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White Sox Wed Jun 20 2012

Hate Thy Neighbor - Cubs and Sox Battle It Out

After the Cubs pounded the White Sox on Monday, cruising to a 12-3 victory in the opening game of the three-game set, Cubs fans puffed out their chests a little.

I have a Facebook friend who posted "Cubs>>>>> Whitesux" right after the game, racking up 28 "likes." I saw it and thought, "Nevermind the clubs' records (Sox 35-32 at the time, Cubs 23-44), I guess the guy has a short memory, because the Sox swept the Cubs fairly easily just a month ago."

I noticed a larger point, though. People care about the rivalry, and people care about the two three-game series the North and South Siders play each year. Yeah, most of the time it is for pride (because usually one or both of the teams are mediocre or worse), but a Cubs-Sox series is roughly 15 times more exciting than a typical Sox-Orioles or Cubs-Padres matchup.

With the Astros shift to the American League next year, and with 15 teams in each league, interleague play will now be season round. Unfortunately, scheduling this has been tough, so the rivalry scheduling will change. Gone are two weekend series; in are single mid-week series. The number of games between the rivalry teams will be reduced from six to four, and the Sox and Cubs will now have two games each at home.

This is a fair compromise, especially considering there were plans to scrap the rivalry series altogether. At least MLB kept something.

But I, like many fans, love the way it is.

If you remember, before 1997, the Sox and Cubs never played against each other in the regular season. They would schedule an exhibition game once per year, and that was it. With interleague play, they instituted the current format.

Until a few years ago, the Sox and Cubs typically had their series solely on the weekends, and day games were the norm. It was always an event, baseball at its best time - on a sunny Saturday afternoon, with a slight breeze off the lake, and with 40,000+ raucous Chicago baseball fans filling the ballpark.

I have some fond memories of the Crosstown Classic. Living in the northern Chicago suburb of Waukegan, it was tough to get to baseball games when I was a little kid. My family and I might only go to a game or two per year. But in 2001 and 2003, we made them count: my mom somehow (remember, this is before Stub Hub and similar websites) was able to land tickets for a Cubs-Sox game at the Cell those years.

Those games were, well, classic. In 2001, we saw Carlos Lee hit an extra inning walk-off grand slam to beat the Cubbies 7-3. Lee crushed a towering moonshot that landed in the left field seats. Then, in 2003, Jose Valentin turned out to be the hero with his own walk-off homer, hitting a line drive the barely reached the bleachers in right center field, winning the game for the Sox 4-3.

Having been to a MLB playoff game in 2011, I can look back and notice the (I hate to use this term) playoff atmosphere at Cubs-Sox games. Sure, the "must win" feeling wasn't in the air, but the crowd was totally locked-in, and fans cheered 250% louder when something positive happened for their team. After each walk-off home run, bedlam ensued.

Oh, and there are all the bragging rights that come along with a victory over the territorial competitor. As Chicago baseball fans know, it's not so much cheering on your Chicago team; it's also trashing the other team, and giving well laid out, logical reasons why the other team in town sucks.

It's about cheering twice as hard when Carlos Marmol picks up that save because your favorite team won, and your least favorite team lost. It's about cackling maniacally after each Sox home run that widens the lead. It's about detesting opposing players, like Paul Konerko and Ryan Dempster, you would otherwise have no problem with. It's about making fun of the other guys' hotheads, like Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano, in years past.

And, it's about pouring some salt in Sox fans' wounds when the Cubs win by nine. I'm sure Sox fans are praying for a victory tonight to take the season series four games to two. But, I'm sure they are praying for a win just so they can fire off their perfectly crafted insults and comebacks to Cubs fans after the game.

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