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The title always seemed like the most reasonable baseball advice I ever heard. Since I was a lousy ballplayer, maybe I can apply that advice to a blog.
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Ruminations on Opening Day at SoxFest

Posted 01-29-2012 at 10:45 PM by tebman
Updated 01-30-2012 at 12:21 PM by tebman

Itís 2:15 Friday afternoon and weíre in line. Thatís what one does at SoxFest. We stand for a while in the cattle-chute railings that are set up in the Empire Room after waiting for a time like scattered leaves in the Palmer House lobby. That time spent standing becomes too much time and we sit on the floor.

I look around from my seat on the carpet and take in the Empire Room. For decades this was a night club where nattily-dressed men and diamond-bedecked women enjoyed steak, bourbon, and cigarettes purchased from a short-skirted vendor carrying a tray. After the meal came the show: Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, or Judy Garland entertained in front of an orchestra. After the show the couples waited on Wabash or Monroe as the doormen whistled for taxis, after which they were whisked off to their tony apartments or to their stately homes.

Iím jolted out of my reverie by a sudden heaving of bodies. We rise from the floor, unfolding ourselves and our backpacks to move to the next station as the line advances. We snake through the amusement-park railings and are guided up and through the Empire Room stage where we continue into a back hallway to wait some more. Itís interesting to me that the place that has literally entertained kings and has seen performances by the most iconic entertainers in theater history is now a holding pen. Weíre not kings, and weíre a long way from being iconic entertainers. It occurs to me that thereís something wrong with this picture.

But here we are and weíre in line. Weíre sitting on the floor again, but the hallway doesnít share the Empire Roomís gloss of former elegance. The tile is hard, the ceiling is low, and the temperature is rising. This space was not intended to hold a few hundred people, most of whom are wearing layers of garments that commemorate the White Sox. The devotion is admirable but the overheated ambience is not.

This is not to complain. I chose to be here and happily paid the usurious price for a room and for the passes that my son and I will use to stand in yet more lines Saturday and Sunday. Last year was our first at SoxFest and we were strangers in a strange land. Fortunately ChiSoxGirl served as our tutor, docent, and park ranger, pointing out the trails and warning us away from the wildlife. Her experience and knowledge of this event is without peer. Sheís the one you want with you in the trenches.

Back to the march. We are herded up the stairs to Level 4, site of the Red Lacquer Room, where the opening ceremony is to be held. Itís scheduled to begin at 4:00, and at about 4:10 the familiar voice of Gene Honda thanks us for coming and explains that one of their guests is arriving late. He thanks us for our patience.

Southpaw comes out to amuse us and leads the group of Sox volunteers through a series of cheers. The volunteers are here because of the appearance of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig is here to present an award to the White Sox for community service. The volunteers who performed the actual service are seated in the front rows in matching red shirts.

After 4:30 the program begins as Gene Honda introduces players and coaches. The room shakes with cheers, the loudest for A.J. Pierzinski, Paul Konerko, and Robin Ventura. Bud Selig is introduced to polite applause. His face carries its usual expression of awkward bemusement as he ambles on the stage and is directed where to stand.

After introductions, Selig explains that the White Soxí commitment to community service was the highest among Major League clubs and as such they have earned the Commissionerís award. A plaque that resembles a brass dinner plate is presented to Jerry Reinsdorf, who graciously thanks the volunteer corps. They cheer. The players each have a bag of stuffed toy baseballs that they throw out into the crowd. A wag mumbles that Peavy might risk his shoulder again by throwing it. The opening ceremony ends.

The crowd disperses and rushes into the narrow hallways in a feeding frenzy, seeking the coveted wristbands that allow us to stand in another line. Autographs are our mission and, like the infantry we are, we get in line. An hour later with autographs in hand, we attend the Ken Williams and Robin Ventura seminar. A long queue of excitable fans builds behind the floor microphone. Williams has a brief anxious moment watching the crowd assemble behind the microphone, but he gradually relaxes as he deals with the respectful, yet pointed, questions. Iím surprised by this. At the opening ceremony there were boos when Williams was introduced, but the questions are (mostly) meaningful and all are fair.

Ventura is the big hit we knew he would be. He answers questions with insight and humor. This is a combination of hot-stove and preseason baseball, that anticipatory time when all things seem possible. Last yearís sad and ragged end left these folks frustrated and hurt. Frustrated because of the missed opportunities and hurt because of their emotional investment in Ozzie Guillen and the teamís fortunes.

Ah, Ozzie, we hardly knew ye. Actually, we came to know him all too well. A volcano of a man who wears his thoughts and emotions on his sleeve (and collar, and cuffs, and lapel, and belt loops), Ozzie needed more space for his dirigible-sized personality than the White Sox could give him. Itís ego, of course, but itís also a roiling sea of emotions that make him who he is. It was probably inevitable that it would end the way it did, but knowing that didnít make it less painful for us or for him.

Now after the debris has been cleared we have Robin Ventura charged with leading the White Sox to a productive future. Rockiní Robin, he of the sweet swing and soft hands, and the only ballplayer who had the courage and emotional honesty to call out Nolan Ryan as the self-important bully that he was. Heís our guy. Weíre crazy about Robin for all those reasons and weíre all nervous because heís never managed before.

What? Ventura? What happened to Martinez, Francona, LaRussa, or any of the other experienced coaches and managers whose names were knocked around like fungos? We love ya, Robin, but címon! Whatís Kenny thinking about?

This is the environment Ventura and Williams stepped into as they answered preseason questions, and Robin fielded them as cleanly as he did the hot ones at third for so many years. He was at once confident and self-deprecating. He chose his own coaches, he explained, and acknowledged his inexperience by saying he wanted experienced help he could trust. He followed that by saying that setting the playersí environment for winning is his responsibility. He gets it, and thatís what we wanted to know.

Now that SoxFest is underway, I realize that none of us stalking through here are the social nobility that used to grace the Empire Room or the halls of the Palmer House. But there is a nobility of spirit that can be revealed when a leader emerges. By his words, his unpretentious confidence, and his baseball integrity, Robin Ventura can be that leader if he chooses to be. Great actors have played the Empire Room, and "To be or not to be" is among the most famous lines in theater. I'm glad Robin chose to be.
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  1. Old Comment
    I love it when you ruminate! Thanks for another outstanding blog entry which perfectly captures the Palmer House/SoxFest experience. The Palmer House Empire Room is truly magnificent and I will never get tired of visiting a place that makes me feel like royalty. It was great to see you, meet your son, and talk White sox baseball with both of you this past Saturday. :D:
    Posted 01-31-2012 at 06:33 AM by October26 October26 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    ChiSoxGirl's Avatar
    As usual, an outstanding blog entry.
    Posted 01-31-2012 at 09:09 PM by ChiSoxGirl ChiSoxGirl is offline

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