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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Pre-Fest Frets!
by Hal Vickery

One of the great things about professional sports is that there is always a need to keep that sport up front in the public eye, lest the fans lose interest during the off-season. Baseball is no exception, and in the early ‘90s the owners of several teams found a great way to rev up fan enthusiasm in the dead of winter: the fan convention.

Before the convention, teams used to send caravans to the hinterlands to stir up interest in the months before tickets for the following season went on sale. The team would send a few players and /or former players, a broadcaster and someone from the front office to a local hotel for a banquet, some hype about how good the team would be the next year, and autographs.

I went to one such event in Morris, Illinois in January of 1987. The Sox sent Carlton Fisk, the rookie sensation of the previous year John Cangelosi, who would be in Pittsburgh by the time the ’87 season started, Minnie Minoso, and TV announcer Frank Messer. As an added “treat” they also sent co-mascots Ribbie and Rhubarb to appeal to the kiddies in the audience.

The Sox abandoned the caravan concept sometime not long after that, and a few years later, after seeing the success of the Cubs with their fan convention in downtown Chicago, decided to limit their off-season hype to something they named SoxFest.

Over the years, SoxFest has evolved into a major annual event in the lives of Sox fans. For those interested in what the fans might think of various personnel moves that team general managers have made, all they would have to do is go to one of the management seminars. At those seminars we’ve seen everything from near-unanimous gushing over Ron Schueler’s acquisition of Albert Belle to public ridicule of Kenny Williams for the off-season moves he didn’t make.

Last year’s SoxFest was a gushing session…and why not? The Sox had won their first World Series championship in eighty-eight years. Praise of Kenny Williams was unanimous, not only because of the trophy that rested proudly in one of the hotel ballrooms, but also for the signing of free-agent Jim Thome, the man who would help the Sox repeat for the first time in their history.

That didn’t happen so it should be interesting to see what happens this year at SoxFest. Will the fans be all over Williams’ case because they didn’t repeat, or will they be sympathetic and understanding? Will fans be upset because so far Williams’ only major move was trading away a popular starting pitcher for prospects, or will they be glad that Williams has bolstered not only the weak bullpen but also the farm system with “live arms”?

It should be interesting.

Also of interest will be the new location of SoxFest for this year. After convening at the Hyatt Regency Chicago since 1991 (except for the strike year of 1994), the Sox have changed venues to the Palmer House Hilton. Instead of most of the autograph stages being in the same space as vendors, the autograph stages will now be on a different floor of the hotel than the vendors. I’m sure vendors are concerned that this might reduce traffic to their booths.

Last week everyone who purchased weekend hotel packages received an email with the following somewhat ominous warning:

“Parking in the area of the hotel is limited. As a courtesy to SoxFest attendees, we are offering complimentary parking in Lot A at U.S. Cellular Field and suggest SoxFest guests take the CTA Red Line to the Monroe/State Street stop, which is just steps from the Palmer House Hilton entrance. Parking in Lot A will be available starting on Friday, January 26th at noon and ending Sunday, January 28th at 5pm.”

Was this intended for hotel guests or only for fans who were not staying at the hotel? Do they really expect people to carry their luggage from the parking lot to the Red Line, travel over four miles with it in a Red Line train, and then make the return trip on Sunday?

People who purchased tickets for SoxFest also seem to be concerned that with a smaller venue than in previous years, the overcrowding that was evident last year will repeat itself this year. Those of us who stayed at the Hyatt last year will never forget fans sleeping and on the street, hoping to be among the first to get in. Were tickets limited this year to prevent this from repeating itself?

That’s the problem when an event is held for so many years at one place and then suddenly is moved. There is a degree of uncertainty among everyone who is participating as a client of the people sponsoring the event. Nobody knows what will happen. We’ll have a report on our experiences in two weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There will be no column next week because I’ll be working all weekend in the booth sponsored by the Windy City Sox Fans, not that I won’t get out and check out a few of the seminars and maybe grab some autographs of the former players who will be there. There just isn’t enough time during the weekend to write a column.

While you’re at SoxFest, be sure to find your way to the exhibitors’ floor and look for Booth 5. That’s where we’ll be. If you’d like to become a member of the WCSF, you can join on the spot and become eligible for a raffle to win a Sox jacket.

If you’re already a member or choose not to join, you can always pull a pencil and have a chance to win prizes, including autographed balls, framed autograph pictures, etc., at our “World Famous Pencil Pull.” Each donation of one dollar adds to the donation we will make next January to Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities, earmarked for Children’s Memorial Hospital for treatment and support of kids suffering from cancer.

This year we will also be sharing our booth with author Brett Ballantini, author of The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzie Guillen. Brett has made a donation to the club to share our booth and will be selling and autographing copies.

If nothing else, just stop by and say hi. We’re always glad to chat for a few minutes about Sox baseball and our prospects for 2007. Of course, expect somewhere along the way to get a pitch to sign up for membership in the club. That’s why we’re there – to raise money for our charity.

______________________________________________________________________

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 not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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