A suburban Sox fan club cinches up and hunkers down for October magic

Glenn Groebli remembers the last game he attended at the old Comiskey Park.

It was Sept. 29, 1990, the next to the last game played in the old baseball cathedral.

The White Sox beat the Mariners, 5-2. Bobby Thigpen picked up the save on his way to what at that time was an unfathomable season record of 57 of them.

Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura were rookies, both 22. A slender Sammy Sosa patrolled right field at age 21 with a gun for an arm.

That team was a comer. It finished with 94 wins, one more than this year's Central Division champs. Unfortunately, it shared the AL West with the powerful Oakland A's, who won 103.

But those are not the things that come to mind when Groebli thinks of that game.

He remembers the tears. He remembers getting a bit choked up during the pregame ceremonies.

As he took them in, he found the recollections floating wistfully through his head of all the Sox games that he had attended with his dad and his brother, the bond between generations and family that baseball seals, the electricity he had felt while cheering on Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio from inside the '50s and '60s crowds that jammed Comiskey when the Yankees came to town.

Yes, at that 1990 game, Groebli felt the nostalgia and the magic.

Retired now to Sun City in Huntley, the former Palatine resident feels it still.

He is not alone.

He heads a group of almost 100 passionate and longtime fans who feel the same nostalgia and magic.

The Huntley-based White Sox Fan Club is a congenial and warmhearted group that spreads Sox love like butter.

The club started in Sun City but is open to membership to Sox fans from anywhere nearby. They meet monthly at the American Legion post in Huntley for pizza, beer, Sox talk, a trivia quiz and usually a speaker that Groebli tracks down.

Linda Campbell shows off Ron Kittle's 2005 World Series ring. CHRISTINE SUCH/

Gregarious Sox ambassador Ron Kittle was a keynote in August, and was a big hit, both among the members and in the My Huntley News.

There's only one restriction: No Cubs fans.

At a club meeting last month, a visitor asked if anyone pulls for both Chicago teams. The response was an immediate, declarative and apparently unanimous no.

A couple among more than three dozen fans in attendance shifted slightly in their seats. A hint perhaps of anxiety? If they disagreed about the Cubs, they were not about to announce it.

The club does, however, accept the converted. Groebli's wife Mary Ann, for one, used to have North Side loyalties. That had been by upbringing. But no more. Groebli has shown her the light. She roots for the Sox with the best of them now.

Like any fan, club members are not above criticizing. Just what, after all, did Dallas Keuchel do this year to earn his $18.3 million?

"He has struggled for most of this season with his command, issuing too many walks and giving up home runs," Dotty Lucia said.

But they are for the most part believers.

Who have been this year's biggest surprises? The general consensus is pitcher Carlos Rodon, a late one-year signee plagued by injury. No one saw his dominance coming.

But when you ask who is the cream in the Sox coffee, it doesn't stop with Rodon.

There is a lot of support for unsung Leury Garcia, a switch hitter who plays all over the field, A lot of respect for Jose Abreu, last year's American League MVP. And a lot of affection for shortstop Tim Anderson, flamboyant hero of the Field of Dreams game.

"We're a different team when he's not leading off," says Jim O'Connor, who entertains club members with a trivia contest at their monthly meetings. "You can see his value in his stats: He led the team in hits (163) and runs scored (94)."

"He is the engine that makes this year's Chicago White Sox run," Lucia added.

After some initial dubiousness about the hiring of Tony La Russa last October to replace Rick Renteria as the Sox manager, most seemed to have come around.

"Southside Phil" Cody of Huntley gets his T-shirt autographed by Ron Kittle while his wife, Carol, lines up her phone for a photo during a recent meeting of the White Sox Fan Club. Behind Kittle, Mary Blasko and Glenn Groebli look on. CHRISTINE SUCH/

Phil Cody, who goes by "Southside Phil," questioned the move when La Russa was introduced. But not now.

"He's done a fantastic job," Cody said. "(I like) how he gets involved with the individual players, how he thinks innings ahead. He relates to the younger players."

"His handling of the ballclub through all the first-half injuries to get 20 games over .500 at the break was expert," O'Connor said. "They've had some slumps in the second half, but it looks as if they are really ready for the postseason."

Are they really ready for the postseason? Can they get past the Houston Astros in the first round? Can they win the World Series?

The consensus is a nervous yes. Probably more nervous now that the Sox are in a must-win situation after losing the first two games to the Astros.

"Very good starting and relief pitching gives (the) Sox a good chance," Erhard Gruenwald said. "In short series, pitching is most important."

"I'm very guarded," Cody said. "I think they have a chance, (but) being an old Chicago fan for 70 years, it's one of those I've got to see it to believe it. I think with their pitching and their timely hitting, they can do it."

They are Sox fans who go way back, and much of the club's appeal is the connection it offers for those old passions.

"I enjoy the conversation with so many people with deep common interest and bringing up Sox history that has slipped our memories," said Gruenwald, who had been slow to appreciate the game when he arrived in 1957 from Germany with no understanding of the language.

The game seemed odd at first, but as a teenager he grew to understand and love it.

Baseball legend Ron Kittle chats with Rich Frankowitch of Huntley while signing autographs for the White Sox Fan Club. Among those milling in the back, from left: Theresa Pawlicki, Mary Blasko and Glenn Groebli. CHRISTINE SUCH/

Theresa Pawlicki said friends think she's a bit "over the top" as a fan, and the club gives her a chance to interact with other fans who relate to the depth of her devotion.

"I watched the games on TV with my father, and when I was in 7th grade I attended my first White Sox Game," she said. "I convinced a neighbor of mine into becoming a Sox fan. We rode the train down to the park and attended many games. We became groupies. We waited at the players parking lot after each game to see the players. We got autographs, pictures, etc. The players eventually recognized some of us regular fans."

Like Groebli, she feels the nostalgia and the magic.

They all do.

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