Optimism flows through SoxFest
Some fans become stars of show at three-day Chicago event
CHICAGO -- Call it the unofficial start to the 2009 season for the White Sox and their fans. Call it a way to get out of the intense January cold in Chicago and start focusing on important things such as peanuts, cracker jacks, Churros and who will be the White Sox fifth starter behind Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Bartolo Colon.
Better yet, call it "SoxFest, '09: Let the Optimism Begin."
"It was awesome, and I do think people are really optimistic about this team," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, speaking to MLB.com after Sunday's third and final Town Hall Meeting at the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer House Hilton, all but closing out the weekend gathering.
"They have their questions about the ballclub," Guillen said. "And it's always nice when you keep in touch with the fans and let them know what's happening."
In total, approximately 9,000 fans attended the three-day event in downtown Chicago, picking up autographs from favorite White Sox players such as Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko. They took pictures with Brian Anderson, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez, to name a few, and they heard about seminar topics ranging from the inner-workings of the organization to the art of hitting and pitching.
This sort of get-together always is for and about the White Sox faithful, ultimately making them the stars of the show. Ethan Ellis, a 12-year-old from Glen Ellyn, Ill., just might have begun his own youthful career in the media after being called up on stage by general manager Ken Williams during Saturday's "Your 2009 White Sox" session, following a well-stated and informed question about the second-base battle from the sixth-grader.
Ellis returned on Sunday morning, asking the final question of "The White Sox Organization" seminar. He then plugged his ensuing appearance on WSCR 670 The Score, the White Sox flagship radio station, like a seasoned pro.
"This is Benjamin Button," said White Sox radio play-by-play announcer Ed Farmer of Ellis, before he asked his question.
"You're the guy looking for my job, right?" said a smiling White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn to Ellis, drawing a big laugh from the crowd. At the end of Ellis' question about the "White Sox way" of doing things, Hahn joked about seeing him Monday morning at 8 a.m. CT at U.S. Cellular Field on 35th St.
Sunday's final Town Hall Meeting featured Guillen going to his bullpen and bringing frenetically-entertaining third-base coach Jeff Cox to the dais in place of Williams. Cox added a few light-hearted moments to the hour-long session, but also verbally jousted with one fan who suggested he stop sending slower runners home if they were going to get thrown out by a large margin.
"If [the job] was that easy to do, obviously everyone would do it, pal," said Cox, quickly answering his critic. "The best third-base coach sits three rows behind the dugout."
One-time players such as Heath Phillips, Charlie Haeger and Ken Griffey Jr., were represented by fan jerseys sported throughout the three days. But those in attendance wanted to know primarily about the younger players filling out the current roster and those veterans who weren't added.
Farmer relayed a fan question to Guillen at the start of Sunday's seminar concerning the possible addition of free-agent southpaw hurler Randy Wolf, despite Williams saying that the White Sox "don't have any money" for free-agent additions at a pre-SoxFest press conference on Wednesday. Guillen didn't address any pitcher by name, although he did ask if the fan was Wolf's agent.
Guillen then threw his continued support behind the men in charge.
"I've never gone to Kenny Williams in six years and said, 'I want this player,'" Guillen said. "I trust Kenny and Rick Hahn. I always like pitching, and the better staff you have, then the better team you will have."
Gordon Beckham, Chicago's top pick from the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, held fan focus across the seminars, with Williams stating that Beckham will continue to play shortstop in the Minors this season. Minor League director Buddy Bell added that Beckham had the talent to play pretty much anywhere on the field.
Beckham isn't currently part of the 2009 White Sox plans, but those fans in attendance seemed to be cautiously excited concerning those who would contribute, such as Josh Fields, Dayan Viciedo, Brent Lillibridge, Chris Getz and Clayton Richard. In turn, Guillen gains confidence from the fans' support.
"There are some doubts, but we have their support, and hopefully, we won't let them down," Guillen said. "Before I got here, it seemed to be a lot about hiding from the media and the fans.
"We have to let them know what's going on. Whether they like it or not, be honest with them. As long as we are honest, they understand that they might not like the answers, but they are the right ones. But the best thing for the fans is to come here and ask their questions. That's the way it should be."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.