I’m a lifelong baseball fan and a hardcore Chicago White Sox fan. I’m an African American. I’m the senior editor of combat sports here at Sporting News who has an unhealthy appetite for all things baseball. Again, I’m an African American who has spent much of his life looking for baseball to pique the interest of my peers because I’d love to share the beauty of this sport with others.
Tim Anderson’s walk-off home run against the New York Yankees at the Field of Dreams Game on Thursday night became that cultural reference point I’ve been waiting for, one that will live on.
But if I’m a prisoner of the moment, I don’t mind if I am never granted a parole hearing.
Living in this moment where an African American takes center stage in a sport where African Americans make up only 7 percent of the players in Major League Baseball was euphoric for me.
To see my peers, who never cared much about the sport, share the various gifs and memes was an emotional moment. It forced people on social media to talk about a 28-year-old African American from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who defied the odds, became a star along the way and accepted the role as the leading voice in the African American community of Major League Baseball.
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As they say: You couldn’t have written a better script. But how this script played out for me is vastly different than how it may have played out for others. This wasn’t just a game. This tree bore the fruit of cultural significance that few writers could encapsulate in words. But I’ll give it a try.
And I nearly missed it by being stupid and double-booking myself for a meeting at the same time as the game. However, as it turned out, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Frank Thomas changed my fandom
So how did I become a White Sox fan, you ask? Follow me for a moment.
I was born in New York and spent my early years adoring Mets stars Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. They looked like me and brought a different culture to this lily-white sport I was watching. But Strawberry went to the Dodgers and I moved to Las Vegas. I needed a new team.
I happened to be watching a White Sox game — I always thought the jerseys were cool — when this mountain of a man strolled to the plate. Due to my infatuation with pro wrestling, I was immediately taken aback by the size of this massive human being named Frank Thomas. I became obsessed when I realized that he combined patience with power. While everybody else was drawn to the cultural phenomenon known as Ken Griffey Jr., I loved Frank Thomas because he defied the expectations of what a man his size, stature and skin color should be doing in baseball.
In August 1990, I became a hardcore White Sox fan and I never looked back.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any friends who looked like me that loved baseball as much as I did. I obsessively played baseball video games and bought The Sporting News (true story!) to play fantasy baseball by hand in the pre-internet era. I desperately wanted my White Sox to have a cool factor that I could present to my friends and say, “See? This is why I love baseball.” There wasn’t a whole lot of that aside from Robin Ventura getting throttled by Nolan Ryan after charging the mound in 1993. And my team was on the wrong side of the joke.
Meanwhile, the Yankees spent the late ’90s drawing my ire as George Steinbrenner built his evil empire. The Yankees fitted cap became a cultural icon. But I was always drawn to the White Sox fitted, which I thought was cooler because of its connection with Hip Hop culture when Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and MC Ren made the Sox fitted part of the N.W.A. attire. Some day, the White Sox would get their shot against the Yankees.
When it was announced that the White Sox and the Yankees would play in the Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa, on Aug. 12, it immediately became appointment viewing.
That was, until I doubled-booked myself for a meeting at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas.
And that also meant that I would spend my time distracted by my phone and prowling the casino floor in pursuit of a screen to watch the game.
Earlier in the week, my Tim Anderson “Field of Dreams” jersey arrived in the mail (see below). I planned on wearing it at home for the game, but decided against wearing it to my meeting. I should have.
The 2021 White Sox have offered more hope than we had since the magical World Series title team of 2005. This White Sox team is different. It speaks to me culturally in ways that other versions of this squad haven’t. From the quiet confidence of Jose Abreu to the boisterous persona of Yermin Mercedes to the swag of Eloy Jimenez’s unbuttoned jersey that reveals his gold chains, these White Sox are built unlike any White Sox team that has preceded them.
But, for me, it has always been about Tim Anderson.
He was one of us. And by us, I mean he looks, walks, talks and acts like a product of the Hip Hop community.
“I don’t look at it as a responsibility,” Anderson said in a 2020 interview with USA Today about being the new leading voice of MLB’s African American community. “But it’s something I’m so proud to do. I want to represent the black community and everything that comes with it.
“I’m going to continue to play the way it’s meant to be played, continue to be me, to continue to grow the game, and continue to get the black community behind me.
“I’m going to let everyone know, ‘Hey, we got a black guy playing baseball.’”
And Anderson let them know. His now-infamous bat flip on April 17, 2019, sparked an intense dialogue on whether bat flips belonged in the sport. But, for me, the conversation was deeper than that. It was about expression in sports and, culturally, that has often gone hand in hand with Blackness.
Winning at the Wynn
So here I was at this meeting with an eye on my phone. My friend and podcast co-host was with me and he just so happens to be a huge Yankees fan. And there was another individual there who hosts a Yankees podcast. Kinda cool, although I was outnumbered.
But as I looked at my phone, the White Sox were already up 7-3 after Seby Zavala homered to right-center. With our retooled bullpen anchored by Liam Hendriks and the addition of Craig Kimbrel, I figured the game was over. So did my co-host. So we chatted for a bit with everyone at the meeting and decided to wrap up.
That was, until my friend barked an expletive that caught my attention.
“‘Oh, s—,'” he said. I scanned the casino floor for a television and saw a replay of Giancarlo Stanton decimating an 88 mph pitch from Hendriks and depositing it into the corn in left field.
I waited all season for this moment and the Yankees — with their $325 million man — were going to take it away. It felt like the Evil Empire had purchased the win in the marquee regular-season game of the year. Because, you know, it’s the Yankee way.
My podcast partner smiled at me. I had to take it in stride because the Yankees needed the win more than my White Sox. But, alas, I wanted the White Sox to win this game.
Little did I know that it set the stage for the moment I’ve been waiting for. The moment where I can present baseball to people who look like me and say, “This is cool.”
We headed to the sportsbook to have a clear view of the biggest screen showing the game and arrived just in time to see Zavala work his way out of a 1-2 count to earn a walk in the bottom of the ninth.
And then, Tim Anderson left the on-deck circle and made his way to the plate. The first pitch from the Yankees’ Zack Britton met Anderson’s bat. The sound it made was loud enough to cut through the noisy sportsbook as heads rose and turned toward the giant screen. There was no doubt where this ball was heading and Anderson knew as well. Everyone knew as soon as it left his bat.
I needed this.
We needed this.
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I’m not sure exactly what I said, but it was loud. Here I was, a Black man in a sportsbook acting a fool over a Black athlete on my favorite team absolutely hijacking the sports world’s spotlight and shining it on himself as he danced around the bases.
And I never cared less about what people thought about me than I did at that very moment.
I don’t expect it to fully change the perspective, but it’s a universally memorable moment that captures Anderson as Anderson is. The immediate recognition that the game was over as soon as the ball came off the bat, the jubilation as he rounded the bases with fireworks igniting the Iowa skyline, his team waiting for their leadoff hitter, a Black man, at home plate.
A dialogue was sparked on social media as even non-baseball fans were held captive by this moment. And there was nothing else happening in sports as preseason football and NBA Summer League had already wrapped up, which left Anderson’s moment in baseball history isolated. It made me proud to be a baseball fan. And it was my team with a player who is the ambassador for our community that put a cap on an epic night.
I’ve longed for that one moment that I could bottle and present to non-baseball fans. I finally got it.
This is how our kids should see baseball history.
Maybe this would be to them what Frank Thomas was for me. A reference point that forever changes their story.
You can’t erase it. It’s here and I love it.
I’m happy for Tim Anderson.
“We made history tonight,” Anderson said.
Yes, we did.
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