SoxFest is a time-share presentation. You walk into a hotel ballroom, listen to a sales pitch, and you walk away lighter in the wallet.
Other teams have mid-winter ham-and-jams (hams-and-jam?). They tend to be low-key affairs. The White Sox take over the Palmer House Hilton in January, during what would have been a dead time in the hotel's occupancy.
It's a surreal experience. I'm pretty sure my Junior Prom was in the Red Lacquer Room. Memories of failed high school romance no longer hang over the room. Instead, it is fogged over by unfulfilled promises of greatness.
"This summer, every Sox fan will want to own a Josh Fields jersey...."
"Mark Teahen's doubles would be home runs at U.S. Cellular..."
"The hardest job on the team is hitting coach..."
That being said, SoxFest is the prefect antidote to a miserable winter (documented!). Unlike previous years, when I spent the weekend at the hotel, I took in the sessions on Saturday morning.
Every day starts with a Q&A with the manager and the general manager. My introduction to the "meet the management" seminar came in 2008, when the first fan question turned out to be a tirade about how the team was unwilling to open up the checkbook for Aaron Rowand.
Kenny Williams didn't have to answer the question. Ed Farmer dispatched the angry fan with a comparison to the deal Torii Hunter had signed with the Angels.
That's the exception to the rule. The Q&A sessions tend to be rather pleasant. The fan questions break down four ways:
- Statements of displeasure.
- Statements of pleasure.
- Passive aggressive sniping.
- Vague stories about encounters with a player years or even decades ago.
After all, if you're spending several hundred dollars to hang around the Palmer House, you can't be too mad at the White Sox organization.
I walked away from the experience with two lasting impressions. Americans, as a group, are out of shape. Pro baseball players, regardless of their talents on the field, are pretty impressive physical specimens. Which is why I am amazed when a guy who can't walk up a flight of stairs without losing his breath rips Alexei Ramirez for his "mental errors" on the field.
This question was asked during a seminar that focused on the Sox' Cuban players - past, present, and future.
There was an obvious language barrier. The only person on the panel who could speak English was Minnie Minoso. Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Jose Abreu had interpreters.
Alexei's answer to the "mental errors" statement was baseball boilerplate. But I wonder how much editing took place between Alexei and the interpreter.
The afternoon panel concerned baseball players and their life on the road. WSCR-AM talk show host Laurence Holmes asked Erik Johnson, Adam Eaton, and Matt Lindstrom about the movies, music, and video games they enjoyed during road trips (SPOILER ALERT: The three youngish white guys liked country music and Will Ferrell movies).
Johnson had a hard time coming out of his shell, and Lindstrom had a number of stock answers.
Which brings us to Eaton.
Adam Eaton may be a short guy, but he has a big personality. Sandwiched between two closed books, Eaton's personality had plenty of room to roam. If I were doing a Baseball-Reference comparison, I would say Eaton's schtick falls somewhere between Aaron Rowand and Nick Swisher.
Baseball is a sport. But it is also entertainment. It is clear that Eaton is going to give ‘em (Sox fans) the old razzle-dazzle.
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He's saying and doing all of the right things. He is embracing his new home. He posed for pictures with fans, and took in his first Blackhawks game last Sunday.
But we saw this movie six years ago.
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If it works, he's a local legend. If he doesn't produce, he's a guy with a big mouth.
Cee Angi of SB Nation has her impressions of Sox Fest:
Saturday morning in the Red Lacquer Room felt like a shareholder meeting where businessmen gather to discuss the trials and tribulations of last year's business, because, in a sense, it was. However, instead of questions being fired by stakeholders -- that is, those who draw financial dividends from success and lose money in failure -- the three men on the stage -- manager Robin Ventura, general manager Rick Hahn, and broadcaster Hawk Harrelson -- were there to field questions not from those who have tangible stakes in the health of the organization, but have made a metaphorical investment nonetheless.
PS - The cream of the National Sporting Press was on hand for Saturday's festivities. It was nice to see Jim, Ken, and Cee.