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Super Heroes, Surveys & Service

The White Sox returned home last week to resume their post-All-Star Game swoon, losing five of seven contests to the Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins. Apparently the fellows can't beat anyone these days, seeing as the Marlins have baseball's worst record while the Twins are clinging to the American League Central Division lead with the third-best record in the AL.

However, that was only a portion of the story on the South Side.

Monday marked the unveiling of the protective netting from foul pole to foul pole in the lower deck. The 11th Annual Sox Serve Week was celebrated, emphasizing the community outreach of the organization. Weekend games against the Twins - a 5-1 victory on Saturday and an 11-1 drubbing on Sunday - drew 61,680 fans to The Grate.

Finally, the lone hero Sunday turned out to be an eight-year-old kid whose earnest "Let's Go Sox" emanating from behind the Sox dugout when the team was trailing 9-1, got him a TV interview and a ball from manager Ricky Renteria inscribed with, "Thank you, keep it going."

When the ballclub is losing 5-0 after five batters in the top of the first inning as it was on Sunday, where else is there to look?

Well, you could begin with Ivan Nova, the one guy who had a splendid seven days. He picked up the victories in the only games the team won last week, beating the Marlins 9-1 on Monday in a complete game effort and baffling the mighty Twins on Saturday over six innings in an eventual 5-1 win before 34,085 ecstatic fans. In 15 innings, the 32-year-old veteran allowed just one earned run and six hits.

This from a guy whose ERA this season once was over eight and who yielded 10 earned runs in 10-plus innings in his previous two starts. In addition, the Twins on Thursday went over the 200-homer mark for the season becoming the fastest team in history to reach that plateau. They beat the previous record by 19 games!

Nova used a combination of off-speed deliveries and excellent control - he walked only one - while allowing just two hits. To quote Harold Baines, evidently Nova has discovered some of the magic he's used to win 84 major league games.

The one drawback from Nova's notable week centers on teams looking for starting pitching - the Brewers, for example - at the trade deadline, which will expire on Wednesday. The scouts may have been at The Grate to observe closer Alex Colome, but Nova now could receive some attention. Nevertheless, he's still Ivan Nova, who doesn't figure to bring much talent in return if the Sox decide to move him.

While Nova appears headed in one direction, Lucas Giolito is going in another. He was the victim of the Twins' outburst on Thursday, giving up four homers and seven runs in five innings. July has been a depressing month for the All-Star pitcher. In four starts, Lucas is 0-3 with a 7.06 ERA. A year ago Giolito was ineffective because he walked too many people. That hasn't been the case in his recent slump as his strikeouts (29) far outnumber his walks (9). He's simply thrown too many pitches that are getting hit.

This wouldn't be as awful if Giolito's mates were giving him heftier support. Consider Boston's Rick Porcello. The New York Times' Tyler Kepner pointed out Sunday that Porcello's ERA over his last four starts is 7.54, yet the Red Sox righty has won all four decisions. Must be nice.

Yoan Moncada supplied most of the other pleasant happenings by hitting his 20th home run Saturday evening along with two doubles as he continues to hit right around .300 while playing a lot better at third base than he did at second last season.

Going back to activities off the field, Renteria, a few players, and other organization personnel went to the Englewood home of 91-year-old veteran Charles Griffea to spruce up a few rooms with new paint and make house repairs as part of Sox Serve Week. A contingent of players visited the Ronald McDonald House, and special needs individuals were the center of attention during the entire week.

Years ago community outreach was rarely choreographed. There were instances of a ballplayer pledging to hit a home run for a seriously ill child, but organized charitable programs weren't part of team operation. However, the White Sox website states that they have made more than $30 million in grants to non-profit organizations since the creation of the White Sox Community Fund in 1990.

Meanwhile, the net that now protects lower deck fans was the focus on Monday but more or less forgotten by mid-week. In actuality, the view of the game isn't noticeably diminished by the nylon mesh. The net does mean that fans sitting close to the field don't get the foul balls picked up by the ball boy and usually handed to youngsters. Those same fans also have little chance of getting one of those silly t-shirts thrown into the seats in the sixth inning.

gratenet2.jpgThrough the GrateNet/Roger Wallenstein

However, the few instances of fan interference have become a thing of the past as well as players diving into the seats to make a spectacular catch a la Juan Uribe in the 2005 World Series. Of course, the bottom line is fan safety. If you have a problem looking through the net, buy a seat in the upper deck far above the netting for about half the price of a ticket next to the field.

I also was one of I'm sure thousands of fans who received a "Midseason Survey" in my e-mail inbox in which the team asked numerous questions ranging from my opinion of 48 players on the big league and minor league rosters to my level of enthusiasm this year compared to a year ago. Other queries included, "How important is it for you to get to know the players better as a way to feel more connected or part of the team?" and "How much do you actually feel like you are a valued part of the White Sox team?"

It's been 60 or 70 years since I've reconciled the fact that I'll never play catcher for the Sox, so I clearly don't consider myself part of the team. I'm good with that. I also don't need to "know" the players other than having an idea of who can pitch, catch, run and hit. But I get that the club continuously attempts to build goodwill, solidifying the fan base while trying to attract new devotees both old and young.

However, they shot themselves in the foot Saturday when the near-sellout crowd was too much for their ballpark operations. The time entering parking lots meant that fans hoping to get a super hero bobblehead got shut out. Then there was a long backup for people with lower deck tickets which required checking before letting fans into the seats. Heaven forbid that the upper deck riffraff would try to sneak into the lower deck.

We had no problem reaching the 500 level just in time to see Nova retire the side in order. The escalators worked efficiently, and missing out on a super hero bobblehead bothered us not at all. But the long lines at the concession stands meant that we would wait until late into the night to eat in our neighborhood far from the ballpark. I'd rather be hungry for a couple of hours than miss an inning or two.

Social media lit up with disgruntled fans complaining about the delays and the dearth of bobbleheads. Sox management must have known that a big crowd was expected, but these same situations have occurred previously this season when 30,000 fans have shown up. So survey or no survey, actions speak louder than words.

Most fans understand and support the present state of development of this team, and the front office can be thankful for the patience on the part of most fans. But if things progress the way we all hope, people will come, and the White Sox would be smart to be ready for them.

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

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