CHICAGO (AP) – Joe Nugara Sr. grew up in the shadows of Comiskey Park.

Born a month after the Chicago White Sox’s last World Series title in 1917, he used to hang out on the corner outside a local store to listen to games on the radio. He started selling soda at the stadium when he was about 9, hawking it for 15 cents a bottle. And when he got old enough, he bought season tickets to his favorite team.

Somewhere in the last 45 years, though, Nugara lost hope. Oh, he kept his tickets and cheered as faithfully as ever for his beloved White Sox. But seeing a World Series? He’d pass that dream on to another generation.

“I just gave up. Oh, my gosh, they came up in 59. But it’s like a 50-year drought,” Nugara, who turns 88 next month, said earlier this week. “I’d go for the hot dogs and the beer and the camaraderie. Once you’re a fan, you’re a fan.”

Well Joe, this one’s for you. And for all you other long-overdue White Sox fans who feared the Fall Classic might never find its way to the South Side again. On Saturday night, a 46-year gap that seemed decades longer will finally end when the White Sox host the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” said Nugara, who is going to Game 2 on Sunday with his two sons and three grandsons. “In my lifetime, I want to see a White Sox win. A World Series win.”

Much is made of the poor Boston Red Sox, who endured 86 years of futility and Babe Ruth’s curse before winning the World Series last year. Ditto for the crosstown Cubs, who’ve gone without a World Series title since 1908 and haven’t even gotten there since 1945. Even the Astros have had their share of hard luck. In existence since 1962, they’re playing in their very first World Series.

But they can’t touch the heartache of White Sox fans.

After Shoeless Joe Jackson and his “Black Sox” teammates threw the 1919 World Series, it would be 40 years before the White Sox returned. They lost to the Dodgers in six games in 1959.

They lost in the AL championship series in 1983 and 93, and lost what many believed would have been a shot at the World Series when the strike wiped out the end of the 1994 season.

Their only other playoff appearance was in 2000, when they were swept in the first round by the Seattle Mariners.

“That’s all we’ve got,” said Leo Wysocki, a season-ticket holder for about 30 years. “But this will make up for it.”

Wysocki’s ties to the White Sox are so deep they may as well be family. Now 67, he’s lived his entire life in Bridgeport, the team’s neighborhood, and has been coming to games for 59 years. His first was back in 1946 – it was against the Yankees and he sat in right field – and he celebrated his First Communion the next year by going to a game. He didn’t go to any World Series games in 1959 because he was away at school, but he listened on the radio.

He bought a condo in Sarasota, Fla., when the White Sox trained there, and he gets his daily exercise now by walking to U.S. Cellular Field and back, a 4-mile trip.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” he said. “I walked to the ballpark (Thursday night) and they had some of the lights on. People were picking up tickets at the box office, and there were other people walking around. It turned out to be a festive, carnival occasion.

“It was just delightful.”

George McDoniel was 9 when he went to Game 2 of the 59 World Series with his parents, older brother and grandfather. They had four seats together, and one right behind the batting circle that McDoniel and his brother took turns sitting in.

McDoniel remembers Duke Snider of the Dodgers hitting a pop foul so high it made McDoniel dizzy to watch it, and being surprised to see actor Danny Thomas sitting a few rows behind him. And he remembers the go-ahead home run Charlie Neal hit that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 win.

“That was sort of a downer,” McDoniel said. “But I was so excited about being able to go to the World Series. Even when you lose there’s a level of excitement that comes with the World Series.”

So much so that he’s been telling his own kids about it for years.

McDoniel now lives in Moline, on the Illinois-Iowa border. But he still gets to about 10 games a year, and he’s passed on his passion for the team to his children.

When the White Sox clinched the AL pennant Sunday night, McDoniel could hear his 17-year-old daughter, Meghan, dancing in her bedroom while he celebrated in the basement.

“When it looked like the Sox could make it to the World Series, there was no doubt in my mind I would get tickets and take each one of my children,” he said. “I’m going to go with my kids. That makes it very, very special to me.”

Meghan was to go with her father Saturday night. One of his sons, Jimmy, is driving down from Minneapolis for Game 2. McDoniel’s other son, George, works with the San Diego Padres and has his own tickets.

“I always thought it was going to happen,” McDoniel said. “My kids have been hearing me talk about going to the 59 Series forever. I’m hoping when they get to my age, they’ll be able to tell their kids, “You know what, I went with my dad to the 2005 Series.’ And to the 2006. And to the 2007.”

AP-ES-10-22-05 1522EDT

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