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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005 02:32 pm

“The sweetest thing”

Sox manager brings a moment of dignity to the Statehouse

In my 15 years writing about Illinois politics, I’ve never had a better day at the Statehouse than Wednesday of last week. That was the day the World Series champion White Sox came to Springfield. I’m a Sox fan, and it was thrilling just to see manager Ozzie Guillen and, to some extent, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. I was on cloud nine. But it was so much more than just the opportunity to meet and have my photo taken with Guillen, although that was pretty fantastic.
Guillen began his speech to the Illinois House by saying, “I’ve never felt so nervous in my life as right now.” As we sat in awe of a man who had taken an underappreciated, ragtag team populated with what were thought to be average players to the pinnacle of their professional careers, he was saying that he was honored to be in the room with us. Most of us who work at the Capitol have forgotten the rush of our first days on the job. The magnificent building with the glorious chambers becomes just another place to work. The honor of representing thousands of people or reporting on that representational process loses its specialness as the humdrum of daily routine becomes just another part of life. It took Guillen, an outsider, to remind us how privileged and special our lives really are. Only a few of us ever get the chance to do this for a living, but all of us eventually seem to take it for granted. I spend my session days hanging out in offices, casually talking to people in the building’s ornate halls, going out to dinner at nice restaurants. I’m always busy, but most people probably wouldn’t think it looks much like work, even though I often privately complain about the pace.  When I was young, my father worked at least two jobs at once, sometimes three, and none of them looked easy. My mom was a public-school teacher for years, in between pregnancies. My parents had five children, all boys. The seven of us would drink a gallon of milk at every meal. We kids were like little locusts, consuming everything in sight. My parents were always in debt, always living paycheck to paycheck, always scrimping every penny possible to make ends meet and always looking for a way to make more money to support their ever-growing family. It was horribly difficult, but they never complained and their kids never knew how bad the finances really were.  Guillen’s reverence for the venue that had all but begged him on bended knee to grace it with his mere presence had a big impact on many who were there. It forced me not only to think about the special, almost sacred duty of everyone in that room but also reminded me how much easier my life has been than my parents’ and how I’ve been given the opportunity to occasionally make a real impact on my surroundings and to have a job I love. I know that this all sounds far too corny, but I owe Ozzie for squeezing some of the cynicism out of my being last week.  Even Gov. Rod Blagojevich rose to the occasion. The governor gave perhaps the best speech of his life that afternoon, completely unscripted and straight from the heart. Blagojevich is a Cubs fan, but I, for one, forgave him for that flaw last Wednesday as he spoke sincerely of the efforts made by Guillen, Reinsdorf, and the entire Sox organization as they pursued their sport’s holy grail. Guillen was a gentleman from start to finish. There was not a whiff of arrogance about him, despite his recent triumph. After his speech to the Senate, a few senators were allowed to speak on the floor about their thoughts. The last to speak was Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis. Geo is 87, and she doesn’t stand up too often. As she sat in her chair, she praised Guillen as a gentleman and thanked him for honoring the Legislature that day. Afterward, senators lined up to have their photos taken. Ozzie noticed that Geo couldn’t stand in line, so he grabbed the World Series trophy and walked over to her desk, gave her a bear hug, and posed for a photo. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in all my years in that building. Thanks, Ozzie, for a truly great day.
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