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International Men Of Mystery

What a glorious Fourth of July. The rain finally stopped, Chris Sale was on top of his game, emerging Sox legend Jose Abreu slammed yet another homer and icon Paul Konerko drove one into the left-field stands exciting the almost-30,000 fans who jammed The Cell. Along with beer, hot dogs and fireworks, the 7-1 Sox win over Seattle was absolutely delightful. Not even the perpetually-annoying Wave dampened the euphoria of possibly the White Sox best performance of the season.

Of course, the celebration of our country's birth included both the national anthem before the game and "God Bless America" for the seventh-inning stretch. Red, white and blue bunting decorated the walls while the four mildly confused teenagers sitting behind us - apparently remnants of the World Cup jubilation - chanted, "USA, USA, USA," most of the game.

Meanwhile, on the field, Cubans, Venezuelans, Dominicans, and one player each from Japan, Colombia and Brazil sprinkled the rosters of the Sox and Mariners. Of the 50 players, 18 were born in a country other than the USA.

The melting pot on the diamond is as visible as it is riding the "El." Decades ago the names were DiMaggio, Wagner, Lazzeri, Greenberg and Gehrig, all of whom had immigrant parents. In last weekend's series with the Mariners, the standouts included Abreu, Hernandez, Noesi, Cano and Rodney.

The politicians in Washington would be as likely to have a friendly beer with the fellas in Havana or Caracas as Adam Dunn would be laying a bunt down third base, but none of that makes a difference in baseball. If a guy can hit, run or pitch, the welcoming arms of major league baseball - and America - are open for him. We should be thankful beyond words that the bus - or plane, train or limo - that brought Jose Abreu to the South Side wasn't stymied like those buses filled with Central Americans in Murrieta, California.

The mothers and their children experiencing a humanitarian crisis with no more than the clothes on their backs are challenged at the border while a gifted athlete like Abreu, who just may be the planet's best hitter this side of Miguel Cabrera, is welcomed and rewarded with millions to play ball. To state the obvious, we have a conflicting dichotomy.

However, Commissioner Bud Selig is fond of telling stories illustrating that baseball has been ahead of the curve when it comes to social issues. At a luncheon last winter, he talked about being a 23-year-old sitting in the upper deck in Milwaukee as Hank Aaron was carried off the field by his white teammates after a game-winning home run while at the same time black kids in Little Rock were being threatened as they inched toward the doors of Central High School.

Selig might be correct in his assessment that baseball is one of our more progressive institutions. As of Opening Day this season, approximately 26 percent of major league roster spots were occupied by international players. The Dominican Republic accounted for 83 players, while the Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts is the lone player from Aruba. Hundreds more dot the rosters of minor league teams.

The Sox Dominican right-hander Hector Noesi, who was cut loose by the Mariners earlier this season, continued to solidify his No. 4 status in the Sox rotation - please, no snickers - on Sunday with 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball in what turned out to be a 1-0 Sox victory.

Unlike in Saturday's 14-inning 3-2 loss to the Mariners, relievers Eric Surkamp and Jake Petricka were able to protect the slim lead for Noesi's third victory. Despite getting only a single by Abreu and a double by catcher Adrian Nieto - one of the team's four Cuban-born players - the Sox were able to snag the win with a first-inning run that came across on a wild pitch.

After 13 starts, Noesi now has a 3-5 record and an ERA of 4.22, with 30 walks and 59 strikeouts in just short of 75 innings. Not dazzling, but on a team with nothing much past Sale, John Danks and Jose Quintana, Noesi will be around for awhile.

Quintana was even better on Saturday, departing with two outs in the eighth inning of a scoreless tie. The Colombian lefty had given up just four hits, walked one, and fanned 10. The Sox nicked superstar King Felix Hernandez - did I mention he's from Venezuela? - for two runs in the bottom of the eighth before Surkamp and Zach Putnam coughed it up in the ninth as Seattle tied the score at 2.

Sale was never challenged on Friday. With the Sox leading 7-0, manager Robin Ventura visited the mound in the ninth inning after Robinson Cano doubled. For once Ventura was cheered, letting Sale pitch a complete game to the delight of the fans. Seattle, which came to town as winners of 40 of their last 65 games, scored a run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, but Sale walked no one and fanned 12. Dayan Viciedo, rumored to be traded to Seattle in a trade deadline deal, smacked a solo home run in the fourth inning to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.

Sale benefited from six left-handed hitters in the Mariners lineup. Coming into the game, lefties had just four hits in 45 at-bats against the Sox ace, who ran his record to 8-1.
Seattle simply doesn't have any right-handed hitting - that's why they're interested in Viciedo - so manager Lloyd McClendon stated the obvious, "Left-handed, right-handed, it really doesn't make a difference. Our lefties for the most part this year have handled lefties pretty good. This guy was special tonight and you tip your hat to him."

Actually those six hitters did quite well, collecting four hits in 21 at-bats.

The 2-1 series win gave our athletes a split of their six-game homestand. They dropped a doubleheader against the Angels on Tuesday before bouncing back for a 3-2 walkoff win on Wednesday on a pinch-hit single by Leury Garcia - yet another Dominican - through the Angels' five-man infield. In this one, Danks gave up late-inning solo homers to David Freese and Josh Hamilton after being staked to a 2-0 lead. But Danks was just terrific, striking out 10 as his ERA shrank to 4.12.

The Angels series was marked with some weirdness by the weather and an old-fashioned twilight night doubleheader for which the Sox ticket office was ill-prepared.

Chicagoans were treated to a new weather phenomenon on Monday, a Derecho. As far as I can determine, this means high winds, possible tornado, punishing rain, lightning, hail and general havoc. And the weather prognosticators were predicting all this to hit The Cell right about game time. Ya think the Sox might have called the game, say, around 4 p.m.? The Derecho delivered as advertised and, with fans in the park, the game was called around 7:15, necessitating a twinbill the next day starting at 4.

Maybe 500 spectators were in The Cell for Noesi's first pitch on Tuesday. Meanwhile, as many as 2,000 were lined up at the only 10 ticket windows open, trying to exchange Monday's rain checks for Tuesday's doubleheader. I was one of them.

After not moving for 10 minutes, I called the Sox switchboard to inform them that treating the faithful in such a shabby manner was unprofessional and rude. Well, maybe not in those words. The intrepid woman who answered the phone said, yes, they knew there was a problem. It was the computers that were messing up the process. That's like blaming it on the dog.

We retreated across the street to the so-called ChiSox Bar and Grill where we saw on TV Abreu's first-inning three-run homer, which was all the offense the Sox could muster until the ninth inning in an 8-4 loss. Along about the third inning, ticket windows on the north side of 35th Street opened. Could it be the team didn't want to pay extra wages so that all windows could have been open before Game 1?

Whatever the reason, the only doubleheaders today are day-night affairs - scheduled because of rainouts - as opposed to the two-for-one twinbills of my youth. Tuesday was the exception, and it wasn't fan-friendly. The Sox 7-5 loss in the nightcap didn't help matters.

Salvaging one win against the Angels the next day helped assuage the doubleheader woes, and the Fourth of July provided much more excitement than just fireworks.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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