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In Park

Bless their hearts, these wonderful White Sox. Before addressing the athletes on the field, let's first focus attention on our hosts, the folks who run operations at Guaranteed Rate Field, or, as it is commonly known here at the Beachwood, The Grate.

My wife and I managed to witness two of last weekend's closely fought games against the Red Sox - the 4-3 nail-biter on Friday night and Sunday's tension-filled 2-1 triumph on Leury García's unexpected, but more than welcome, walkoff four-bagger.

We've probably been to 20 games this season, which might be one reason why my inbox on Saturday morning included a survey sent by the White Sox querying me about my fan experience on Friday. My Saturday mornings are extremely busy with box scores to be scrutinized, a check of the injury list to see which Sox players will be sidelined for the next 10 days, and a perusal of the usual litany of slings and arrows aimed at Tony La Russa on social media. However, I took 10 minutes out of my frenzied morning to fill out the survey.

The first question asked for the year I was born. How rude. I suspect I'm in the top 5 percent of oldest Sox fans. Oh, maybe it's 2 percent.

With time to reflect on the opening question, a tinge of paranoia has developed. The computer or, heaven forbid, the human who analyzes these questionnaires, might immediately conclude: 1) ignore this guy since he won't be around much longer so his opinions matter not in the least, 2) these fossils always think things were better in the good old days, and 3) it's his grandchildren we're trying to attract.

So it was no surprise that the survey's next items asked who accompanied me at the game. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to note that I organized a special outing of 100 of my closest friends and family, ranging in age from 3 to 80. Credibility might have been immediate. But an old guy going to the game with his spouse just ain't very exciting.

From there the survey continued in chronological order. How did I get to the game? How long did it take? What about parking? How efficient was security as we entered The Grate where "Your phone is your ticket?" (I pause here to let the nausea subside.)

How did I like my seats? What about the concessions? Was that $10.25 Modelo a good value? (That's my question.) How much time did I spend waiting in line for concessions? How long did it take to exit The Grate? Would I attend a future game?

Let's revert back to parking for a moment. For years, and until recently, when we drove to the games, we parked in Lot C, entering from 33rd Street just north and a bit west of The Grate. In the infrequent occurrence of a large crowd, we arrived early. Never were we turned away.

This season that scenario has changed. For that Friday night 17-13 fiasco against the Cubs a couple of weeks ago, Lot C and all others closest to The Grate were open only to drivers with a parking coupon. The following Tuesday against the Pirates - announced attendance 19,221 - every parking area was open to all comers.

For that Tuesday game upon entering and paying the $25 fee - more value! - I asked the attendant how to get a spot when The Grate was sold out. "Go online and get a parking coupon," he said.

So that's what I attempted to do last Friday. However, after searching the Sox website for 15 minutes, I finally found information that no more parking coupons will be available for the rest of the 2021 season. Where did they go?

Fishermen are foolish to disclose the best spots for catching fish, but I will buck that trend by revealing that we found places on 31st Street just west of Wentworth. (My wife just called me an a-hole for divulging our secret.) Using the Park Chicago app and extending the time from our seats during the game, our cost was $9.48 up to 10 p.m., the hour when parking becomes free. Granted, we had to walk a half-mile to the ballpark, but that's what old people do. We walk.

My pal Pat's company has season tickets - parking included - for the Sox, but he rarely goes unless the Red Sox, his team of choice, provide the opposition. Two of his buddies even came into town for Friday's game. Since we left home shortly after 5 p.m., we arrived at our seats in a timely fashion, even after eating at the Chisox Grill. On Saturday morning Pat messaged me, "We left downtown at about 5:45. We did not finally park in Lot A until they sent us around the stadium once, then back over to State Street and up 33rd Street. Took our seats in the bottom of the 3rd."

Years ago Sox management advertised that Comiskey Park's lots had room for 20,000 cars. You won't see that promo anytime soon. Parking has become a disaster on the South Side.

A number of questions covered concessions. None asked about vendors who have begun to appear in small numbers compared to pre-pandemic seasons. I still have acquaintances from almost 40 years ago walking the aisles hawking exclusively beer. Soft drinks, hot dogs, ice cream, souvenirs and other fare are available only on the concourses, hence lines tend to be long.

The absence of vendors for most of the season, according to a former colleague, was the unavailability of those handheld gizmos for credit cards. The Grate is a cashless facility. Historically ballpark vendors dealt in cash. Apparently no one in operations or concessions thought to purchase the little computers in a timely manner, and we know how slowly supply chains are moving because of the pandemic. Foresight helps.

Credit card purchases also have made tipping close to mandatory at The Grate and other stadiums. Before sales are completed, both at concession stands and by vendors in the seats, fans have a choice of pressing buttons for tips ranging from 0 to 20 percent. Of course, there is a choice, but most people opt to give some kind of tip to avoid the stigma of being cheap. Besides, few fans go to a ballgame expecting to save a few bucks. They're in a spending mode.

One vendor on Friday night, a chipper 60-year-old guy who has the energy of someone 20 years younger, passed beer down the rows in exchange for fans' credit cards. Holding up the little computer, he shouted, "What about the tip? Twenty percent?" Most often he got a head nod. If not, "Okay, 15 percent, 10 percent?" At no time did the computer leave his possession.

These folks have suffered as much or more than anyone the past couple of years. Those who vend full-time basically lost their jobs along with millions of other workers. Judging by the scarcity of vendors at The Grate, many men and women have left the profession. So if that $10.25 Modelo had another two dollars tacked on for a tip, so be it.

My strategy targets drinking a beer or two before the first pitch so that trips to the men's room don't run the risk of missing a Luis Robert double or a José Abreu RBI. In addition, fans are asked to mask up on the concourses and bathrooms. Forget it. The vast majority are bare-faced.

Meanwhile, the action on the field at The Grate also has changed in the sense that this is a very good team compared to the rebuild just a few seasons ago. The Sox have an opportunity to clinch the Central Division title this week as their magic number is nine. Two sub-.500 teams will provide the competition for three-game series', beginning with the Angels at home followed by a weekend set at Texas.

The Sox closest "pursuer," Cleveland, has lost eight of its last 10 games. In a three-game sweep at home against the Brewers over the weekend, the Indians not only were no-hit on Saturday but experienced one stretch, beginning Friday and ending Sunday, when they went a collective 0-for-46. The Tribe was outscored 24-4 in the three games. If that's not waving a white flag, I don't know what is.

At this point, the White Sox are playing for the second seed, which would give them home-field advantage against the Houston Astros in a five-game series beginning October 7. This morning the Sox trail the Astros by a game-and-a-half.

Much has been emphasized about the Sox's poor record against teams above .500. However, after taking two of three against Boston, they are 15-10 at The Grate against winning clubs versus 10-19 on the road. La Russa appears more interested in resting his regulars than in catching and passing Houston, and there is no indication that this pattern won't continue. The Sox lost four straight in Houston in June and then beat the Astros two of three at The Grate in July. The Astros' 28-23 record since the All-Star break is better than the Sox's 28-26, but neither team has overwhelmed the competition.

Tim Anderson is scheduled to return to the lineup for Tuesday's game, although García has filled in admirably, playing solid defense at shortstop while hitting in clutch situations as he did Sunday. The Sox are 7-5 in TA's absence.

One has to wonder whether Garcia will see action at second base before the season ends. Since coming over from Cleveland in a trade deadline deal, Cesar Hernandez has slashed .211/.289/.571 with three homers and eight RBI. In the same time frame, García's slash is .293/.355/.794 with a couple of home runs and 10 RBI. Hernandez won a Gold Glove in 2020, but, as mentioned, Leury also is a legitimate defender.

In the pitching department, La Russa also could have an interesting choice to make. Craig Kimbrel gave up game-tying runs both Saturday and Sunday, the first coming in the eighth inning and the second in a ninth-inning save situation.

Meanwhile, Michael Kopech entered Saturday's eventual 9-8 loss in the fifth inning. Before exiting in the top of the seventh, Kopech had faced eight batters against the formidable Red Sox, retiring seven of them - he walked one - and striking out five. The Red Sox were helpless against the young fireballer. Might Kopech be a reasonable set-up man for closer Liam Hendriks? La Russa doesn't figure to make that move, but having Kopech in any situation seems like a luxury few other managers enjoy.

Between now and the end of the season, the Sox have three days off, and then another three before the beginning of the division series. Barring further adversity, the fellows should be healthy and ready to face Houston whether it be at home or in Texas.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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