CHICAGO -- Jackhammers peck away at the legendary concrete bleachers like woodpeckers to balsa. Stacks of peeled Wrigley Field sod sit near the Harry Caray statue. A Miller Lite billboard located just beyond the right-field wall on Sheffield offers a hopeful verbal twist -- Wait 'Til Next Beer -- on the annual Chicago Cubs motto.
These are odd, conflicted, often painful days for those who live and cry with the Cubs. Come Saturday, exactly 14 "L" stops south of the Red Line's Addison Street platform here in Wrigleyville, the Chicago White Sox will play Game 1 of the 2005 World Series.
Some of the Cubs' faithful aren't taking the news well. When 23-year-old Cassie Szczudlo, who works in nearby Lincoln Park, saw the Sox clinch the American League pennant at Angel Stadium, her first thoughts were admittedly crude and evil.
"Plane crash," is what she told a friend on her cell phone that night.
Szczudlo apologizes for that now. "I didn't really want their plane to crash," she says. "But you know what I mean."
For every Sox fan celebrating the first World Series in this town since 1959, when the Go-Go White Sox did the deed, there are Cubs fans frantically searching their medicine cabinets for sedatives. Nothing too strong, just pills that can render them oblivious to the next four to seven games played by Paulie, Ozzie and the rest of the boys.
Less than 10 miles separate Wrigley from U.S. Cellular Field, but it might as well be the distance of the Lake Michigan coastline. The two franchises don't share geography (North Side vs. South Side), leagues (National vs. American), or political allies (Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, like his old man before him, would crawl across the Dan Ryan on his bare tummy to see the White Sox win, vs. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a lifelong Cubs fan). But what the teams have always shared, other than a city's name and a healthy despise for one another, is decades upon decades of postseason failure.
Until now. The Sox, until further notice, rule this city.
Even here in the shadow of Wrigley Field you see the undeniable evidence of the White Sox. At the 3,000-square-foot Sports World store on the corner of Clark and Addison, where owner Earl Shaevitz once told me "99 9/10ths" of his merchandise is Cubs or Wrigley Field related, that "it'd be like a treasure hunt to find Bears or Sox stuff here," there are now, ta-da, two rows of White Sox jerseys ($119 apiece for the pinstriped unis) placed prominently just behind the main counter. And behind another counter are, what, six, seven different styles of White Sox caps? And to the far right of the caps are White Sox warmup jackets. And in the front window are White Sox t-shirts.
"I never thought I'd see the day," I say to one of the cashiers. "Is the White Sox stuff selling?"
The bored cashier takes a sip from his soft drink, then a bite from his sandwich, and then nods.
On the corner of Clark and Waveland, a ground ball's distance to the Engine Co. 78 firehouse, is a souvenir stand manned by 17-year-old Sean Delvalle, a Cubs fan, and 22-year-old Joseph Gabriel, who wears a black White Sox t-shirt and Sox cap with a pin that features the Cubs logo with a diagonal line across the C.
"It's the best time to be a Sox fan," Gabriel says. "None of the Cubs fans can give you [bleep]."
Gabriel is a North Sider who chose the Sox at age four. "My father told me, 'Son, don't forget Chicago's got two baseball teams.'" So now he happily works the souvenir stand on a weekday afternoon, hawking $10 Sox t-shirts and discounted $5 Cubs t-shirts.
"We're practically giving that stuff away," he says, pointing toward one of the Cubs clearance tables.
Delvalle shakes his head. During the regular season the only South Side-related item for sale at the stand might be the ever-popular "Sox Suck" t-shirt or, says Delvalle, "a Sox hat stuffed in the corner." But now you have a dozen or more choices, including the "Clean-Up Mickey Mouse" White Sox bobblehead doll.
The Cubs bobblehead is, sigh, "On-Deck Goofy."
I duck into the nearby Cubs PR office, a converted donut shop on Clark. Cubs president Andy MacPhail walks in (thank God, Gabriel didn't see him), spends a few minutes with the PR director, then returns to his Wrigley office. I nearly pull a hammy trying to catch up with him.
MacPhail, as always, is polite, but it is clear he wants no part of the Sox or this column. Another team executive, through gritted teeth, says the Cubs offer their congratulations to a season well-done.
You were expecting, what, a bottle of Dom sent to Chairman Reinsdorf?
I find Szczudlo at Murphy's Bleachers, a landmark bar located just across the street from the ancient centerfield scoreboard. Murphy's is a Cubs stronghold, but today the sign outside the bar reads, 2 Dogs For $2, $2 Micro Brews, Go Sox.
Go Sox? At Murphy's? The place where the lone Sox pennant is hidden in a corner? This is like Ditka waving a banner that says, Go Packers!
"People have tried to convince me to root for them," Szczudlo says. "I'm sorry, I can't do it. I'd feel like I was betraying [the Cubs]. I don't think it would be true. It would be like I was abandoning them."
Szczudlo admits it: she's jealous and sad, too. "I know there are Cubs fans who are cheering for the city of Chicago," she says. "But the extremists are feeling like I do."
Her friend, 27-year-old Kate Walker, is working the Murphy's bar. Walker, a North Sider, is wearing a Murphy's sweatshirt and a Cubs-Boston Red Sox commemorative cap from the series earlier this summer at Wrigley. She can't stand the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals, but shudders at the thought of a White Sox World Series parade.
"I only see the Cardinal fans [eight] times a year," she says. "With the White Sox, I could be at the grocery store in December wearing my Cubs hat and a Sox fan could say, 'It sucks to be you.'"
Yes, that is a definite possibility, which is why Walker is pulling for ABTS (Anybody But The Sox). She still remembers the White Sox fan invasion during the series in late May.
"Typical South Siders," she says. "Thick Chicago accents. Mullets. Better tippers, though. But a lot of their jerseys were brand-spanking new."
Walker is working Saturday night. And, of course, the World Series game will be on the bar's plasmas. "Volume and everything," she says.
Walker will watch when she can. She loves baseball, but loves the Cubs more.
"It's a long winter," she says.
Longer, much longer to Cubs extremists, if the White Sox do what the Cubbies haven't done since 1908: win it all.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.