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Chicago euphoric with Sox fever

Chicago euphoric with Sox fever

CHICAGO -- Long before you even reach the city limits of Chicago, the neon flashing signs above all of the Illinois toll roads leave no doubt about what is on the city's mind this weekend.

"Go Sox! Next stop the World Series" flashes in bright orange lights above the many roads that lead in and out of Chicago. The signs are a blaring endorsement of the support the White Sox are getting from the city that Chicagoans like to call the greatest sports town in America.

Chicago sure is trying to live up to that nickname as the city prepares to host its first World Series in 46 years with Game 1 against the Houston Astros on Saturday. Sox fever has officially struck the Windy City and the streets are filled with a buzz of anticipation for the games to begin.

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"Sox pride certainly has taken over in the city," said Cindy Gatziolis, of the mayor's office of special events. "This is a great sports town, and the city is rallying together to enjoy the excitement since it's been so long since we've had a World Series."

The mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, has long been one of the biggest supporters of the White Sox, but now it's the entire city taking part in celebrating the Sox thanks to a little help from the mayor himself. Throughout the day on Friday, the mayor's office handed out more than 20,000 cardboard cutouts of manager Ozzie Guillen's face at selected spots around the city, including outside of the city's civic center.

James P. Connelly III was one of the many walkers to pass by the Daley Plaza and grab a Guillen mask. Connelly, 47, has been a lifelong White Sox fan and is seeing, for the first time in his life, the city rally around the Sox.

"I asked my uncle, who is with the fire department and was with the crew when Commissioner Quinn blew the siren in 1959, if the atmosphere now was similar to that," Connelly said. "He said it's almost like 1959 in terms of the excitement and that it feels again like it's a one-team baseball town. Yes, there is a team on the north side, too, but right now the Sox are the city's team and the one that we are all rallying around. It's really great."

The masks were just one of the many plans the city has in place to honor the White Sox. Other celebrations include adorning the famous Picasso statue that resides in Daley Park with a black Sox hat. The two lions that grace the entrance to the Chicago Art Institute will also display their White Sox pride by donning hats of their own.

And the city won't be without white socks of its own as the hoofs of a downtown sculpture titled "The Bowman and The Spearman" are to be outfitted with white socks before the first pitch Saturday.

Seeing the Sox memorabilia on such notable Chicago landmarks made many people walking down the city streets stop in their tracks. Sandy Antoni stood on the corner of Dearborn and Washington on Friday afternoon with her cellphone aimed at the Picasso statue to take a picture of the new Sox hat. A native of Chicago, Antoni, 55, had flown in from Florida earlier in the week and was amazed at how the city has been taken over by Sox fever.

"Everyone around here is talking about the team and trying to find ways to score tickets," Antoni said. "I tried to go over to the Sox ballpark on Tuesday to get tickets, but I couldn't. I even went into the gift shop and tried to get them to give me a job so I could be there but I didn't have any luck."

It's hard to avoid the White Sox, as every eye seems to be focused on the upcoming games. All five of the major networks in Chicago broadcast their morning shows live from U.S. Cellular Field on Friday, and every local newspaper had its own special playoff preview section to promote the special event.

"More people are paying attention because the Sox are on Page 1 through 25 of the paper," general manager Kenny Williams said with a laugh. "Even I got tired of reading the articles yesterday, and I'm sure there will be even more. The coverage has been great, people are excited and it's a nice little buzz."

The attention has been a bit overwhelming to a team that has grown used to living under the radar. Seeing their names written all over the headlines of the papers and across the TV was a bit shocking to Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

"It means a lot to the city and you can tell when everyone on the street comes up to you and says 'Good luck,' it's been so long," Pierzynski said. "If you listen to the radio and watch TV, it's all that's on. It's a good thing. We're proud that we're here and proud that we are the team to finally make it back to a World Series."

The buzz and excitement that has filled the city on the eve of Game 1, though, is only a taste of what could be to come. Connelly said that the festivities taking place now would be nothing compared to the celebration that would occur downtown if the Sox brought home Chicago's first baseball world championship since 1917.

"It would be a great burden off the city's shoulders to get a world championship after 88 years of struggling and frustration and bewilderment," Connelly said. "There would be nothing better."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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