BRIDGEPORT — On Sunday, the faithful returned to Sox Park to mourn.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The Sox billed the season finale as “Fan Appreciation Day,” but everyone there knew it was more like a funeral.
My silent shuffle from Lot C through the turnstile to the seats certainly felt like standing in line to pay your last respects. The Sox had already lost 98 games. It was sad.
Still, you could tell the White Sox brass really tried to lift our spirits.
On the way in, fans got coupons for 5 percent off our ComEd bill.
A lady standing by the escalator dished out coupons for a free gallon of milk at Aldi. She gave me three.
No one was standing guard to make sure fans in the nosebleeds didn't sneak into the box seats.
But those little moments of fan appreciation lifted my spirits only until I got in line for snacks.
The guy in front of me in line waited only to bid farewell to Nina, the lady hawking pretzels, peanuts and pop behind home plate.
“That was Smoking Joe,” Nina said. “He was saying goodbye. It really does feel like a funeral. It is a sad day.”
Chicago’s most recent World Series Champions stunk it up all year. And Sox fans who showed up Sunday had come to see if their team would end the season with either 98 losses or 99.
Plus, this could be the last time Paul Konerko wears the Sox uniform. His contract is up and he may even retire.
When Konerko came to bat in the first inning fans gave him a standing ovation. It lasted a minute, maybe more. Then, as fans chanted, “Paul-eee, Paul-eee,” the Sox captain popped out.
Konerko got another standing-O from the less-than-sellout crowd when Sox manager Robin Ventura pulled him during the second inning. Fans cheered for the curtain call, and got it.
Sad. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Afterward, the kid sitting behind me said, “Look at all the empty seats, Dad.”
At one point, Sox Park was quiet enough for a guy to rock his baby to sleep in the second row behind the Royals on-deck circle.
There was some awkward laughter when Gordon Beckham foolishly tried to turn a single into a double and failed miserably.
But between innings, fans had the chance to win Corner Bakery's "Bacon-Bacon Local Tomato" sandwich by snapping iPhone pictures of the sandwich flashing on screens all around Sox park. That seemed cool, but I was too depressed to take pictures and missed out on a free lunch.
At least when Alexi Ramirez homered in the 4th inning our tickets became coupons for free coffee at McDonald's.
Later, there was a chance to win free oatmeal and free fries. Not bad.
Then something beautiful happened. The wind blew a red balloon in the shape of a heart on the field and all the way to home plate.
Was it a sign of a better season to come? I don't know.
Some fans cheered a bit. True believers. I want to think like them, but I know that somewhere in the cheap seats a kid was crying because the wind blew away his balloon. Sorry for being so cynical. For us Sox fans, it was just that kind of year.
After a while, there was no more free stuff — and the Sox continued to have the second best score.
I tried to only focus on all the appreciation, the free stuff and those little benefits of a tiny crowd.
Including no wait at the urinal, among other things.
And the moment when Ron Kittle, the 1983 Rookie of the Year, knocked down the guy wearing the foam cartoon likeness of Carlton Fisk to make sure his foam cartoon character won the between-the-innings foot race.
In the 8th inning, after people sitting in the fancy seats behind home plate ate their fill — the guy passing out free hot dogs and brats hooked us up. Very cool, Mr. Free Hot Dog guy.
Ah, but the hot dog euphoria was fleeting. When I spotted the big screen montage of fans waving goodbye to a rather fitting song by the band Avicii.
The chorus starts with, “Wake me up when it’s all over ...”
I wasn't sure how much more I could take. Still, I resisted the urge to split early and got to see the Sox load the bases in the bottom of the 9th and ... still lose.
Another sad tune played over the loudspeaker.
“I’ll love you long after your gone,” the song goes.
Oh, Paul Konerko. That was for you, wasn't it?
After the game, Ol' Pauly grabbed a microphone and thanked us for being there. Good guy, that Pauly. Sox should probably find a way to keep him around, right?
On the way out, I made one more stop in the john. That's where you find out what's really on a drunk Sox fan's mind. Guys just yell stuff out while waiting to pee.
“What the ----, man,” one frustrated guy said. No one responded.
“Oh, well," he said, breaking the silence. "Let’s go, Hawks."
Agreed. We need something good to help ease the pain.
Because I'm not too sure three free gallons of milk, a big BLT, fries, oatmeal — that 5-percent off the gas bill — really makes me feel any better.
But right when I walked out of Sox Park a lady handed me — and everyone walking out of the stadium Sunday — a coupon for a free ticket next season and everything changed.
I started to look forward to next year. And it felt really good ... for a moment.
Then, I realized that I sound a lot like ... well, one of them.
With that, the sadness returned. It'll take time to heal.
Thankfully, there wasn't much traffic on the way home.