You might have seen and read recent stories about baseball having lost its soul like a pop fly in the sun. Perhaps it has. But here’s one that proves it still has heart.
Mike Wurst is a retired air traffic controller living in Las Vegas who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He witnessed his first White Sox game in 1964. He remembers piling into a station wagon belonging to the father of his oldest friend, Larry Sieczkarski, that the Sox were playing the Yankees at old Comiskey Park and that Mickey Mantle hit a home run.
In those days, the White Sox sold popcorn in a cardboard box that turned into a megaphone after you ate the popcorn. Mike recalls shouting “Go Go Sox!” and cheering for his Pale Hose heroes Pete Ward, Ron Hansen and Ken Berry. At least until Mr. Sieczkarski said that was enough.
He and Larry became fast friends, owing to their affinity for all things White Sox, Chicago Bears and Bob Dylan. When they were around 12 and Larry fell, revealing a degenerative bone disease, Mike would push his buddy to elementary school in an old shopping cart that he used on his paper route.
But as sometimes happens, the boys drifted apart in high school. Mike eventually married, started a family, had a long career with the Federal Aviation Administration and moved to Las Vegas. Larry never married, worked or traveled much, because of his health.
He mostly survived on disability checks.
In later life, the pals would rekindle their friendship. Whenever Mike was in Chicago, he would treat Larry to a Sox game. They had tickets for opening day in 2019, but the game got rained out. Mike and his wife, Jody, had to return to Southern Nevada the next morning.
He was so upset about not getting to see a game with his old buddy that he wrote to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Mike explained their passion for the club. He said that he and Larry were planning to attend opening day but that his buddy’s health was in decline. If they made it back, Mike was hoping the White Sox might acknowledge Larry’s lifelong devotion to the team in some way.
A warm letter from Christine O’Reilly, the White Sox’s vice president of community relations, arrived in the mail. She said the organization would love to bring Mike and his family and Larry out for a game.
Consider it done, she said. Opening day 2020. Or another game of their choice.
And then COVID hit.
No runs, no hits, no errors.
No spectators at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Game of their lives
“As you may imagine, we were all very excited to go to opening day and quite disappointed when all these plans got scrapped due to this horrible pandemic,” Mike said.
With some reluctance, he reached out to the White Sox again. With Guaranteed Rate Field recently opening 100 percent to fans, would the White Sox reconsider doing something for his friend Larry?
It finally happened July 1.
“The White Sox organization went all out to make it a very special day for all of us,” Mike wrote in an email. “Mind you, this all happened within a week of the passing of Mrs. (Martyl) Reinsdorf. When it would have been completely understandable for them to be consumed with grief, they still had the grace to see that we had the best day ever.”
Tickets, parking pass, a guest service person who picked up Larry in the suburbs where he lives with his elderly mother and put him in a wheelchair. The first-place White Sox welcomed the friends with a greeting on the scoreboard and gave each a bag stuffed with souvenirs.
The only thing missing was the cardboard box that turned into a megaphone after you ate the popcorn and Pete Ward, Ron Hansen and Ken Berry. And opening day snow flurries.
“The weather was beautiful,” Mike said. “The Sox won decisively. The whole day was just perfect. I know my friend Larry will never forget it. And neither will we.”