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Cycling Back to the South Side

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The baseball landscape in Chicago is shifting, and the White Sox are in a prime position to re-establish dominance in the marketplace

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Chris Sale trade happened during the winter meetings in December 2016. Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana soon followed the club’s ace out the door, and the first major rebuild of the Williams/Hahn era was in full swing. Hahn’s club was “mired in mediocrity” no longer, as the reset button had officially been pushed.

What came next was difficult for White Sox fans of the casual variety. The team went 101-284 over the next three seasons, while prioritizing scouting and development and eschewing the success of the big league operation.

Tim Anderson and José Abreu were biding their time in Chicago and hoping for better days. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López took some lumps in the majors. Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Michael Kopech were percolating in the minor leagues. Andrew Vaughn was an afterthought. Promise and intrigue was palpable throughout the organization, but the big league product suffered — intentionally.

Beat reporters for the most prominent publications in town started covering the minor leagues and focusing on prospects within the White Sox’s budding farm system. Some publications stopped caring about Chicago’s American League club and didn’t even cover them daily. ESPN Chicago didn’t employ a beat writer for the team, and they still don’t have someone on that beat despite being the radio home of the club. The Chicago Tribune shifted Mark Gonzales to the Cubs beat and moved Colleen Kane into their minivan of Bears coverage.

A bevy of new blogs and podcasts began, and they became the pre-eminent source of news for a fanbase craving information about what was happening within the organization. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs were more popular than ever with a plethora of home-grown, aesthetically-pleasing star players who led the franchise to their first world championship in more than 100 years.

Coverage is starting to shift again, but this time it’s moved nine miles south. It’s often argued that the media doesn’t care about the White Sox and while there’s some truth to that sentiment, winning sells and outlets generally plan accordingly. The Chicago Tribune added a full-time beat writer to cover the White Sox in advance of the 2020 season. Maddie Lee, who was covering the Chicago Cubs for NBC Sports Chicago, has recently been shifted to the White Sox beat.

This week, the Score announced that daytime producers and hosts of the Locked on Sox podcast, Herb Lawrence and Chris Tannehill, will host postgame shows in the playoffs following White Sox games. It’s a significant development for the flagship station of the Chicago Cubs. James Fegan of The Athletic does a tremendous job covering the White Sox, but the publication could use a second writer for the biggest baseball story in town. Also, it’s a crime that the esteemed Gonzales — who covered the White Sox for more than a decade, including the 2005 World Series — doesn’t have a full-time gig writing about the surging White Sox somewhere in this city.

Anderson has effectively changed the game. Abreu has solidified himself on the pantheon of franchise icons at first base. There’s an exciting young core of interesting players running roughshod on 35th and Shields, while the organization displays the best pitching staff in the American League. The franchise has the best collection of uniforms in the sport, and the ballpark giveaways are suited to increase the enjoyment of young fans coming through the turnstiles.

There has been a noticeable shift in the southwest suburbs and throughout the Chicagoland area. White Sox stuff is everywhere. This area was consumed by blue and red for most of the previous decade, and that fact shouldn’t surprise anyone. As an educator and coach in the southwest suburbs, the abundance of White Sox apparel worn in schools and other areas has been a pleasant surprise. The popularity of this ball club is encouraging, and the opportunity is ripe for real change.

Die-hard Cubs fans aren’t going to just switch allegiances due to an aging core of champions being discarded across the country. Children might become lifelong White Sox fans, though. When I was a child, I rooted for both teams at times, and my extended family was littered with observers of both teams. I fell in love with Frank Thomas and became hooked forever. And there are lots of players to fall in love with on this current version of the White Sox.

Roblox and YouTube offer kids the chance to follow baseball in their own ways, and the fun team assembled on the South Side lends itself to this recent phenomenon. The White Sox have been the second team in the second city and while that won’t change overnight, the public swaying has begun.

The general manager of the team is welcoming to all.

“We are open for anyone to come in and root for the White Sox,” Rick Hahn says. “We think there are a lot of fun times to be had watching this squad, not only over the next few months but the next few years. It would be a shame for anyone to miss out. Welcome aboard.”

The ratings for White Sox baseball are up on NBC Sports Chicago which is easily accessible in the marketplace — far outpacing those of the moribund Cubs. Attendance has been up at the ballpark, and ownership has spent money on roster upgrades in-season. The club was featured in the Field of Dreams game, in addition to a host of other nationally-televised contests on multiple networks.

There’s a real opportunity on the horizon for the White Sox to capitalize on this success and increase the exposure of their brand in a positive way. Middle schools across the state are packed with kids wearing black and white, and future years will decide whether they stay on board.

The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and New England Patriots weren’t brands until the winning started. It doesn’t take much for the tide to turn. High tides do in fact raise all boats, and the White Sox organization should be in the captain’s chair going forward.

Will they capitalize on the opportunity? Multiple division titles and playoff appearances over the next few years will go a long way toward accomplishing the goal.