- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

HOUSTON - This may come as a disappointment to blue collar fans who like their baseball cities gritty, but Houston is much more into this World Series than Chicago.

Granted, we are talking about a two-team city like Chicago compared to a one franchise town like Houston. Chicago prides itself as a great sports town, but the feeling was that it has to rally to really get behind the White Sox.

In Chicago, it is fashionable to spell out support with night-time lighting in downtown office buildings — a pretty scene but a very corporate one.

Here in Houston, people are painting messages on the cars they drive to work to show their colors, planting signs on their front lawns and walking around wearing Astros hats and jerseys on nearly every street corner.

The radio waves are filled with Astros seemingly 24-7 and not just sports talk stations, either. And last night, people were crowding around outside Minute Maid Park five hours before the first pitch of Game 3, buying souvenirs, looking for tickets and just talking baseball.

You could argue, of course, they are going to be hog-wild over the World Series since it is the first one in the 44-year history of the franchise.

Actually, it’s the first World Series played in Texas, period. Washington baseball fans can take some solace that it didn’t happen first in Arlington, where the former Senators have tried and failed to accomplish the task since moving there after the 1971 season and becoming the Texas Rangers.

But guess what? The absence of a World Series actually has been longer in Chicago, so you would think that in a town where fans from either team — the Cubs or the White Sox — hadn’t seen a World Series in 46 years they wouldn’t have to try so hard to be excited about it.

When they are not playing in a World Series, the White Sox are fifth in the pecking order of attention, behind the Bears, Cubs, Bulls and Blackhawks. And those teams are institutions as much as they are sports franchises, with the Cubs and White Sox part of the city’s tradition for more than 100 years. So allegiances are long-standing and apparently not so easily transferable. It’s a Bears town, and once you get into baseball, it’s a Cubs town.

There are no “Saturday Night Live” skits about “Da White Sox.”

In Houston, it’s not so difficult for the fan base to get behind the Texans one day, the Rockets the next and then the Astros. Though football reigns in Texas, Houston is not necessarily a football town — particularly after it went several years without an NFL franchise when the Oilers left — or a baseball town or a basketball town 365 days a year.

But this week, Houston most certainly is a baseball town. Oh, yes, and a quilter’s town. There are 5,000 quilters in Houston for a convention next door to the ballpark, which has raised the concern of sportswriters here who fear running into drunk quilters armed with needles in the bars. (Did you know the Quilting Hall of Fame was founded by a woman named Hazel Carter from Vienna?)

“Boston has a long tradition, and Chicago has a long tradition,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “Something that has been there for 100 years, you can’t condense into 44 years, but we’re well on our way. We’ve got great fans, and getting to our first World Series is going to go a long way.”

Regarding the allegiances of Houston fans, Garner said, “It has never been really specific to one sport. But I think our base for baseball has gotten much bigger and much more intense. So I think I can say that we’re a pretty good baseball city right now.”

Good enough to steal the spotlight away from the biggest quilting bee in America. I’m not sure the White Sox could do the same.

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