Paul Sullivan: A tragic event in Highland Park became just another day at the ballpark — and in America
The show must go on, and a job is a job. But when gun violence hits so close to home, it’s impossible to focus on the game below, no matter the stakes.
About 3½ hours before the Chicago White Sox met the Minnesota Twins Monday to start the biggest series of the season, manager Tony La Russa’s pregame media session in the dugout competed with a singer practicing over the Guaranteed Rate Field sound system.
La Russa began by discussing the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park that killed seven people and injured more than 30 others.
The singer began by belting out a slow version of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“At the twilight’s last gleaming,” she sang.
“Unfortunately it’s almost daily, way too frequently,” La Russa said of the pervasive gun violence in America.
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars…”
“Did they find him?” La Russa asked reporters. “Did they catch him?”
“Through the perilous fight…”
“No,” a reporter told La Russa. The suspect was still at large at the time.
“Even when there’s an explanation, there’s no explanation,” La Russa said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming…”
“Was there any talk of canceling the game,” La Russa was asked.
“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”
“There was a conversation with MLB,” La Russa said.
“Gave proof through the night…”
“And they decided that we would play. It was considered.”
“That our flag was still there…”
Did La Russa think the game should be played?
“O say does that star-spangled...”
The decision-makers were “very aware of the biggest picture,” La Russa replied. “If they say play. I think we should play.”
“O’er the land of the free…”
“I also know there are probably concerts going on tonight someplace,” La Russa said.
“And the home of the brave.”
“The whole city isn’t going to stop, so… But I know it was considered.”
The anthem ended. Back in the Sox dugout, the topic of conversation switched to the crucial, upcoming homestand against the first-place Twins and Detroit Tigers.
There would be baseball because, well, I’m not really sure what went into the decision made by MLB and the White Sox. Perhaps it was because the Sox had already sold more than 30,000 tickets, and there were Paul Konerko bobbleheads that needed to be handed out. Maybe baseball decided fans needed a diversion after the horrifying news of the day.
Either way, a nice crowd of 32,483 showed up despite the pregame rain. After a moment of silence for the victims of the Highland Park massacre, it was game on.
The press box TVs were tuned into the game, but many of the reporters followed the news from Highland Park from their devices. The show must go on, and a job is a job. But when gun violence hits so close to home, it’s impossible to focus on the game below, no matter the stakes.
As it turned out, it was one of those crazy, crazy nights the Eagles always sang about, and the game itself was fun to watch — albeit maddening — for most Sox fans.
After the Sox tied the game at 2 in the seventh inning, the Twins pulled off an improbable 8-5 triple play in which center fielder Byron Buxton made a running grab and fired to third baseman Gio Urshela, who tagged Yoán Moncada and touched second base for the final two outs. Adam Engel and Moncada would be destined to see their blunders replayed the next 24 hours on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
La Russa’s jaw dropped in a meme-worthy moment caught by the NBC Sports Chicago cameras as he witnessed the outcome. It was a look almost all of us in the press box shared, not to mention thousands of disbelieving Sox fans who thought they had seen it all.
“Never seen one like it,” La Russa would later say.
Neither had anyone else. Researchers tweeted that it was the first triple play of its kind in baseball history. When old-timers say you can go to a baseball game and see something that never has been seen before, believe them.
After the Sox ran themselves out of the inning in the most spectacular way imaginable, the Twins went on to score four runs in the 10th inning to secure a 6-3 win. La Russa would be asked to leave the premises by the home plate umpire after complaining about the strike zone for Joe Kelly, who imploded in an outing he described with an expletive.
A section of fans briefly chanted “Fire Tony,” even as La Russa was not in the dugout to hear them. Many fans began to clear out after Kelly, who allowed four runs while retiring two hitters, was pulled by bench coach Miguel Cairo. When Tim Anderson struck out to end the game in the bottom of the 10th, the ballpark quickly emptied.
The postgame fireworks show had already been canceled after the Highland Park tragedy. But across the Dan Ryan, departing fans could catch glimpses of smaller fireworks shows. The reporters went downstairs to conduct their postgame interviews, where La Russa, Kelly, Engel, Johnny Cueto and José Abreu gave their assessments on the game and the current state of the Sox.
It was just another day at the park.
It was just another day in America.
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