The season is heating up as the White Sox prepare to break camp and head North. Only the weather is not heating up, at least not yet.
Journalism students are taught not to bury the lead. Comedians understand not to lead with the punchline. I’m going to do my best to honor both tenets while addressing the title of this post. Why doesn’t Spring Training matter? Because in a week the White Sox will be back in chilly Chicago playing in 40 (if not 30) degree weather.
Think this is trivial? If you’re in Chicago right now reading this, or anywhere Northeast of Arizona, go outside in a t-shirt and stand around for three hours. Right now. See if you do the simplest things differently, let alone run/hit/throw/slide at full tilt like a Major League ballplayer.
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As I wrote this, the temperature was 81 degrees in Glendale, Arizona with an expected high of 87. Also as I wrote, the temperature was 43 degrees in Chicago with an expected high of a whopping 45. Actually not bad for this time of year for Chicago, but arctic-like compared to Arizona.
When I recall a game in cold weather, I remember April 18th, 1990 – the last season in the old Comiskey Park. That game was easy to remember for two reasons. First, Robin Ventura hit his first Major League home run off of Roger Clemens in that game, a no-doubter blast to right center field in the cavernous old park.
Second and what I viscerally remember much more vividly, the temperature was 48 degrees at game time with a 12 mph wind and got colder during the game; it was bone chilling! I was one of the 10,570 fans sat in the stands wearing parkas, scarves, stocking caps and gloves.
Many fans that night also wore Walkman headphones in their ears listening to the Blackhawks playoff game, which seemed right given it felt like we should be watching a winter sport like hockey instead of a summer sport like baseball. This was well before the poor guy Steve Bartmann inadvertently made them fashionable by being terrorized by Cubs fans, but there’s a difference between cold temperatures and cold hearts.
Ouch! That’s cold, bro. Ah, the season must be getting close if the Cubs insults are beginning to flow. But whether we’re talking cold weather or cold shoulder, in Chicago cold means cold.
The Sox will feel it too. We might see the pitching staff suddenly keep the ball in the park and on the ground, inexplicably as if they were holding back in spring. It’s just weather folks. Science! I would also look for fewer innings from the starters to minimize any potential injuries.
This might telegraph that we also see a bit less of Jose Abreu until the hammy is fully healed. Strained muscles aren’t keen on being called to task when they are likely to get cold and stiffen up in the elements. Which is fine – and good to note. Which means easy does it for Jose.
If the weather indeed affects a “small-ball” type of gameplay, I might suggest the Sox bat Adam Engel in the leadoff position to put his speed at the top of the lineup. His on-base abilities provide additional RBI opportunities for Yoan Moncada, versus Moncada leading off and guaranteeing no one on base for at least that first at-bat.
With Opening Day less than a week away, it’s Showtime for the rebuild. This will be both fun and frustrating, and either way super interesting. First, we will be observing individual performances, learnings and hopefully growth. Next, we will get to observe an emergence of how these individuals come together and play together as a team; a fabric of interdependent threads, not a mosaic of independent tiles. Lastly, we will learn a little something about ourselves and what it means to be a Sox fan.
Fans are chomping at the proverbial bit and rearing to go. Patience from the team, as well as fans, is the key. There is no such thing as Instant Championship – Just Add Water. Championship teams take time to develop. The fans have a role in it all by displaying patience and unconditional support.
Ideally, there would be no boo birds this year. What there should be is nothing but enthusiasm, cheers, and applause. These young players and this team will benefit directly from whatever degree of support fans deliver. Whatever that degree turns out to be, it likely will fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of how the team feels about itself and its fan base.
It’s nearly time to don our coats, hats, and gloves – and get on out there. The rebuild is on, and that chilly Chicago weather has the potential to cool things down a bit for all the right reasons.
They say “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” Amen. That should be the theme of the 2018 Chicago White Sox.