Day 1 of SoxFest: From the South to the South Side
On Friday, January 23, 2014, I made my first-ever trip to Chicago. Yes, it was the first time I would get a chance to see the “Windy City” and my first chance on the “South Side”. My reason: to attend Sox Fest, the annual Chicago White Sox event, which brings together current and former White Sox players, and of course, White Sox fans!
This year seems to be the biggest and best of them all — especially after an incredible offseason in which the team has transitioned into a legitimate contender in the American League Central Division. With the additions of Jeff Samardzija, David Roberston, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Adam LaRoche, and Melky Cabrera, the Sox should be a tough team to beat this season. All of those newcomers, except LaRoche and Cabrera, are in attendance for SoxFest.
Friday was a long day. I arrived to Charlotte/Douglas Airport at 7:30 AM (nice and early for my 9:50 AM flight). After waiting around in the airport, I boarded my flight to Chicago. After two hours on the plane, in which I read media guides, I arrived to Chicago just around 11 AM Central Time. I picked up a shuttle from the airport to the Hilton Chicago and made my way into SoxFest around 12:30 PM.
When I arrived to SoxFest, I could already sense the excitement. There’s a true buzz surrounding this Sox team this year!
Fans were lined up outside of the Hilton on Friday, eager to see some of their favorite players arrive. Once I made my way into the hotel, all I could see were Sox fans — tons of Sox fans. It was pretty cool.
All fans in the lobby had something Sox-related on. There were many hats, shirts, and jerseys! Tons of Paul Konerko jerseys.
I must say, the White Sox did a fantastic job of decorating the Hilton — and making their fans feel at home. Doors were decorated, elevators too. There were many banners hanging and people behind the front desk were even wearing SoxFest shirts. As someone who works in baseball, I can certainly appreciate all of the hard work that went into this event. I can appreciate all of the time spent putting this magnificent event together. Even though it is the offseason, work never ends for a baseball front office.
Once I finally checked into my room (there were a few issues, but nothing to share here), I made my way down to the media session, which was scheduled for 2:30 PM.
During the media session, members of the media were able to hear from Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura, who each took the podium to answer questions. Both spoke of the number of offseason moves. The media had many questions about potential lineups, bullpen arms, 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon, and the team chemistry without having the leadership of Paul Konerko. Both Hahn and Ventura were great answering questions.
That reminds me — I can’t wait to see Hahn, Ventura, and Buddy Bell in Charlotte on April 3rd when the Knights host the “Knights Leadoff Luncheon”. This time, Knights fans will be able to ask them questions. Of course, there will be an exhibition game later that night at BB&T Ballpark, too.
During the media session, I caught up with a few familiar faces. I took a few minutes to interview 2014 Charlotte Knights Micah Johnson, Jake Petricka, and Carlos Rodon. Keep an eye out for those interviews, as I will post them later today.
All three spoke of the excitement in the organization. While all three are youngsters in the organization, all three are on different paths to the majors. It will be a very interesting spring training this year.
Along with Johnson, Petricka, and Rodon, current and former White Sox players were also on-hand for the media session. There were a large contingent of media members surrounding White Sox fan-favorite Adam Eaton, who spoke to the media for awhile. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but I’d love to be able to sit down with him on Saturday or Sunday and talk to him about his experience playing at BB&T Ballpark last year. Stay tuned.
Current White Sox stars Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Conor Gillaspie, Alexei Ramirez, David Robertson, Dan Jennings, Zach Duke, Tyler Flowers, Jose Quintana, members of the coaching staff, and members of the 2005 World Series winning team, were also on-hand to talk to the media.
After the media session, I made my way into the Continental Ballroom for the Opening Ceremony. It was a packed house and it was the first time for fans to get a glimpse of their favorite Sox players. The stage was set, the video screens ready, and the ceremony officially took place at 4:00 PM. After a video highlight package, it was time to introduce the stars of SoxFest.
One-by-one, former and current White Sox players made their way onto the stage. Fans went bananas when names like Bo Jackson, Minnie Minoso, Aaron Rowand, and Bobby Jenks were announced. Once the former players were introduced, the prospects were then introduced. There were loud cheers for Johnson, Rodon, Tim Anderson, and Courtney Hawkins. All four have a very bright future!
Then, it was time for the current players. There were loud cheers for all of the players. Eaton was certainly a popular name called. Fans went nuts when life-long White Sox fan Jeff Samardzija came out. The final name to be called was Jose Abreu — the 2014 American League Rookie of the Year. Some fans even chanted, “MVP” when he came out. Certainly, if he puts together a season like he had last year, Abreu could be a strong contender for 2015 AL MVP.
As part of the opening ceremony, each Sox player was accompanied by a little league player. That was very nice to see. I thought that was a nice touch to include local little league players in the event.
After another video was shown, players began throwing items out to the crowd. With that, the opening ceremonies were over and fans were on their way to meet the players and get autographs. As for me, I walked around and just took it all in. I checked out the #SoxSocial Lounge, and caught up with an old friend of mine, Sarah Marten. Sarah, who I worked with during my time with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, is now working for the White Sox in their Community Relations department. She gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the event. I had a chance to check out a White Sox museum, which featured a number of important jerseys, photos, bats, balls, and more.
I later made my way down to the Chicago White Sox Charities Garage Sale and Chicago Sports Depot, where I picked up some new gear. All and all, it was an amazing first day of SoxFest. There were so many things to do and so many things to see.
As for the end of the night, I took my new car out for a test-drive (I wish). Wouldn’t it be nice to drive this Sox car (pictured, right) back to Uptown Charlotte and park it outside of BB&T Ballpark on April 3rd? I would happily make the trek from Chicago to Charlotte in the Sox car anytime!
Stay tuned for my interviews with Johnson, Rodon, and Petricka, as well as more exciting things from SoxFest on day two of my adventure from the South to the South Side.