My dad, brother and I made our annual journey to SoxFest this past weekend. It offers a chance to escape the winter blues and immerse yourself in all things White Sox. As we were checking in, Gavin Floyd was at the desk next to us. Baseball season was officially underway.
If you are an autograph hunter, a key is getting in line early. My plan was to get in line early enough to secure a wristband for Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham and make it back on time to see the Kenny Williams and Robin Ventura seminar. Unfortunately that meant that I missed the Bud Selig seminar, but he is pretty painful to listen to anyway. I got the wristband that I wanted and made my way upstairs to see the opening ceremony. Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox organization got an award for their volunteer group, and members of that group got to go on stage during the ceremony. The players were introduced with Paul Konerko getting the biggest ovation for the current team, only rivaled by Robin Ventura. Kenny Williams received a smattering of boo's and alumni Joe Crede and Pablo Ozuna getting a nice ovation. Adam Dunn was conspicuous by his absence.
Price: Friday at SoxFest is only open to hotel guests with a weekend pass. The Sox started this practice a few years back in order to give the people willing to dish out the cash a chance to have a day where the crowd isn't as big. In recent years the price to attend SoxFest has risen dramatically. It cost $315 for the 2 night hotel stay, $75 per person for the weekend pass ($60 for season ticket holders), $74 to park in the lot for the two days (although the Sox open up the parking lot at the ballpark so you can take the Red Line to the hotel if you choose). They also offer Saturday and Sunday passes. I believe Saturday was $50 and Sunday was $35.
Highlights from Friday:
- Getting autographs from Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, AJ Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo. Autographs can be had at SoxFest, but the key is to line up early. I was able to get Ramirez and Beckham pretty quickly and was able to get a wristband at the back end of the Pierzynski line which was cool.
- Hearing Robin Ventura speak. He might be a quiet guy, but he has a good sense of humor and expects a lot from his players. At one point in the Your 2012 White Sox seminar, Kenny said "these guys are in trouble" meaning that Ventura is going to run a tough camp.
- After the night ended, we went to Miller's Pub for a meal and a couple of drinks. Upon returning to the hotel, Alexei and Dayan were drinking at the hotel bar which gave me the opportunity to have a drink and get a picture with Viciedo.
- Adam Dunn not attending the Opening Ceremonies. I would have liked to hear the reaction he would have received.
- Most of the 2012 White Sox seminar was indeed a love fest. It was the only time to be able to ask Kenny some tough questions, but he got off easy.
- John Danks and Chris Widger both were sick and missed their autograph signings.
We made our way down to wait in line at 7:30 Saturday morning, an hour and a half before the event began. We were pretty far back in line by that time, as some were down in line at 4 AM. That was fine with me though, as most of the traffic was going to Konerko and I wanted my 2005 Yearbook signed by Ozuna and Neal Cotts
. I was in the first 15 people in their line, which gave me enough time to run up two flights of stairs, catch my breath and get in line for a Frank Thomas
wristband. It was about 9:15 and the line was huge. Thomas' signing started at 1 PM. Fortunately, I was able to secure a band and make it downstairs for an afternoon of seminars. (Once you have a wristband, you can't get another one until that signing is over. So by me getting a wristband for 1 PM, I gave up the option of getting other autographs that day).
Notes from Saturday Seminars:
- Hearing Ventura say that he will sit guys down if they are struggling, all year if need be. Also Robin is really going to be stressing the team concept, which in my opinion is a nice change. I think there has been too much emphasis on individuals the last couple of years.
- Steve Stone repeated Kenny's assessment from the previous night that if the Sox hit, they will compete.
- Chris Sale has taken up swimming and distance running in his preparation to be a starter.
- Will Ohman is a pretty funny dude. He made fun of himself for his age and the fact that he has a " 5 minute rule", meaning he takes the mound for a maximum of 5 minutes.
- Rick Hahn is pretty big on the minor league starters they acquired this offseason.
- Buddy Bell is in love with Jared Mitchell. I think he wants to start him at Birmingham this year. He says the organization is torn on him starting with the Barons or on Winston-Salem.
- They also are very high on Tyler Saladino and Trayce Thompson. They think Saladino could contribute in Chicago some time this season.
- Doug Laumann thinks Yoenis Cespedes is a special player.
After that seminar I went upstairs and waited in a massive line to get Frank's autograph. I have met him a bunch of times, but each time I do meet him it is always thrill. I am convinced that Frank will be the best player I ever see on the White Sox, whether I live until tomorrow or until I'm 95 years old. I asked him if he would be willing to DH this season and he said he thinks Adam Dunn will bounce back. Frank is more optimistic than I am.
Due to getting Frank's autograph, I missed the opportunity to hear Adam Dunn's
seminar, but from what I heard he was pretty well received.
I then got the chance to talk to Ron Kittle. He was great as usual, cracking jokes about my dad and telling me about fantasy camp. I have to do this one day. I only hope WU is there so I can give him some chin music.
On Saturday night, we went to the Exchequer which is a pub just down the street from the hotel. It is less crowded and more laid back than Miller's is. Upon return, my dad and brother both knocked out early so I went down to the lobby and had a few drinks with some fans. Alexei showed up at the bar to a big cheer around closing time. I would have cheered him louder if he brought me some Bud Light Lime so I didn't have to force down a few Fat Tire's.
On Sunday, we again went downstairs at 7:30. This time there were a lot less people waiting ahead of us. I jumped in the Harold Baines
and Steve Stone line. I'm not sure if people don't know how good Harold Baines was or if they already got his autograph or what... but a guy that good should have a full line every time. It didn't happen. I moved through it very quickly and was able to get a Gavin Floyd autograph as well. I told Floyd that we need a big year from him and he responded "I try for a big year every year". He said it in a way that irked me. I should have said "well you've failed miserably", but I held it in.
I then went to the seminar room again. I really enjoyed the Sunday seminars. Mark Parent got an opportunity to speak and he was firing me up. He stressed the team atmosphere, protecting your players, working on fundamentals and doing whatever it takes to win. He was really impressive, and it is obvious he is going to be the bad cop/enforcer on the staff.
Then Bill Melton, Ron Kittle, Frank Thomas and Joe Crede took the stage and had unbelievable chemistry. They were cracking jokes on each other left and right. It was neat to see four generations of White Sox All-Stars
having such fun. Kittle and Thomas are two of my favorite 3 players (Harold), so this was easily the highlight of the weekend for me.
, Brent Lillibridge
and Tyler Flowers
were next up. They had a rough act to follow, but Lillibridge says Jeff Manto is a great fit for the ball club. Lillibridge worked with him in Pittsburgh. It seemed that Flowers and Pierzynski have had a rocky relationship, but Flowers said that is in the past. Morel is hoping to be more aggressive and consistent this season.
Buddy Bell, Rick Hahn and Doug Laumann were up next. Hahn said there will be a dramatic increase in international signings now that the skimming scandal is behind them and Marco Paddy has been brought in. Laumann hinted that the Sox might take some high schoolers early. Bell again discussed how Mitchell is the real deal.
SoxFest closed with Crede, Ozuna, Cotts and Cliff Politte
discussing the 2005 season. Cliff Politte is a quick witted guy. He was cracking everyone up every time he spoke. I thought it was perfect placement for that seminar. I remember back at SoxFest 2005 I was more disgusted than I am this year. We had just lost Magglio Ordonez
, Carlos Lee and Jose Valentin
. That season ended with me standing on LaSalle Street in a pile of ticker tape.
SoxFest is my favorite part of the winter. I've been going since I was 12 years old. It's an opportunity to talk baseball in January with family and other fans while hearing from and meeting the current team and all time greats. If you're a fan and have the money to spend I highly recommend going for at least one day.