A bunch of Kenosha kids were excited to take the train to Old Comiskey Park on Chicago’s south side for the White Sox v California Angels game. The date was September 24, 1978. And when I say kids, I do mean kids. My friends and I were heading into our sophomore year of high school; I personally had just turned 15 years old. We’d grab the train at the station in KTown at like 7 AM and ride it to the end. Then we’d hop the L and take that south to Comiskey. The OLDEST dude with us was maybe a senior in high school, someone’s older brother. Our group of 6 or 7 would truck down to a pretty sketchy area armed with about 11 bucks each and a bag of ham sandwiches. We’d watch a game, and then train-it back home to get picked up at the station at 8 or 9 at night.
This particular day was highly anticipated because not only were the Angels in town with Don Baylor and Joe Rudi and Bobby Grich, it was also a scheduled start for the great Nolan Ryan. We arrived after our usual journey of near-peril to find a much different feel to the ballpark. News wasn’t immediate like it is today, but all the way down on the train we had heard rumblings of a major league baseball player being shot and killed the night before. When we arrived at Comiskey, we found out it was Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock and it had happened right around the bottom of the lake down in Gary, IN. There was a looming question of whether or not the game would even be played. Second-hand accounts say teammates Ken Brett and Baylor had suggested that Bostock would expect them to go out and win the game in his honor…so they played.
Ryan got the W but it wasn’t a usual Nolan Ryan dominated afternoon, this afternoon was different. And when Don Baylor ripped his 33rd home run of the year into the left field upper deck, there was a stadium full of people with absolutely no idea how to react. It wasn’t as though the hardcore Sox faithful had become Angels fans for a day, there was just a certain amount empathy in the stadium. When you saw the hugs that Baylor got as he crossed home plate, you knew this was way deeper than a baseball game. And us “kids” in the stands got a really good idea that those men on the diamond were human beings and not just ballplayers.
The final score was 7-3 Angels and none of that mattered. A guy that should have been with his team that day was shot dead about 15 minutes away, the night before, by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was so much bigger than baseball. That trip home was different as well. We were equal parts fearless and ignorance and for the first time in our handful of trips to the south side, our safety was ever even considered let alone a concern. We had all marveled at Carney Lansford and Ryan and Baylor as larger than life characters that we actually got a chance to see live and in person. What we saw that time were men in emotional crisis. The death of Lyman Bostock was a tragedy, and the day after his death a bunch of kids from Kenosha got a wake-up call about the realities of life. I doubt anyone had any life-altering moments that day, but I’m damn sure everyone saw with a little bit clearer eyes on that train ride back to KTown.