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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Respect -- The Hard Way

by
Guy Bacci

With every absurdly miraculous walk-off win that happens in Detroit, the pressure mounts for the 2006 Chicago White Sox. The defending champs need some divine intervention to overcome a nine-game hole in two months. And with their pitching staff continuing to look nothing better than mediocre, the odds are stacked against them. But what may be getting lost amongst all the stress and anxiety and excitement is the fact that the White Sox finally have earned respectóboth nationally and locally.

An article this week in the Tribune pointed to a sports marketing survey that showed the Sox on par with the Cubs and Bears for town popularityósomething Sox fans may have only dreamed about a few years ago. The Sox have jumped to 53-percent in awareness, up from 35-percent just two years ago. The Bears and Cubs are just a few percentage points higher at 56. The Sox are nearly on pace with the Cubs in per-game attendance, about 36,000 compared to 39,000 on the North Side.

The cynics will say this just shows how far behind the Sox are, needing a World Series to get close to the Cubs while still not passing them. But for a team that lost huge chunks of its fan base due to bad TV deals and an owner heavily involved in labor disputes, not to mention suffering from lack of community growth around the stadium, an 18-percent swing in awareness in two years is a massive jump.

More importantly, it could have lasting effects down the road, which is something this column has been touting for a while now. Most of us became Sox fans during our impressionable young years. The kids of today will remember World Series glory and become the Sox fans of tomorrow.

The national media, for once, seems to consider the White Sox a major team in a major city. There arenít any snide remarks these days about nobody caring on the South Side. As we suspected all along, the Sox fans were out there, they just needed a reason to show up. Too bad the national media refused to believe it.

U.S. Cellular isnít Wrigleyville. Itís not a frat boyís paradise. You either go to watch a good ballgame, or you donít go at all. The improvements to the ballpark have certainly helped, but those of us who have lived in other parts of the country continue to claim that there are many magnificent parks out there, and unfortunately, U.S. Cellular isnít one of them. All the more reason the product on the field needs to deliver.

And deliver it has, bringing out more Sox fans than ever. The WSI message board is filled with threads about fans traveling to road games and being astounded at the number of black-and-silver caps and t-shirts in attendance. I saw it in Seattle last April, and it has continued throughout the season across the country.

Sox PR man Brooks Boyer knows itís not about one Chicago team beating the other. Itís about Chicago being a fantastic sports town that has always been capable of supporting two baseball teams. "I don't know if I'd say it would be a Sox town yet," Boyer said. "If anything, I'd call it Baseball Town USA. New York and L.A. might draw more total fans, but they also have more population to draw from. So it's not like what's happening here."

Thatís why it was so baffling to see the national media treat the White Sox championship with such apathy. Maybe they had Red Sox hangover, or maybe theyíre too blinded by Cubbie hype. But the Sox have changed things with their play on the field, and thatís exactly the way Sox fans want it to be. Sox fans have never whined about curses or lack of respect. They just waited patiently (okay, sometimes not-so-patiently) for their team to win, and they were rewarded.

Now itís time to reap the rewards, one of which is enjoying a pennant chase in August and September. Sure, itís going to be a tough road for the í06 Sox. But think of how many times weíve been forced to focus on Bears training camp by mid-August because our baseball teams were toast. At the very least, the Sox will give us something else to worry about in the dog-days of summer other than Cedric Bensonís shoulder.

Chicago talking just as much about Javier Vazquezís curveball as Rex Grossmanís latest scrimmage?

Now thatís something worth smiling about.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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