My dad and I have been going to SoxFest since I was in junior high, and somewhere along the way, my brother joined in as well. Every year in late January, we head down to the Palmer House (previously the Hyatt Regency Chicago) and embark on a weekend of White Sox fun.
This year was no different. We arrived on Friday and proceeded to the check-in counter. I always have an eye out for the first White Sox sighting of the year, and this year was a good one as Ron Kittle strolled through the lobby. After checking in, they presented me with a Greg Luzinski bobble head, which looks amazing with the rest of my collection.
For autographs, my main plan was to hit up the Tony La Russa and Greg Luzinski lines to get my 1983 yearbook signed. I already have a bunch of signatures in it, but those two were glaring omissions. So I chose to go to LaRussa's line to kick off the SoxFest. After being a bit annoyed that they didn't have the wristbands ready to go, they finally passed them out in time to make it upstairs for the opening ceremonies.
As they introduced the players, I noticed a few things. For one, that worrisome picture of Paul Konerko I found a while back just happened to be an unflattering one. He looks to be in very good shape. I don't know if it's the best he's ever been in his life, but it is probably pretty close. I also noticed that Gordon Beckham still receives one of the biggest crowd pops out of all of the White Sox. I'm not sure why, but this guy is still a huge fan favorite. He's got a good PR person. Alexei Ramirez has some interesting new tattoos on his forearm. I'm not sure if they are supposed to be flames or what. Not my thing, but whatever.
I missed the opening video, but was glad to find it online. Obviously, my favorite part was the 1983 stuff. Those are my first memories of baseball, so the whole weekend was special to me because there was plenty of talk about it. After the ceremony, I jumped back downstairs and got my Tony La Russa autograph. He was wearing all three of his championship rings, and when I told him he had nice jewelry, he said, "The only time you can wear that stuff is at an event like this. I like to show them off." I also met Roland Hemond, whom I've met before. He's possibly the nicest man in baseball history.
After that, I went and got a wristband to meet Jermaine Dye later in the evening, then proceeded to the seminar room just in time to hear Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura and Hawk Harrelson talk about 2013. After hearing their thoughts on the offseason and plans for the season, Larry gave me some ribbing that I should go up and confront Hahn. So I did.
I asked if they really think they can compete with the Tigers. Mid-sentence, the entire crowd starting laughing. Was my zipper undone? It all threw me off. Here I was, asking a serious question, and everyone in the room was laughing. The girl who held the microphone whispered to me, "Look behind you." I turned to find that Kenny Williams was in line, in a plot to steal my thunder. Well played, Williams. Watch it here:
After that, I met up quickly with 67WMAQ and Larry and settled in to hear some tales from 1983. I have to say, I've been going to SoxFest every year, and there is nobody as good on the panel as Tom Paciorek. He had no trouble ripping on himself, Kittle, Luzinski and pretty much anyone else. Here were some of my favorite lines from the '83 seminars (I went to three of them so I'm not sure which days match with which comments):
- Someone asked about Mike Squires being sent up on the roof on a windy day to raise the AL West flag. Tony LaRussa said, "We were hoping he fell off to free up a roster spot."
- Paciorek commented that the 1983 White Sox could outdrink anyone in the league. He pointed at Luzinski and said, "There is our leader."
- Luzinski and Kittle were razzing LaRussa about how Harold was his favorite and he wouldn't retaliate if they got hit, but if they hit Harold, the best hitter on the opposite team was going down. La Russa responded, "You guys were replaceable. He wasn't."
- The entire panel said that 1983 was their favorite season in their careers. La Russa said it was always nice to win, but 1983 was his first time, so it remains special. Luzinski said even though his Phillies team won the World Series, he never had as much fun as he did that season.
- Paciorek said that Kittle was so cocky at the time, that they used to say he'd yell out his own name during sex. Kittle responded with "I still do!"
- Kittle joked they may make a bobblehead of Fisk in a cornfield. Wimpy said "I didn't even know he liked vodka? Kittle responded, "He likes anything if it's free."
- Paciorek said in 1984, Daryl Boston had a strong resemblance to Stevie Wonder. In an airport, they put sunglasses on him and Carlton Fisk and Tom Seaver each grabbed an arm and walked him through. Everyone was convinced it was Stevie walking through the airport and nobody noticed the two Hall of Famers walking with him. Boston later confirmed the story.
- Aaron Rowand described himself as "devastated" when he found out he was traded to Philly.
- Jermaine Dye still has the car he was given when he won the MVP of the World Series. He said it is silver and black and has 10,000 miles on it. He starts it up every week.
- Joe Crede said his back is back at stage one and that he will never swing a bat again. Said he had no regrets.
- Dye confirmed that he wasn't hit by the pitch that set up Konerko's grand slam in Game 2.
- Konerko said a Houston player, he wouldn't name who, commented on how cool the pregame ceremonies were. He knew right then that the Astros were just happy to be there and the Sox were going to win if they just played the games hard.
- Rowand called Dye the whitest black guy you'll ever meet.
- Rowand said when they got AJ, everyone said "uh oh".
I also had the opportunity to sit in on a seminar with Frank Thomas, Paciorek, Ed Farmer, Luzinski and Harold. Frank said that when he first got drafted, Harold Baines was the one to come up with him and talk to him. Thomas was so excited when he got home he called his family and said he just talked to Harold Baines. Thomas thanked him for that.
Thomas also razzed Ed Farmer. Farmer, who was part of the Orioles scouting staff when Frank came out of college, chose Ben McDonald over Frank in the draft. Paciorek said, "Well, I would have taken you Frank".
Saturday night, we went to Exchequer Pub, which is about a block farther down Wabash from Miller's Pub. It's a good place to go if you are looking to avoid a wait at Miller's. I ordered the Greek pork chops. They were also awesome. Saturday night, Addison Reed, Alexei Ramirez and Roland Hemond were hanging out in the hotel lobby bar area. ElGonzo4Sox introduced himself to me. It is nice meeting SSSers.
On Sunday morning, I decided I was going to sleep in a little bit. Instead of fighting for a Chris Sale autograph, I thought I'd go meet Hector Santiago. I like him. I think he is a good pitcher, and while I'm not sold on him being a starter, he could help out in 2013 and beyond. I am also impressed with his off-the-field work. When I got on stage, I told him as a former teacher that I appreciate the time he took to go to visit the kids in Newtown, Connecticut.
After that, I went into the line next door where Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom were signing. They also had a short line so it was a quick get. I didn't tell Jones that I wrongly claimed he was the worst pitcher I've ever seen and instead wished him well and to have another good season. Matt Lindstrom seems like a nice guy, I welcomed him to Chicago and was on my way.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the seminar room, where I gave Larry a Donny Lucy rookie card I received in a case of random White Sox cards I bought that day. It will no doubt find a spot in the Lucy shrine Larry has built in his home. Here are some highlights from the seminars on Sunday:
- Tyler Flowers is a fan of "The Real Housewives of Miami." When he said this, John Danks moved his chair away from Flowers.
- Danks brings candles and house shoes on road trips. When hearing this, Flowers moved his chair away from Danks.
- Danks said he is the fan that he hates when the University of Texas is playing. Nate Jones said the same thing about the University of Kentucky.
- Robin Ventura mentioned that he might bat Jeff Keppinger third. I almost threw up.
- Buddy Bell really likes Jared Mitchell.
- Daryl Boston says that the White Sox have the best stock of minor league outfielders in baseball with Mitchell, Trayce Thompson, Courtney Hawkins and Keenyn Walker. He couldn't remember Walker's name, though.
- Bobby Thigpen thinks the Sox could have one of the best bullpens in baseball.
- Jack McDowell went in depth on how the strike zone has shrunk. He thinks that the hitters being able to complain about calls and the pitchers not being able to complain about calls has a lot to do with it.
- Pete Ward said he met Frank Thomas for the first time this weekend, and said "it was like meeting three guys".
SoxFest came to an end, and on the way out the door we ran into Roland Hemond again. My dad said that we love having him come to the fest, Hemond responded "I love you too". And that was it.
SoxFest is a really good weekend. I enjoy it every year. Most of my time was spent in seasons past this year, with a bunch of members of 1983 and 2005 in attendance. While nothing changed my thoughts on the upcoming season, SoxFest makes you want baseball to get here that much more.
SoxFest 2014 will be at the Palmer House next year from Jan. 24-26. Come on down for some great seminars, get your random White Sox stuff signed, buy some new merchandise from the garage sale area and join me for some baseball fun.