Christine O'Reilly has fond memories of her early days with the White Sox. Might not have been too funny then, but she laughs now.
O'Reilly had landed a part-time job at old Comiskey Park through a grammar school friend who was an Andy Frain usher.
"I was in the Info booth — 'Info,' not even 'Information,'" O'Reilly says. "It was this little, green free-standing kiosk. ... When it would rain, people would come up and ask for refunds, and I'd have to tell them, Sorry, no refunds. So they'd get angry and start shaking the booth, and I'd have to call security."
O'Reilly survived those adventures, and now — some 33 years later — she is the team's senior director of community relations and executive director of Chicago White Sox Charities.
As such, she has been instrumental in connecting the team with groups and individuals in the Chicago area. She works with the White Sox Volunteer Corps, which has seen 4,800 Sox fans and more than 100 players and coaches give more than 6,000 service hours to 18 projects; the Sox's youth baseball initiatives program, which has provided funds for some 60 teams; and White Sox Charities, which last year gave more than $1.6 million to Chicago-area organizations.
Her work has drawn notice. The Volunteer Corps earned the 2011 Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence, she has been honored by nonprofits including Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago, Children's Home + Aid and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and she was recognized by the Jefferson Awards national board for her leadership and service to Chicago White Sox Charities.
The boss has noticed too.
"Christine is the driving force behind all of the White Sox charitable endeavors," says Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. "She truly is the heart of our organization. From the success of our Volunteer Corps program to the growth of our inner-city baseball initiatives, so much of our off-the-field achievements are because of her efforts and her passions. Beyond that, Christine represents the White Sox in so many different capacities and serves as the face of the organization in the community."
O'Reilly is all South Side. She was born at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, and her dad was a Chicago cop. One of six kids, she grew up in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood.
A special education major at Illinois State University, she was offered a full-time job with the Sox after graduation.
"I figured I'd do it a year. Here I am, 30-plus years later …"
Q: Growing up, who was your Sox hero?
A: I wasn't raised a huge baseball fan. ... One guy I remember is Wilbur Wood, and that was only because I was watching the game (versus Detroit in 1976) when he got hit in the knee with a line drive, and it broke his kneecap. And clearly Minnie Minoso. I walked into the ballpark my first day, and this distinguished guy in a suit jacket, with the thickest accent I'd ever heard, held the door for me. That was Minnie. He still works for us. I love him dearly.
Q: Were you star-struck when you started?
A: No, because I didn't know enough of the ballplayers. I think what surprised me most was the physical ballpark itself. You've heard (old Comiskey Park) called the Baseball Palace of the World? I looked around, and gee, it was kind of a dump. But there was a charm about it. It seemed so big on TV, and we had the fireworks and the green grass. It was idyllic. But as employees, we had to duck our heads when we went to retrieve important files, which were stored near the old boiler. It was a real contrast, that you could put on this show in this dark, dingy place.
Q: Baseball's a pretty male-dominated world. And there's a sort of Neanderthal mindset in some corners. Did that ever cause you problems?
A: You think about it, when I started, in the early '80s, the dining room in the old ballpark was divided into two. A room on one side, the kitchen in the middle, then the other room. The side with the bar didn't allow women. So we've come light years. ...
There are still some old-school people in the sport who don't think women should be involved. But baseball has always been a pretty progressive sport. How can you break the color barrier and say women don't have a place?
Q: Talk about your job.
A: I truly believe I have the best job. I'm clearly not remarkable; I work for a remarkable man, Jerry Reinsdorf. He's so committed to making a difference. My job is being the person who coordinates all that. We have to figure how do we connect (with the community)? How do we give back? How are we present in the hearts and minds of people?
Q: What's your favorite part?
A: You want to feel like what you're doing means something to others, to the community. Last week, I was on the phone three days calling the agencies who'd applied for grants, calling them and telling them they were getting the money to do things they want to do.
Q: What's your greatest highlight? The championship 2005 season?
A: I can't even begin to explain how big that was. After we won, in the parade, we turned up LaSalle Street, I think it was. We'd gone through all the neighborhoods, and that was cool. But when we turned up LaSalle, and I saw all those people, I just started crying. ... It wasn't until then that it hit me, we'd won the World Series.
Q: And you have the ring to prove it.
A: I wear it a lot. And a lot of us here still wear our rings, even to this day.
Q: Did people here realize, during the course of that season, that something special was going on?
A: What I remember, what made me feel good, let's say Paul Konerko hits a walk-off home run, but (in the postgame interviews) he would spend all his time talking about what everyone else did. All season, it was a team. No one was talking about himself.
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