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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

I'm a Believer!

...less so after Oakland, but what the hell!

Okay, I'll admit it. I was absolutely wrong! The Sox have made a liar out of me, and I love it. It's still far too early in the season to make any blanket statements about how good the Sox might be, but one thing is certain. The Sox are a whole lot better than I imagined they could be.

The first two series on the road scared me as the Sox went 1-2 against both the Mariners and Royals with the bullpen acting as an arson squad. But the Sox righted themselves against the Tigers before coming home and demolishing the O's, Indians, and Tigers. Their three-game sweep of the Indians was extremely impressive, considering they were 11-1 when the series began. They left Chicago like whipped puppies, only to have the Sox do nearly the same thing less than a week later in Cleveland, winning three of four.

The bullpen has done a 180-degree turn. Gary Glover, who couldn't get anyone out in Seattle, worked on his mechanics and suddenly became a good pitcher. Antonio Osuna, although shaky at times, has done the job. Bob Howry, who couldn't seem to get anyone out in spring training is suddenly spotting his pitches, and even though his velocity isn't anywhere near what it was before his surgery (or even last year for that matter), he's getting batters out. Keith Foulke has had a couple of scary outings, but has also gotten the job done.

And who can believe the starting pitching. Mark Buehrle has continued to pitch as well as last year. No sophomore jinx for this guy so far! Todd Ritchie has pitched as well as he has ever pitched in his life. I'll maintain until the day I die that he wasn't worth three pitchers, but he was worth Wells and Lowe for sure. Dan Wright has been inconsistent, but very impressive when he's been on his game. Jon Garland appears to be about ready to fulfill his promise. Until Friday, it looked as if Jon Rauch was worthy of a sendoff by Ann Richardson, but he looks as if he's responding to the pressure of having Jim Parque breathing down his neck for a spot in the rotation.

You might have noticed that Kenny Williams has gotten his name back in this column. The reason is his free-agent signing of Kenny Lofton. Lofton has provided the spark that the Sox offense was lacking last year. He has also shown the futility of trying to use Ray Durham as a leadoff man for the past five years or so. I was worried that Lofton's injuries might have taken their toll, but so far he has proved me wrong. He's made Durham a better player by setting the table for him. I've maintained for years that Durham is a
natural number two hitter, and Lofton's presence makes him even better.

In general the rest of the lineup is pounding the ball, especially Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko. These guys can flat out hit. Jose Valentin's average is down, but he's provided some key hits.

Then there is the defense. Who would have thought that Carlos Lee could improve so much with his glove. From all reports, he's worked hard day in and day out to get his fielding up to par. In fact he's getting close to being a very good left fielder. Who would have thought last September that we'd have seen Lee more than once already in the highlight films? Another surprise is that Jose Valentin has become a very good third baseman. Last year he looked like a fish out of water. This year he looks like he's been playing the position for years.

Those are the positives. Now for the things that scare me:

Frank Thomas has been inconsistent at the plate. I won't be happy until he's hitting .320, and he isn't even close. He's still trying to get comfortable at the plate. Let's hope he's just recovering from missing most of last year and will be back soon. Frank has had poor Aprils at the plate before, but May is almost here.

Carlos Lee is slumping. This guy should be a .300 hitter with power. He slumped most of last year. A sore thumb was the reason given. What's the problem now?

Royce Clayton is again hovering near the Mendoza Line while Joe Crede rots in AAA. Need I say more?

Damaso Marte just plain scary. Kelly Wunsch needs to come back soon and to be as good as he was in 2000.

Jim Parque shot off his mouth in Charlotte and then proved his critics right. He's not ready to pitch yet.  What worries me is that Jerry Manuel will keep bringing him out in close games for him to throw gasoline on the fire. An 85 mph fastball just won't cut it unless the location on your pitches is perfect. Parque didn't show that on Friday.

The good news is that slumps end, and pitchers can find their stuff with enough work. For the 2002 White Sox the positives far outweigh the negatives. I think this is going to be a fun season.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
And now for a rant. We're already hearing garbage from the Chicago media about how poor attendance was for the last two games against the Indians during the recent homestand. Could we have a vote here? How many of us think that winning is far more important than attendance? How many of us realize that they don't give prizes for the attendance race?

That being said, Sox fans need to start showing up at Comiskey Park. If they don't, how long do you think the club will stay in Chicago once the lease on Comiskey Park expires? Nobody says we have to love Jerry
Reinsdorf. Jerry Reinsdorf isn't on the field, though. In fact you don't even have to look at him unless you want to see if he's in his skybox. The Sox are a fun team to watch. These guys can flat out hit, and the pitching is a whole lot better than many of us expected.

Maybe if some of us who haven't been going to the games show up a little more often, the deal you want to see in July for that experienced veteran will come off. If we're not going to the games, do you really think you'll see it happen?

I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but if any of us know Sox fans who aren't going to see them play, it is our duty to get their butts into the seats at Comiskey Park, even if we have to buy the ticket for them.
How about a "Take a Disgruntled Friend to a Game Day"? Maybe that's what we need to do in order to show these folks what they've been missing. It can't hurt!
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
A final note: Several people E-mailed me last week to inform me that I was wrong about the Cubs losing home field advantage in the 1984 NLCS. It was the World Series only in which they would have lost that. Thanks to those of you who pointed this out. At least I know now that somebody reads this column!

 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at nsmf@aol.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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hica



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