Sox Fest 2016 – Admiration of the Past, Present and Future

20140124_mm_soxfest0136The Chicago White Sox have not been good in quite some time.

Their last winning season was in 2012, and their last trip to the playoffs was in 2008.
Recently, there have been Chris Sale, Jose Abreu and a couple bright spots here and there. Heck, let’s even include Mark Buehrle’s and Philip Humber’s recent memories. The have both occurred since the team last saw the postseason, for that matter.

Other than that, there has not been much to be excited about on the South side of Chicago.

So when I was overwhelmed with feelings of admiration and excitement from the majority of the crowd at Sox Fest this past weekend, I have to admit that I was a bit shocked.

Understood, the goal of Sox Fest is not to host an event for fans to air their grievances in attempt to stimulate the players and coaches to be more motivated to succeed. But the overall levels of gratitude and optimism at the event were still higher than I expected.

Part of that optimism is that the Sox are in the midst of an off-season that has been spent trying to equip the team to win now. The infield stock is about as high as it’s ever been with studs at the corners, a second baseman with a load of potential and the organization’s No. 1 prospect soon to be a fixture at shortstop for years to come.

Combine that with a pitching rotation that features, arguably, two of the game’s top 10 starting pitchers (No, that’s not an exaggeration. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are both in the top 10 in WAR for starting pitchers since 2013), and budding young star in Carlos Rodon, and you have reason to be excited the money you spent to attend Sox Fest in 2016.

The lines to meet players like Sale, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier were just about out to Michigan Avenue, but even the lines to meet some of the team’s prospects were filled with excited fans. I heard a young boy who couldn’t be more than 10 years old congratulate Adam Engel for winning the Arizona Fall League MVP this past fall. Wow, I remember days when White Sox news wasn’t quite so popular and accessible.

At 25 years old, I still consider myself a young White Sox fan, but even I am old enough to be part of more than one generation of MLB fandom. Anyone else my age or older remember having to check newspaper box scores for player stats that may or may not have been updated if the team played a “late” game on the west coast the night before.

Anyone else my age or older remember not having internet access everywhere they go to stay up to speed on team news?

Furthermore, a young boy congratulating a virtually unheard of prospect on winning a virtually unheard of award is also a sign that the White Sox, even in the midst of the Cubs becoming America’s favorite baseball team, still have a chance to recapture notoriety and respect in the city of Chicago. If a 10-year-old kid is out there doing his White Sox homework, there is no reason that an adult who calls himself a Sox fan shouldn’t stay up to speed with news on his team and support it through ups-and-downs as well.

And that is exactly the dynamic that I saw in the atmosphere at Sox Fest over the weekend.

Aside from excitement for the 2016 team was the admirable reminiscence of the 2005 team. On Saturday, U.S. Cellular Field public address announcer Gene Honda hosted a seminar titled “2005 World Series Memories” where he sat down and spoke with players from the championship team.

This seminar was an opportunity for Willie Harris, Carl Everett and Jose Contreras to tell some of the stories from 2005 that weren’t captured in the commemorative World Series DVD or any major news stories.

One story that stuck out in my mind was when Harris reminisced about being called upon to pinch hit in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. Harris said that manager Ozzie Guillen approached him and asked him at the start of the inning if he was ready to hit. Harris, who only had one at bat the entire postseason up to that point, admitted that he wasn’t exactly ready to step up to the plate, but that he also didn’t lack the confidence that Guillen was looking for.

Harris said he told Guillen, “If you wanna win, put Willie in.” and the Sox Fest crowd erupted in laughter.

For those of you that don’t remember, Harris singled to start the inning, and eventually came around to score the game’s only run in the series-clinching game.

All in all, Sox Fest was the perfect opportunity for fans to express love for their team, which is exactly the intention of the event. Sure, maybe Sox fans are still clinging too tightly to the 2005 World Series title. Sure, maybe the team will disappoint just as much next year as they did last year. Maybe Engel will never even make the big leagues. But behind the closed doors of the Hilton Hotel in Chicago, none of that mattered. White Sox fans were happy meet and interact with White Sox players from the past, present and future.

You nailed it, Chicago White Sox. You get an A+.