On the cool, gray morning of April 18, limousines rolled past old decrepit Comiskey Park, crossed 35th Street, traveling up Bill Veeck Drive, and stopped in front of spectacular new Comiskey Park. This was an important day in Chicago, a city that had not seen a sports facility open in over 60 years. This was an even bigger day for the White Sox, who have grown so much they had to build a bigger, better house.
Donn Pall, a self-proclaimed "South Side guy," a devout White Sox fan for 25 years and now a White Sox relief pitcher, watched the 44,000-seat, $135 million ballpark fill up on its grand opening day. "I don't like to see the limos pull up out front," Pall said. "I hope coming here doesn't become trendy, the way it's trendy to be seen at Wrigley. I don't want that."
He's worried about the White Sox becoming too popular? The White Sox? The team that was minutes from moving to St. Petersburg just three years ago? The team best known for the worst scandal in baseball history (the 1919 Black Sox)? The team that was so bad for so long and yet, unlike the neighboring Cubs, has never been lovable in losing?
Despite Pall's concerns, the South Side White Sox may never wrest control of the city from the northside Cubbies, who have the ivied charms of Wrigley, the lure of day baseball and Harry Caray. But the Sox are gaining on their rivals. Consider:
?In the April 18 editions of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs, who are owned by the Chicago Tribune Company, didn't make page one of the sports section even though they had won five straight games and were in first place.
?National sales of Sox merchandise finished 18th out of 26 teams last year. This season Sox merchandise is red-hot. "I was in a sporting goods store in Tucson recently," says White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, "and I saw our new caps. The guy said they sold them so fast they couldn't keep them in stock. In Tucson."
?This year and for each of the next three years, 50 White Sox games will be televised on Chicago superstation WGN, which carries Cub games.
?Sox reliever Bobby Thigpen actually saw fans wearing Sox caps at Wrigley Field. "Three years ago," says Thigpen, "that never would have happened."
The White Sox are building a following because they are developing players in their organization, a sharp departure from the rent-a-player days of the 1970s under Bill Veeck, the owner at the time. The club's last four No. 1 draft choices-pitcher Jack McDowell, third baseman Robin Ventura, first baseman Frank Thomas and pitcher Alex Fernandez—all have become key players. Until now, Sox fans have had precious few opportunities to watch homegrown talents like Thomas blossom into stars.
But the aforementioned quartet isn't the only reason to watch the Sox. Catcher Carlton Fisk is a walking first-ballot Hall of Famer. Tim (Call Me Rock) Raines, their new leftfielder/DH, could join Fisk in Cooperstown if he has a few more outstanding years. Thigpen set the single-season record for saves (57) last year. Shortstop Ozzie Guillen is the American League's answer to Ozzie Smith.