Some sports moments are made for mothers.
And one in particular was made for mine. It was Oct. 23, 2005, a soggy fall Sunday on the south side of Chicago. It was 43 degrees — just cold enough so you could see your breath — and the sky was spitting rain onto U.S. Cellular Field. The Houston Astros led the Chicago White Sox 4-2 in the second game of the 2005 World Series. With a win, they’d claim home field advantage and head happily back to Houston.
But Paul Konerko was in the way.
Now, there’s a few things you need to know about Konerko. It’s not just that he was a six-time all-star who jumped on foolish fastballs like they had offended his entire family. It’s not just that he closed an exceptional 18-year career — the last 16 in Chicago — with 439 home runs (and 430 fewer stolen bases). It’s not just that he eclipsed 130 games in 13 separate seasons.
It was the presentation, too. Where Michael Jordan and Brian Urlacher were athletic aliens, Konerko looked like one of us. He had the body of a middle school gym teacher and the foot speed of an aging elephant. He hid an ever-expanding bald spot beneath his trusty black hat. He had rosy cheeks and a brown goatee that framed an inviting grin. He was less freakish force of nature and more competitive overachiever.
He wasn’t perfect. He was “Paulie.”
And he was my mom’s favorite player.
So, with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, my mom’s favorite player stepped to the plate. As Astros reliever Chad Qualls came set, Konerko leaned back in the box. Then he took a step, landed and unloaded on another foolish fastball. He rocketed a grand slam through the rain into the left field seats. In the bullpen, White Sox reliever Damaso Marte twirled like a top, jumping with both hands stretched high above his head. Paulie pumped his right fist and held the pose as he rounded first base. A woman shook a laminated sign that read, “I’ve waited 92 yrs. for this day!”
The wait was suddenly worth it. Fireworks exploded from beyond center field — red and green and white, booming in the night. The diamond was enveloped in a rain-soaked rave with more than 41,000 partying ponchos. The White Sox would go on to win the game and sweep the World Series.
“Bedlam in Chicago!” FOX color analyst Tim McCarver announced amidst the poncho pandemonium.
Meanwhile, 29 miles away, my mom was in the bathroom. She didn’t see it. She left the television for a minute and missed her moment by mistake.
And that’s an incredibly ironic outlier, because she hasn’t missed much else.
See, I grew up a triplet with two sisters and an older brother, and we all played sports — baseball and basketball and softball and swimming and soccer and tennis and volleyball, too. There were games and practices and tournaments and banquets. There was almost always something.
And my parents — Paul and Sue Vorel — were almost always there.
My mom — whose own softball career included stints with such teams as “The Screaming Mimis” and “The Lucky 13s” — is a 5-foot-4, 100-pound hurricane of selfless support, emojis and signature dance moves. She spent my childhood working and cooking and cleaning and worrying and driving and cheering and only occasionally sleeping. Her go-to greeting is an enthusiastic, “Hey yo!”
She’s my favorite sports fan for a million scattered, often unrelated reasons; because, when I began slicking my hair into a mohawk before swim races to become more aerodynamic, she supported that decision; because she follows every team I’ve covered, from Wyoming to Notre Dame to Washington, even though she doesn’t need to; because she yells at football players who can’t hear her to “get that guy!”, and she’s surprisingly convincing; because she tolerates my dad watching re-runs of golf tournaments he’s already seen; because she judges teams’ uniform colors and can’t help commenting on their “hideous” yellow pants; because, after particularly punishing losses, she always told me it would be OK (even when I didn’t believe her).
She’s also my favorite nurse. At a hospital outside Chicago, my mom has made a career out of helping others (before coming home and helping us). Even now, in a COVID-19 quarantine, she still gets up and goes to work. So do my sisters, one a physician’s assistant in an emergency room and the other a physical therapist. As do countless others — mothers and daughters and fathers and sons.
But today is Mother’s Day, and my mom deserves more than one. She deserves the house in Florida I promised to buy her (back when the plan was to play and collect steady paychecks in the NBA). She deserves a surprise party, where said surprise includes Konerko. She deserves another moment — a grand slam — and this time, she deserves to see it. (The White Sox, if you were wondering, have won one total playoff game since that 2005 World Series.)
Sue Vorel — the best damn mom on the damn planet — deserves so much more than a passing story in the Seattle paper.
But since she’s getting one anyway: hey yo! I love you, mom. Thanks for everything. Enjoy your day.