CHICAGO -- Last year's White Sox town hall meeting on the opening night of SoxFest grew intense enough, at times, to raise Ken Williams' temperature to a boiling point.During Saturday afternoon's meeting with a capacity crowd at the Hyatt Regency, a bad case of the flu already had taken care of the general manager's internal body heat. Luckily for Williams, the tone of this get-together was decidedly different. "Man, I was just trying to get through it today," Williams said with a laugh, after missing Friday's events at the Hyatt because of the flu. "It was enough to try and get out of bed." The fans in attendance for the 2004 SoxFest were buoyed by the hiring of new manager Ozzie Guillen but more than a little concerned over the balance of free agent losses against free agent additions during the offseason. One fan even asked Williams, tongue firmly planted in check, what his plans were for 2005 since the 2004 season was presumably over. Williams stood his ground and fired one strident response after another back at the fans, a reaction not out of character for the determined White Sox leader. But if Williams was the target of concerned derision in 2004, he was the man of the hour in 2005. In fact, one fan stood before the crowd microphone and announced to Williams that "you da man" in addition to being the team's Most Valuable Player. The sharp-witted Guillen, who joined Williams and television play-by-play man Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson on stage, couldn't resist poking a little fun at the change in attitude. "Last year, we almost went down there and fought," said Guillen, doing a mock karate kick to reinforce the point to an amused crowd. "Now, you think he's a genius." Williams was given credit for the Sox's change of direction, centering the team around pitching first, followed by defense and speed, as opposed to the past reliance on power. Williams accomplished this move, at least on paper, with the free agent signings of outfielder Jermaine Dye, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and pitchers Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Dustin Hermanson, not to mention the addition of outfielder Scott Podsednik and reliever Luis Vizcaino via trade with Milwaukee. Even the fans who disagreed with trading Carlos Lee or not offering arbitration to Magglio Ordonez were encouraged enough by the new direction to give Williams the benefit of the doubt. "For some of them that publicly will acknowledge, 'Hey, I haven't agreed with everything,' at least nobody is questioning the effort," Williams said. "Nobody is questioning our desire to put the best club on the field that we can. "I've learned to expect the other side of it, but that's great," said Williams of the decidedly positive reaction to his moves. "I think that what it shows is that we weren't alone in our thinking about this team beating its head against the wall trying to accomplish the goals of the last few years." Saturday's session was also informative, with Guillen talking about his lineup in the field and batting order offensively. As of this weekend, Podsednik will lead off, followed by Juan Uribe, Dye, Paul Konerko, Carl Everett, Aaron Rowand, Pierzynski, Joe Crede and Willie Harris. Guillen still hadn't decided on whether Rowand or Podsednik would start in center, drawing a low-murmured groan from some in the ground. Guillen quickly clarified his position. "Hey, I make the lineup," Guillen told the crowd. "I'm trying to win games. I don't try to please the media, and I don't try to please myself. I just want my team to win games every day." The only other reaction smacking of last year's Jerry Springer-like rowdiness came when one fan asked Williams about the possibility of signing Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Numerous fans yelled for Williams to find the money to bring in the Japanese All-Star second baseman, leading the general manager to remind the crowd they have never seen him play. "Funny how that works," said Williams with a wry smile, when talking to the media about Iguchi after meeting with the fans. "This Iguchi person we're talking about, I just assume he's good because people like him so much." Iguchi might be the fans' choice at second for 2005, but Williams was the favorite on Saturday. One woman who chastised Williams at last year's SoxFest began her question this year by stating she wasn't going to shake her finger at him once again. Williams quickly recognized her as the lady from Plainfield who yelled at him last year, causing the lady to ask Williams if that's why he moved his family out of their old neighborhood. Williams and his family relocated to Arizona from the Southwest Suburb of Chicago. That particular woman's previous ire was chalked up as White Sox passion, the same sort of passion that caused Williams to answer back. It's the same sort of intensity that drives Williams to build a World Champion on the South Side. The passion manifested itself in another form at the end of the one-hour session. A little girl, of no more than three or four years of age, asked Williams where she could send a card that she was making to help Frank Thomas feel better. A visibly touched Williams responded that if she sent the card to him, he would personally hand it to the Big Hurt. It was a fitting ending for an afternoon of hope and White Sox pride. Then again, Williams felt last year's session conveyed the same basic attitude. "Wasn't that sweet? It certainly reaches a soft spot in your heart when you see something like that," Williams said of the young girl's request. "I didn't necessarily take it personally last year," Williams continued. "People may have thought that I took it personally because I fired back, but so what? It's White Sox baseball, and it's White Sox passion and the way I view it is I'm just like them."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.