How do you describe euphoria? The White Sox had won but a single game in the World Series, yet it might as well have been the Series title, the All-Star Game and the lottery rolled into one.
As fireworks exploded in the October sky Saturday night, Elizabeth Valdez stood among the more than 41,000 ecstatic fans at U.S. Cellular Field after the final swinging strike-out and tried to explain.
"We have been waiting for so long. My Dad's been waiting. My sister's been waiting. We've all been waiting," said Valdez, a 20-year-old student, who shouted through an unstoppable grin. "It feels awesome right now."
It felt even better Sunday night, when the Sox won again.
White Sox fans haven't had a ride like this since 1959, when they last won the Series opener. They are praying it doesn't end before they've won their first baseball championship in 88 long and painful years -- a stretch that would have earned the patent on Coming Up Short if it weren't for their even more hapless crosstown rivals, the Cubs.
"Every game," Valdez confessed, "I feel like throwing up, I'm so nervous."
Saturday's opening game had tension aplenty, but that simply made the 5-3 victory over the Houston Astros sweeter. Rick Johannes, 49, stood with his son and his father-in-law as the Sox' rested relievers preserved a one-run lead with eighth-inning power pitching.
"Runners on first and third, then strike out, strike out, strike out. Unbelievable!" shouted Johannes, a truck dealer who paid $3,000 for three seats in the right-field bleachers. "It was worth a thousand each for the top of the eighth!"
Johannes paid a ticket agency's inflated price because, given the Sox' past, he figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join his son and father-in-law at a Sox game. In every corner of the crowd, it seemed, someone had a story of loyalty to a South Side franchise that has suffered the double indignity of playing second fiddle to the beloved Cubs -- and losing.
So momentous was the Sox' pennant-clinching victory this year that truck driver Dan Dougherty, 31, took the next day off to plant a White Sox flag on his father's grave, saying aloud, "Wish you could be here."
Frank O'Brien rode the El train to Jimbo's, a sports bar near the stadium, just so he could watch the game with fans who understood. Earlier, he took his late grandfather's wedding ring from a vault and put it on his right ring finger so that the old man could be with him.
O'Brien, 41, a mortgage broker, had always wanted to attend a Series game, but only if the Sox were on the field. He held a precious ticket for Sunday's matchup: "I've actually turned down games in the past because I wanted my first World Series game to be a Sox World Series game."
To understand why Sox fans feel they have reached the promised land, it helps to recognize just how far they have come. The Boston Red Sox, who outslugged their own demons last year to win their first title in 86 years, are the New York Yankees by comparison.
Twice in the modern era, the Red Sox took a Series to a seventh game, only to lose. Until this year -- when the White Sox beat the Red Sox in the division championship and the Los Angeles Angels to win the American League pennant -- the Chisox had not won a postseason series of any kind since 1917.
"It's like Halley's Comet," said milk truck driver Gene Kyle, 57, such a fervent fan that he keeps score at home, simultaneously watching games on television and listening to the radio play-by-play. "We'll probably never see it again."
Kyle was due to attend a wedding before a nephew presented him with a ticket. It was a big deal to be at this game of all games. As Kyle said, "I'm stunned."
There it was in lights as fans streamed into Sox park, past the kiosks selling $30 Series T-shirts and $15 programs: "2005 World Series Game One."
And not a Cubs hat in sight.
Half an hour before the game started, Rob Cunningham was snapping pictures of "everything that says World Series on it." He was so excited about the opener that he drove past the stadium a day early just to feel the glee.
"They're so far beyond what I ever expected," Cunningham said as the Sox were introduced to the strains of the "Star Wars" theme. "It's all gravy."
Even the gravest Sox skeptic would have had trouble feeling blue after a first inning about as blissful as blissful could be. Louder and louder the crowd cheered after Jose Contreras, the Sox' pitching stalwart during a shaky second half of the season, opened with a strike and put the Astros down in order, finishing with a called third strike on left fielder Lance Berkman.
In the bottom half of the first, Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye had a long at-bat against future hall of famer Roger Clemens before hitting a home run, sending more fireworks into the sky and inspiring delirious fans to chant, "Na, na, hey, hey, goodbye."
"Nothing compares," crowed Paul Eckroth a few innings later. Planning to watch the game from home, he got a call from his daughter Maureen, 26, on Saturday morning. She said she had paid $2,200 on eBay for a pair of tickets and was flying in from Philadelphia to take him to Sox park.
How could he say no? At 48, Eckroth had seen Sox teams come and Sox teams go -- mostly go, it seemed. Like so many South Siders, though, he remembered the passion of his grandfather, who so revered the team that whenever the family was eating during a Sox broadcast, he enforced silence.
The Chicago Bears have won the Super Bowl. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls took home six NBA titles. "We've been dying for something in baseball," Eckroth said. "Some kind of trophy."
To Elizabeth Grad, 26, the game carried all the meaning of three generations of baseball hope and frustration on the South Side. The stadium was packed Saturday night, and the bandwagon was moving quickly. She thought back to darker days with a team that often struggles to sell tickets even when it wins. She thought of friends who defected to Cubdom.
"It was you and 10 other people in your section," said Grad, recalling nights of cheap seats and free hot dogs. "I've always kept the faith, and look at the payoff. This is incredible."