The Chicago White Sox celebrated the 10th anniversary of its 2005 World Series title with their fans at U.S. Cellular Field before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals. For former Oak Park resident Kris Grahnke, his day at the ballpark turned out more memorable than he ever could have imagined.
Grahnke, a lifelong White Sox fan who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, enjoyed the experience of a lifetime with his favorite team before Saturday’s first pitch was even thrown. Grahnke’s unforgettable day began by having his picture taken with the members of the 2005 World Series team and trophy at U.S. Cellular’s Championship Plaza. Jermaine Dye, the 2005 World Series MVP, presented Grahnke with a custom jersey. Even White Sox legend and Major League Hall of Famer Frank Thomas stopped by to meet Grahnke.
“I really had no idea what was coming,” said Grahnke, whose VIP treatment was stealthily coordinated between his friends and the White Sox. “I got here [U.S. Cellular Field] and in a matter of minutes I was shaking hands with Jermaine Dye. Without a doubt, Jermaine Dye was one of my favorite players. I also really liked Willie Harris, since I was a fast leadoff hitter myself. He was really fun to watch. It was so awesome that I got a picture holding the trophy with my three best friends.”
Grahnke, who teaches special education at Whitman Post Elementary School in Rockton, Illinois, grew up in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 2005. Grahnke, 28, was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, in April 2014
Grahnke’s three best friends that accompanied him to the game were Tim Kimes, Mark Kamm and Brendan Kelly. Kimes met Grahnke through the latter’s wife, Michelle, Kamm attended Valparaiso University with Grahnke, and Kenny is a fellow teacher in Rockton. As for Michelle, she has been a pillar of support and love for Grahnke.
After their picture with the World Series trophy, the four friends ventured on to the field where they were welcomed by several former White Sox, including 2005 World Series Game 3 hero Geoff Blum, outfielders Aaron Rowand and Brian Anderson and manager Ozzie Guillen. After batting practice, current White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia also said hello to Grahnke.
Amid meeting many White Sox players (past and present), however, Grahnke’s biggest thrill occurred when he met his favorite White Sox player of all time, current manager Robin Ventura.
“It was a trip to meet Robin,” Grahnke said. “I’m a die-hard Sox fan, and all die-hard Sox fans are critics. I always run things through my head like, ‘Robin should bat Garcia second, and I’d tell him that!’…No I wouldn’t. This guy was towering over me and smiling and I was just like, ‘Yes, Mr. Ventura, I’ll do whatever you say.’ He is one of my heroes.”
Grahnke, who has a White Sox blog, is equally admired by the White Sox. When Grahnke’s friends reached out to the White Sox community relations department about his ardent support of the team, the organization was thrilled to hold essentially a surprise party for Grahnke at the ballpark.
“Often times people will reach out on behalf of passionate fans and ask if there are any opportunities that we might be able to create for them,” said Christine O’Reilly, Vice President of Community Relations and Executive Director of Chicago White Sox Charities. “I’ve lost count of how many friends reached out about Kris Grahnke. He’s on a first name basis with the people in our organization because we’ve been talking about him so much. We’ve read a lot of his blog posts and knew that one of his favorite players was Robin Ventura, so we decided it would be really cool if we could get [Ventura] out here today.”
As if the pre-game festivities weren’t enough, Grahnke and his friends watched the game in a luxurious suite, where Anderson stopped by again as well as former White Sox pitcher Jon Garland to spend time and talk baseball with Grahnke.
Although the White Sox lost to the Royals 7-6 in 13 innings, nothing could diminish Grahnke’s unique day in the big leagues.
“It was awesome that my friends set this up, and the way that the White Sox rolled out the red carpet for me was just unbelievable,” he said. “The access they gave my friends and I was just unreal. I’m really at a loss for words.”