Last year, I visited Paris at not the most ideal time for a Chicago White Sox fan. While I fell in love with the City of Lights, it came at a time when the White Sox were ending their 2014 season, which was also the end of Paul Konerko's career. While it was my fault for planning an European excursion during that time, I lucked out by meeting a die-hard White Sox fan in Paris who knew this Canadian sports bar, and we watched the season finale together thousands of miles away.
This time, I got to play the local, as Rich Pearson ventured his way to Chicago in June. He had read my European adventure and decided that I would be an expert on all things White Sox fans abroad should experience while visiting the South Side.
Of course, all Sox fans should make a pit stop at Cork and Kerry’s. Schaller’s Pump and Turtles are really good choices too. I can write 1,000 words about where to eat and drink while staying in Chicago. I was well prepared to help Rich have an absolute blast visiting Chicago.
There was one thing he mentioned in his first email to me that I had difficulty with: "Try to meet players for autographs." Now, I’m not an autograph hound, nor do I know the best time to get them from players while at the stadium. If you love getting autographs and meeting White Sox players, I highly recommend attending SoxFest because it's much easier to do so. Of course, its June and one would have to be out of their mind to visit Chicago from London in January, so that’s not the best suggestion for Rich.
Instead, to help make his White Sox experience the best it could possibly be, I reached out to friend of the podcast Brooks Boyer. I told Brooks about Rich’s travels and how he wanted the ultimate Sox experience, figuring that this would give the team great publicity.
Working with Brad Boron, the White Sox' director of digital communications, we decided that surprising Rich was the way to go. Brad reached out to Rich and before the game against Pittsburgh on June 18, he extended an invitation to join the team for batting practice.
I had the wonderful opportunity to take in a couple of games with Rich and his lovely wife, Isobel, during their short stay, and like I did with ParisSox, I picked at his brain and heart on being a baseball fan overseas.
For starters, Rich has a really cool job. He works for Arsenal.
Josh Nelson: How did you become a White Sox fan?
Rich Pearson: I became a Sox fan through my father. He worked in Chicago back in 2003. His boss there was a huge Sox fan and he gave my father a Sox jersey to bring home to me. I started reading about it and then discovered MLB.tv. The first full season I watched was 2005, which of course was an amazing year to be a Sox fan! After that I was hooked. My favorite player all-time is Paulie, and at the moment it's Chris Sale. I have much love for other past players though, especially Aaron Roward, Scotty P and Joe Crede.
JN: How often do you watch the White Sox on MLB.TV?
RP: I generally watch all afternoon games on MLB.tv, as they start around 7 p.m. in the UK. I would say I watch around 30-40 full games a year. For the rest, I watch the condensed game the day after.
JN: Now you and Isobel have an Opening Day tradition. What is it?
RP: Opening day is a big thing in my house. It's also my favorite day of the year. My wife and I cook awesome American food, get in lots of beers and sit down to watch the game.
JN: What was it like meeting Robin Ventura?
RP: Meeting Robin Ventura was an awesome and pretty surreal experience. He was very friendly and seem genuinely interested to hear my story. I really wanted to ask him about the fight with Nolan Ryan, but didn't pick up the nerve to do it!
JN: What is England’s affiliation with baseball? Do they watch? Do they play? Do they even care about the sport?
RP: Baseball doesn't have a huge following in England at all. There is however a national league, but it's amateur level and doesn't exactly draw big crowds. I think it would be difficult for MLB to take off in England the way NFL has, but there is a big lack of exposure to the game. I think a series here (similar to the Dodgers series in Australia) would be a great way to start.
JN: We've seen MLB have regular season games overseas. Do you think it's worthwhile to have teams play games in Europe?
RP: I do believe that a series in England would certainly help with bringing baseball to the UK. It would need to be two high profile times, such as Red Sox/Yankees, to draw enough interest from people who don't regularly follow MLB.
JN: Can you describe the differences taking in a game at Emirates vs. U.S. Cellular Field?
RP: There is a big, big difference between a live soccer game in the UK and a Sox game. Live baseball is a much more relaxed event, with a festival-like atmosphere. It's about a fun day out, beers, food, spending time with your friends and family. Soccer is all about the game, and there is strictly no beer allowed whilst in the stands watching the game. The other big difference is baseball has no fan segregation. Fans of both teams being mixed in together is a great thing and suits the game of baseball very well. It leads to a fun atmosphere with a lot of good-natured banter. At soccer games, rival fans are always segregated by a heavy security presence and can often become hostile.
JN: Who would be comparable to the White Sox in the Premiership?
RP: The White Sox are a team that could always win, but most of the time don't! I would say that in recent years, the Sox would compare to a team like Liverpool. A lot of quality players who are capable of winning a lot of games, but struggle to fire on all cylinders at once.
JN: If White Sox fans visit London during the season, are there any pubs that broadcast the games?
RP: I unfortunately have never found any pubs in London showing White Sox games! There is a franchise sports bar in Central London called The Sports Cafe, who will occasionally show MLB games, but it will be the luck of the draw for it to be the Sox.