The last Chicago White Sox home game of the 2019 season was a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. If I had known it would be the last game I could watch live before the pandemic, I would have actually gone inside.
I got to Guaranteed Rate Field early. An infamous tailgate hosted by a devout White Sox fan who goes by @Mister_Mare on Twitter was taking place, and I didn’t want to miss it. The end-of-the-year extravaganza is something of a rite of passage. There’s catered food and lots of cold beer, and several of the most loyal fans on the South Side of Chicago are always in attendance.
The Sox would end the season with a lousy 72-89 record and miss the postseason once more. But that didn’t stop everyone from laughing, cheering and celebrating a well-fought season. That day, instead of following protocol and shooing tailgaters inside after the first inning, security allowed everyone in Lot B to stay and continue partying for the entirety of the first game.
“It turned a traditional two-hour tailgate into a five-hour meltdown,” @Mister_Mare said.
After several beverages of the alcoholic variety, I was introduced to a pair of White Sox zealots—brothers known by everyone as the drunk uncles of White Sox Twitter.
What the return of baseball during a pandemic means to diehard fans
They are known as The 108ers, Sox fanatics who have held season tickets in section 108 for over a decade.
Many know Patrick Ramos, 42, and his brother Chris Ramos, 39, as their Twitter personalities @MrDelicious13 and @chorizy, respectively. In 2015, they created the no-BS (and often hilarious) Twitter handle @fromthe108. They use it as a way of sharing the experience of sitting in the stands with other fans. In doing so, they have created a cultlike following complete with a website, merchandise and even a podcast.
Flash-forward to July 2020. Not a single Major League Baseball (MLB) game has taken place. In a normal year, by now, the first half of the season would be done. The league would be preparing for the All-Star break. Ballclubs would be gearing up for the second half of the season, and some might even be focused on a playoff push.
When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred finally announced a plan to start the season, I knew who to speak with.
Having grown up minutes from the ballpark in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, the brothers both agreed—the return of MLB betting and games couldn’t come soon enough.
“Even to get just a little taste of (baseball) is exciting to me,” Chris Ramos said during a video call. “I can’t watch any more reruns of Shark Tank.”
Baseball might be back, but people across the US are still dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Due to this, and the fact that in Illinois, gatherings of over 1,000 people are illegal, the brothers will be watching the 2020 season from home.
“I know there are tons of risks, and I’m definitely worried about the players and for their families. But if they can do it and figure out a way to do it safely, I’m all for it,” Chris Ramos said. “But I will be watching from home. I’m not interested in going to the park,” he said with a laugh.
Patrick agreed, saying, “Personally, I think it’s too much a risk for me to go into the stadium.”
Legal Illinois sports betting is finally getting going
The White Sox begin the shortened preseason on July 19 against crosstown rival the Chicago Cubs. But the 108ers are equally excited about something else—mobile sports betting.
Being native Chicagoans, Chris and Patrick had their doubts that newly elected Gov. JB Pritzker could get a gambling deal done.
“Did everyone get their yellow envelope full of cash?” Patrick Ramos jokingly said. “Things work the way they work here in Illinois. So I had my doubts.”
The elder Ramos is not wrong. Illinois passing a gambling expansion bill was a monumental achievement. After so many years of failed attempts, the state not only expanded gambling but included sports betting and a Chicago casino in the process.
“I had a few thoughts when Pritzker got elected. The first was, ‘Thank God I don’t have to watch any more of his commercials,’ because holy ****— I saw more of him than I did my wife when he was campaigning,” Chris Ramos said. “Secondly, I thought, ‘I’m glad the state is broke. They are going to have to legalize marijuana and legalize sports betting, because they need that money.'”
The narrative of sports betting in Illinois and other states passing sports betting bills is this: States want to use the revenue to fill budget gaps.
While legalizing alternative forms of gambling does provide a constant stream of revenue, it’s more of a Band-Aid rather than fixing the wound. But regardless of the political theatrics used to pass sports betting, it’s here. And recreational gamblers like the Ramos brothers are loving it.
“We have gambling stories as long as the day. Do you have an extra three to four hours?” Chris Ramos said with a laugh. “It was very frustrating to see Illinois not get sports betting for so long. But I’m excited it’s here.”
The brothers are not shy about their fondness for gambling. Considering legal sports betting around the US is only two years old, it’s no shock the pair opted for offshore betting as a way to get their fix.
“From our experience, it was easier to get paid from and fund an offshore account than it was to work with a local bookie,” Patrick Ramos said.
“Offshore betting was the only thing in town,” Chris Ramos added. “You either dealt with that or a local bookie. But there is a lot more hassle that comes with a local bookie than sending some money by Western Union to Antigua.”
Making the switch and placing some baseball bets
So far, retail sports betting is only live at Rivers Casino Des Plains. It also launched via the company’s online platform, BetRivers on June 18. When asked if they had made the jump from offshore wagering to legalized sports betting, both Chris and Patrick said they had.
“You have to get that 100 percent bonus. A $250 one-time playthrough—I’m in,” Chris Ramos said. “Sometimes, you get that bonus with an offshore book, but you have to play through ten times or more.”
“I download the app but kept forgetting to fund my account,” Patrick Ramos said with a laugh.
All jokes aside, the 108ers are genuine people. They are family men with distinct personalities who just so happen to enjoy laying down the casual $10 bet from time to time.
“I’ve always liked (betting on) football,” Patrick Ramos said. “NFL or college, but with NFL, I enjoy handicapping player props.”
“I also like placing a bet on football,” Chris Ramos added. “The other thing about being a gambler and an insomniac is you get up really early in the morning, and you think, ‘Wow, it’s seven hours till football starts—look at all this soccer I can bet on.'”
Everyone instantly broke out into laughter.
“But really, I probably get more frustrated at a line staying at a nine-point spread that I do actually losing the bet. If I wake up Sunday morning and the line stays at nine points right up to game time, I’m pretty freaking upset about that,” he said.
A Chicago casino, a 60-game outlook and 2021
Over the course of an hour, the discussion shifted from baseball to Chicago politics to sports betting. As the call began to wind down, the subject of a Chicago casino and the possibilities of a World Series title finally came to the forefront.
“I would love (a casino), but I feel like I would be there way too often playing video poker,” Patrick Ramos said. “I would like it to be close but not too close, because I would be tempted to go there every day.”
“If I could go to a ballgame and then walk to the casino, there’s nothing better,” Chris Ramos said. “I think it could be tremendous, and man, I can’t wait for it.”
Lastly, the question all fans hate hearing was asked: Does your team, in this case, the White Sox, have what it takes to win it all?
Like true fans, The 108ers responded as if they had been asked this question a million times. They most certainly have. They’ve probably even discussed the topic in detail on their podcast, titled Fromthe108.
Chris took a sip from the drink he’d been nursing all night and, like a true statesman, allowed Patrick to answer first.
“The roster is built with a lot of volatility. You have a lot of young players with a lot of talent. But truth be told, I’m not optimistic about this season. To me, I’m not saying they can’t win anything, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were around .500 this year,” Patrick Ramos said.
There was a brief pause before Chris spoke. “When you’re a team that’s on the fringe — (the White Sox) are not the favorite, they are not the team at the top of the list,” he said. “However, if that’s your position and you have some good players, and you have some guys that might shoot the moon, a shortened season provides much more variance. And variance is terrible if you’re the favorite, and it’s way better if you’re the underdog.”
For the love of baseball betting
As we closed out the night, I was left with a better understanding of who the 108ers really are — degenerate gamblers who take pride in being White Sox fans. They are South Siders. As they explained, they were raised on baseball. Growing up, going to a Sox game was a treat. It’s no surprise that when they got older, buying season tickets was one of the first things they did.
“I love baseball. It’s a sport that I just can’t get enough of, and to be this many months in, it’s devastating,” Chris Ramos said. “I miss being outside and miss being with my friends at the ballpark.”
Perhaps a better, more rounded picture of who the 108ers will become might take place in 2021. Hopefully, by then, some sense of normalcy will have been achieved, and fans like Chris and Patrick will be able to return to their home away from home.
“The feeling of placing a bet in the stands is going to be awesome. I can’t wait till it exists,” Patrick Ramos said. “I look forward to in-play betting at the stadium, through four innings, Sox are trailing, they are +450, let’s hit that! We are going to root for them anyway, so let’s put a little cheddar on them and make it interesting.”
Section 108’s experience is waking up hungover after a midafternoon game on a Friday. It’s getting hungover yet again after a doubleheader the next day. But in some twisted, masochist way, it’s much more. It’s about watching the hometown team and hoping, praying, that the $10 bet can cover next season’s expenses.