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Are South Side Fans Pathetic?

The train wreck of a homestand that ended mercifully last Thursday was no surprise to anyone following the White Sox this season. Maybe it's arrival came later than one might have figured, but sooner or later our beloved athletes were destined to plummet in a strikingly similar fashion to the stock market last week.

It wasn't complicated by unemployment, the debt ceiling, or trouble with the European economy. This crisis is plain and simple: The boys have an offense that's broken. For months the sublime message to the starting pitchers has been, "Okay, guys, there's your one or two runs. Now go out there and try to be perfect."

It's a poor formula. In six straight losses to the Red Sox and Yankees, the Sox bats continued their season-long slumber by scoring just 16 times. But the pitchers - think they feel any pressure?- stumbled and yielded 49 tallies to the Eastern Division's elite tandem. It wasn't pretty.

None of the Yankee games drew 30,000, feeding the second-class status image that seems to dog the Sox. The Tribune's Eric Zorn blogged that Sox fans are "pathetic." Across town, the Cubs and Astros, arguably the two worst teams in civilization, drew 120,000 for their three-game set two weeks ago.

Sox fans aren't pathetic; they're discerning. Build a good product, and they will come. Most of them are not impressed by the between-inning promotions, the fireworks (unless the occasion is a home run), the $70 seats, and the failure to score runners from second base with no one out.

Don't misunderstand: Management shouldn't be chastised for trying to be all things to all people. A crime isn't committed by attempting to provide as much entertainment as possible; for trying to devise ways to put fannies in the seats.

However, unlike on the North Side, it's not the overall experience. It's primarily the baseball experience which captures the heart and soul of Sox fans. When that features four or five hits a game, they stay away.

That being said, we were at The Cell for Games 1 and 4 against the Yankees. One figured that beating C.C. Sabathia was a near impossibility on Monday, but the 3-2 loss was as close as the Sox would get in the series.

You can thank Jake Peavy, who pitched seven strong innings, while the offense - despite 10 hits off Sabathia - sputtered as usual. In a new twist, Gordon Beckham and A.J. Pierzynski each were doubled-off second base on Brent Morel's medium-hit line drives in the infield.

But we had a lot fun. In the second inning, I noticed on the Jumbotron that Jake Leinenkugel was being interviewed at the Leinenkugel beer kiosk behind Section 534 on the upper deck concourse.

Whaddya know? We were seated in Section 534, so I bolted down the steps to meet Jake.
Jake Leinenkugel.jpg

Let me explain. I spent 20 summers in the North Woods of Wisconsin working at and directing a summer boys' overnight camp in the hamlet of Lake Nebagamon. I first quaffed a Leinenkugel pint in 1975 in a roadside bar when the brand was known solely by cheeseheads.

So I had to introduce myself to Jake, tell him how great he looks in those Leinie ads - the campfire is such a nice touch - and ask him whether he, in fact, lives in Chippewa Falls.

Turns out he does, and he has fished many times in Lake Nebagamon. He even informed me that the black flies this summer on the Brule River are especially fierce.

Jake may be a beer magnate, but he's also a regular guy just as the ads depict. But that's not all. I returned to the seats but sat in the empty row - many rows in the upper deck were sparsely populated - in front of a friend in our group so we could talk. Within a couple of minutes a man and woman climbed the steps toward us. He looked familiar but I couldn't place him. I was sure I had seen him on television, and my brain was in full throttle trying to identify this guy.

There were two empty seats to my right. The woman went past, and this fellow sat down beside me. As soon as he did, the light went on. I was sitting next to the governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn. Having consumed a couple of Jake Leinenkugel's finest lager, I debated whether to strike up a conversation with the Guv.

"Hey, Governor, looks like the Sox might get to C.C., wouldn't you say?" I'm dialoguing in my head. It also occurred to me that I had as good a seat as the governor this August evening. (Later I discovered that Quinn has been an upper deck season-ticket holder for a number of seasons.)

I decided to cool it. If the guy wanted to be seen or talked to, he probably would have been sitting near the Sox dugout, the usual location for politicians and celebrities. He also had a bodyguard sitting two rows behind us and another stationed below at the exit.

Besides, he was sitting next to the White Sox blogger for the Beachwood Reporter. Why shouldn't he have initiated the conversation?

After an inning or so, the holder of the seat next to the governor showed up so I watched the remainder of the game in my seat, wishing beyond hope that the Sox could score more than two runs.

* * *

The largest crowd of the homestand was the Monday night game against Detroit. Half-price tickets swelled the gate to 37,000, all of which tells us what we already knew: People won't pay upwards of $50 to watch this team.

Management seems well aware of this fact. For instance, we received a flyer in the mail last week advertising cut-rate prices for the September 13 game against the Tigers. It just happens that this is a game for which my wife Judy already had purchased 16 seats behind the plate in the upper deck for $27 apiece.

She is a hard-working board member for Camp of Dreams (COD), a non-profit organization that takes kids from North Lawndale to a Michigan camp for three weeks in the summer while offering enrichment activities - both academic and recreational - two Saturdays a month throughout the year. The Sox-Tiger game will be a mini-fundraiser where folks pay $100 per ticket with the balance supporting COD.

Then the mailing arrived offering the same seats for $13.50!

She called the Sox ticket office and eventually was connected to John Margelewski, Manager of New Business Development and Online Sales. Judy wasn't expecting much, but, boy, was she mistaken. John wanted to make this right.

"If you're having a silent auction, we can give you an autographed jersey," Margelewski said, "or we can comp 10 tickets in the row behind the ones you already have."

Needless to say, each of those additional 10 tickets will bring in the full $100 for Camp of Dreams. If you'd like to join us, simply e-mail Judy here.

Now that the Sox swept the Twins over the weekend, that September 13 game against the front-running Tigers just may mean something. And you never know who you'll see in the upper deck behind the plate.

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