planet where baseball became an afterthought of what was important. However, once a shortened season actually did happen, we as fans were physically separated from our team when they finally had something on the field worth watching. Let's face it, a postseason series in front of no fans is not a real postseason at all.

    All of this recent Sox history has culminated with this team and this season. We finally have a team worth cheering for once more and on October 10th, 2021, the doors at 35th & Shields will swing open for meaningful postseason baseball. The team is once again calling on fans to blackout the stadium. The ALDS sold out within an hour. The fans are ready. It’s time to bring that blackout atmosphere and energy from 2008 back to the South Side not just for this season, but hopefully the next several Octobers. It’s been a long road for this franchise and I don’t know how far the 2021 team will go. This October could end in the first round again just like 2008 or it could end in a parade like 2005. One thing I do know is the fans of the Chicago White Sox have paid their dues. You’ve all earned this series Sox fans. Let's play some postseason baseball. It’s time to blackout the Astros

    • berwyn
      berwyn commented
      Editing a comment
      Blackout: It does lose a bit of its luster if it's been done before. We could be down 0-2 and be playing corpseball in game 3 and the whole affair could have a funereal feeling, black and all. Just sayin'. But that's not going to happen. I hope. Cheating scum Astros.
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