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The cool 1994 version of Melissa in her jean cut off shorts and big ponytail.
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

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Put White Sox Spring Training on your bucket list

You’ll experience things you never will during the regular season

Sitting on a heating pad with a sunburn is a little strange — the sunburn is my souvenir from my recent trip to White Sox Spring Training in Arizona. I always wear sunscreen, but I forget to reapply, and my Illinois fair skin gets fried. It’s a small price to pay for the excitement of watching my favorite team prepare for another 162.

This was my third trip to see the Sox in Spring Training, and I wanted to write up a call to action for fellow fans who have never attended to put it on their bucket list. The baseball games themselves may be meaningless, but I guarantee the memories you make sure won’t be. You never know what you’re going to see or experience! There are so many unique possibilities.

You never know what special moment you’ll experience
During three very different decades of my life, I’ve ventured into the Florida and Arizona sunshine. March 1994 was my first foray into Spring Training. I was a 22-year-old college senior traveling with a handful of sorority sisters to Sarasota. I know it’s not your typical destination for college spring breakers, but we had a free place to stay, and it was warm. When I heard our free place to stay was Sarasota, I knew I needed to talk my friends into attending a White Sox game. They were great about it, and agreed to spend part of our little money on tickets. There was a bit of extra energy and excitement around Spring Training that year. The Sox had just come off their 1993 playoff season, and a particular basketball player was making his debut.

Lucky for me, we chose March 14 as our game. As some may know, this date holds a special place in White Sox history. It was Michael Jordan’s first professional hit — an infield single down the third-base line. In addition to that extraordinary moment, we could get up close with the players and easily get autographs and chit-chat. Plus, we met so many fun fans from all over the country. Through the years, I’ve had many fantastic White Sox experiences, and this is one that still sits in my Top 10.

Forgive the horrible quality, that’s MJ heading to the dugout after batting practice
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

There’s always excitement about the possibilities
A decade later, as a young and tired mom of a one-year-old, I went with a girlfriend on a short trip to Arizona in March 2003 to visit a friend of ours. Of course, if I was going to be in Arizona, there was a must-stop for me in Tuscon to see the Sox in Spring Training. Much of the buzz at that camp was around newly acquired right-handed closer Billy Koch, the first reliever to start his career with four 30-save seasons, and up-and-coming young star Joe Borchard. Who knew that both would be complete busts? But the excitement was palpable, and it’s always in abundance in Spring Training.

Me and Joe Borchard - and I know, the hair. There’s a story there. I’m sure I’ll write about it at some point.
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

However, another young star was running into walls and stealing hearts, Mr. Aaron Rowand. While the two I mentioned above didn’t work out, Rowand, of course, ended up being an integral part of the 2005 World Series team.

Aaron ‘Crash’ Rowand
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

Sharing the experience with young people in your life
Finally, 20 years since my last visit, I’ve just returned from Spring Training 2023. This time, I was lucky enough to experience it through the eyes of my 17-year-old son. In addition to spending quality time together in this ever-busy world, we bonded over so many cool moments. Autographs and photos of our favorite players were extremely easy to get at Camelback Ranch, and we got many of them. The complex in Glendale is beautiful, and very fan-friendly. Some other highlights included a Jermaine Dye sighting, Liam Hendriks speeding by at 40 mph in a golf cart, and watching Yaz walking around the complex with his children.

Yasmani Grandal and his children
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

While the baseball is exhibition in Spring Training, the experience is genuine. If you want to add another layer to your White Sox fandom, start planning your trip to Glendale in 2024 now! You won’t regret it.

Sage and I at Goodyear Ballpark
Melissa Sage-Bollenbach

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