About 90 minutes before first pitch on Monday, manager Robin Ventura was sitting in the White Sox dugout when he noticed something quite interesting going on in the left-field seats.
“Hey, that’s Chad Qualls checking out the Paul Konerko seat.”
In terms of baseball history, this was like Bill Buckner going back to first base at old Shea Stadium or Steve Bartman returning to Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Wrigley Field.
Ten years have passed since Qualls surrendered that legendary grand slam to Konerko in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, and here for the very first time, the Houston Astros reliever actually walked into the seats to visit his own personal baseball cemetery. The one remaining blue seat in left field serves as his World Series tombstone.
“I came into the game to relief pitch, and I remember the first pitch I threw was to Konerko and he ended up hitting it over the fence,” Qualls recalled in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. “I remember those dumb candy cane things spinning around out there, and I was telling myself, ‘Man did that really just happen right now in the World Series?’”
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Most athletes would be haunted by a moment like that, but not Qualls. It was only his second season in the majors, but he somehow found a way to take that brain cell that stored the grand slam and treat it like it wasn’t a big deal. A decade later and still in the big leagues, it has served Qualls well.
“It’s a part of baseball. It happens,” he said. “Ten years later I’m still here and playing, having fun. There’s always a hero and a goat out there, and you know what? Being a relief pitcher, getting thrown in those situations, it happens. It’s something you can’t dwell on. That’s sports in general.”
When the 36-year-old decides to retire, I have the perfect occupation for him: sports psychologist.
“Being a good competitor and being a better athlete is just having that short-term memory loss for any sport. Just go out there and do better the next time,” Qualls continued. “Obviously, some situations suck a lot more than others. I’ve had a lot more positive experiences than negative experiences, so I look at it that way.”
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And whenever Qualls returns to U.S. Cellular Field, he can’t help but look where he helped make White Sox history.
“Everytime I come to the stadium I always look in that area, and I’ll be like, ‘I know that’s where that ball went.’ And once I saw the blue seat out there I was like, ‘That’s pretty much where it is.’”
What sparked his first trip to the Konerko seat was something teammate Pat Neshek said while they were warming up on the field.
“Neshek didn’t believe me so I told him, ‘I’ll go over there and show you. There’s probably a plaque on there and everything.”
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Qualls is correct, there is a plaque screwed into the seat, but after nine Chicago winters, it’s been chipped and damaged to the point where it’s barely legible. All that’s left to read is “Oct” and “2005.”
After checking out the seat for a couple minutes, Qualls left his 2005 graveyard and returned to the field.
But I did have to ask Qualls one question:
Did he think about sitting in it?
“No chance. No chance. I don’t even want to touch it.”