White Sox foster bond with community
Club raises more than $1.6 million for charity groups in 2007
CHICAGO -- With each loss suffered by the White Sox during the 2007 season, with each disappointing month moving off the calendar, the throng of South Side supporters grew increasingly more frustrated.
But it would take much more than one subpar, on-field showing to break the indestructible bond forged between the team and the White Sox faithful. This strong connection becomes evident, on one major front, through Chicago White Sox Charities, which figures to come in at just over $1.6 million in fundraising raised by the end of the year.
This assistance given to the White Sox charitable cause will be doled out to help numerous others during the holiday season, and beyond.
"We turn around and give it away all in grants to qualified non-profit organizations," said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly of the money raised by White Sox Charities. "So, the fans are truly making a difference in people's lives.
"Our organization has to operate our business outside the foul lines. We've always felt that way. [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] feels that way. Clearly, it starts with him and goes throughout the clubhouse and front office. We can't expect people are going to come [to the ballpark], buy a ticket and watch the players only on the field."
The White Sox followed a familiar path this season in regard to tried-and-true charitable events fans come to anticipate and enjoy, including sold-out get-togethers such as the Field of Greens golf outing and Picnic in the Park. The Sox Split, in which fans buy in-game raffle tickets and then have a chance to be picked as the winner of half the total pot for that particular contest, also has become a home-game staple.
"It's become something fans look forward to," said O'Reilly of the Sox Split. "They park their car, come to the game, buy their hot dog, get the raffle ticket and go watch the game.
"I was at guest relations one game when a fan came up to claim her prize, and she won like $4,000. When you go to a ball game ad buy a $2 raffle ticket, it's a nice return on your investment. It's a fun program."
But it's the Legacy Brick Pavilion, a new development from this past year, which truly resonates with White Sox fans. The Pavilion features bricks of different size and monetary value, with the buyers able to place a personal dedication on each purchase.
Because of the great demand, the White Sox extended out the Legacy Brick deadline to Saturday, Dec. 1. The Pavilion, situated outside of Gate 4 at U.S. Cellular Field, is scheduled to open some time around the 2008 season opener. It's a permanent example of that connection between the White Sox and their fans, with White Sox fans digging deep into their collective souls for the specific brick inscriptions.
"You get a sense of how much the White Sox and the support means to our fans," said O'Reilly of the Legacy Brick program. "It's really great to read the inscriptions because it shows that this bond is so strong.
"So many fans met at the ballpark, or they are honoring family member who might have passed. People are thanking the White Sox or a particular team or a particular era for providing magical movements. Definitely, the Legacy Brick program was our biggest this year and a great source of revenue for White Sox Charities thanks to the fans' generosity."
Paul Konerko and his wife, Jennifer, along with Jim Thome, and his wife, Andrea, formed a partnership called Family Champions for Family Champions with Children's Home + Aid. They developed the "Bring Me Home Campaign" to benefit Illinois foster families.
The Konerkos, Thomes and White Sox Charities donated $10,000 apiece to Children Home + Aid at the outset. They have continued the program through coat shopping with kids and an event planned after SoxFest 2008 for donors to the "Bring Me Home Campaign," not to mention a holiday party in January.
"We've had a really successful first year," said O'Reilly of the "Bring Me Home Campaign" program.
Jermaine Dye continued his "JD's MVPs," benefiting children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago who come to White Sox games courtesy of Dye, while countless players made important hospital visits throughout the season. Bobby Jenks served as a mentor to the White Sox Amateur City Elite team, a traveling baseball squad made up totally of students from high schools within the city, sponsored by White Sox Charities.
Jenks also made a recent guest appearance at one of Don Cooper's pitching clinics, conducted in conjunction with the Bulls-Sox Training Academy. Beginning just his third full season in Chicago, Jenks already has become a fixture within the local community.
"It's important for me to let them know we are still normal guys and we love being out involved," Jenks said.
December brings a White Sox-sponsored holiday party for local youth groups, with players and White Sox mascot Southpaw figuring to be in attendance. It stands as an enjoyable closing program for another profitable year, although not as profitable as the record $2.5 million raised in 2006 by White Sox Charities.
Then again, the 2005 World Series title certainly gave the White Sox a strong boost for the following campaign. In good times or bad, though, the bond lives on between team and fans.
"Nothing will compare to the follow-up season to the World Series," said O'Reilly, who said $1 million of last year's total could be attributed to fan support based on the World Series. "But this year kind of goes toe to toe with the highest year ever.
"Our players are out there, doing hospital visits or signing autographs at Taste of Chicago, or coming in January to SoxFest. It's incumbent upon us to foster those relationships and connect with our fans. The fans step up time and time again, and we appreciate that and recognize their support."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.