CHICAGO -- The chanting began in the bottom of the second inning last night at Comiskey Park with the quickness and intensity of a summer squall.
Right fielder Dan Pasqua, the opening act in the inning, popped meekly to Kansas City Royals shortstop David Howard, and around the ballpark the Chicago White Sox fans in the crowd of 37,187 stood and thundered, "Bo!" "Bo!" "Bo!" From the screams and shrieks that began when he finally stepped to the plate, he might have been the Beatles.
"Wouldn't it be great if he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark?" Tim Raines had said during batting practice. Instead, Jackson took the first pitch for a called strike.
The second was a high fastball. Jackson swung, and the balled rocketed off his bat -- all the way to the pitcher, on one bounce. His second time up, he bounced to third on the first pitch; in his third at-bat, he flied to center. In Jackson's final at bat, with the bases laded in the bottom of the eighth with the White Sox ahead by three runs, he hit a sacrifice fly to medium center. Oh-for-three. Life does not work out as neatly as a commercial.
"I think for someone who hasn't seen major-league pitching since last October, I did pretty well," he said after the White Sox's 5-1 victory. "I hit every pitch I swung at, and I got down the line pretty well.
"Tonight, no one expected me to do what I did, forever."
So Bo Jackson is back. Not with a bang, but as a designated hitter at a bonus of $10,000 per game through the end of the season. He's back eight months after injuring his left hip in an NFL playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, six months after the Royals released him, saying it was unlikely he would ever play baseball again.
"I'm going to have fun," he said Saturday. "I'm not going to try to put any pressure on myself. If I strike out four times, that's great because it means I'm back on the field doing things people said I'd never be able to do again."
His teammates were willing accept that. Bo-mania has swirled about them like Madonna gossip since he signed with the team April 3.
Some teammates were bitter about him then. He signed for $700,000 when many of the team's younger players -- who figured to produce this year -- were being offered contracts less than half that size.
He has earned their respect through hard work and a low-key demeanor.
"He has made a real effort not to upstage our team, and I admire him for that," said manager Jeff Torborg before the game.
Few White Sox players were counting on him to play this year.
"Nobody was saying during our [recent nine-game] losing streak, 'Man, if we only had Bo,' " said catcher Ron Karkovice.
Yesterday when he was activated -- in time to play against his former team (pure coincidence, according to White Sox general manager Ron Schueler) -- they still didn't know what to expect.
When he took his turn in batting practice two hours before the game, all action stopped around the field. The Kansas City players stopped in the midst of their stretching exercises to watch him swing. Three balls went over the fence.
"This is like Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle making a comeback," said Jackson's former teammate, George Brett. Then he said: "Bo usually accomplishes what he sets out to do. He's back, but we'll see how he performs."
Royals manager Hal McRae said: "He looked rigid when I saw him on TV two weeks ago. He's not as rigid now. He's close to natural, but it's going to take some time."
Watching him with his still-imperfect swing, Brett said: "I think if he would have quit football after his first [baseball] season, if he had gone to the Instructional League and really studied the game, he could have been one of the best hitters in the game today. But it looks like that's something we're never going to know."