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The Real Heroes At The Cell

Being a single dad 35 years ago living on a school teacher's salary, my second job was hawking concessions at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field in the summer and at Soldier Field and the old Stadium in the winter.

In those days Chicago's soccer team, the Sting of Karl-Heinz Granitza, played indoors at the Stadium where I was climbing the aisles one frigid January afternoon selling my load of popcorn. Sales were slow, and my two young boys were back at my apartment on the North Side with a sitter to whom I was paying more than the commission I was making. So early in the second half I decided to check out at the concession's cashier window.

Turned out that this might not have been the wisest choice since the union steward - we vendors were SEIU members - spied me as I headed for the exit.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" he bellowed.

This was a physically imposing guy with a quick temper and less-than-stellar reputation. Staying on his good side was one of the cardinal rules of the job. Looking back, if it wasn't abject fear I experienced, let's just say I was more than taken aback.

"Look, I've got two kids at home, and popcorn wasn't going too well today, so I'd like to go home," I meekly offered.

Either my explanation or some unbeknownst (to me) event in this guy's Saturday resulted in a raging tirade.

"I don't give a fuck about you or your kids," he informed me. "Get out of here and never come back!"

A vendor friend advised me that episodes like this were not uncommon occurrences. He said, "Just show up next week. He will have forgotten all about it" So I did, and the union boss simply assigned me another opportunity to peddle popcorn which any self-respecting pigeon would reject.

The Adam LaRoche saga made me think about that afternoon so many years ago. Obviously bringing my boys to work with me was out of the question, but returning home most expediently was foremost in my mind.

Almost everything I've listened to or read points out - with good reason - that millions of Americans go to work every day without the slightest inclination or thought of having their kid tag along. The workplace doesn't operate this way. Leaving your child at home or at school doesn't qualify under unfair labor practices reviewable by the NLRB.

Could the White Sox and Kenny Williams have behaved differently? Most observers are in agreement that this isn't the first dust-up Williams has had with individuals in the organization. See Frank Thomas and Ozzie Guillen. Williams apparently lacks the ability to think ahead. He may need to hone his skills when it comes to timing and gauging how others might react to his edicts. Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf needs to reassess the wisdom of Williams' position in the club's hierarchy, but we all know that is unlikely to occur.

Be that as it may, the sense of entitlement on the part of athletes once again makes us wonder at the world in which these guys live. Are we led to believe that LaRoche would not have signed for $25 million in the first place unless he was allowed to bring his son to the ballpark every day? Or have the kid come on road trips? Or have a locker next to his dad?

Consider the Cuban defectors who left their kids - to say nothing of their wives and other immediate family - back home, not knowing when they would see them again, for the chance to play in the big leagues and make the kind of money LaRoche was paid.

Years ago the Sox and other teams often would have a Father-Son Day at the ballpark, usually on Father's Day. Between games of a doubleheader, the Sox players and their kids would stage a simulated game on the infield. It was very cute. I have no inside knowledge, but I would guess that those special days were one of the few times the players' kids were on the field or in the clubhouse.

But this is a different time. There are no more scheduled doubleheaders. Catchers can't be bowled over at the plate. We wait until strangers in New York rule whether a runner has beaten a throw to first. And utility infielders are paid a million-five.

What hasn't changed is that employees still don't bring their kids to work. Nor is this even an issue in the workplace. This is the reality for folks who toil for their weekly paycheck, but today's athletes seem to operate in their own world, oblivious to how the rest of us conduct our lives.

At least that is the impression Chris Sale painted when he led the circle-the-wagons movement in support of LaRoche last Friday. Sale was the right person to lead the charge since he and Jose Abreu are the team's MVPs, and Abreu's English is marginal.

Furthermore, no one doubted Sale's sincerity - we have no idea how Abreu felt about the situation; did anyone ask him? - when he said LaRoche's son was an important and valued component of the ballclub. The kid created no distraction. In fact, the players liked having him around every single day, according to Sale. In his opinion, it was Williams who should have walked out the door, not LaRoche.

I admire Sale's ability to throw a baseball in the mid-90s followed by a changeup to strike out yet another flailing hitter. Seeing his passion for the game and his desire to pitch as far into a contest as possible are part of the package.

Certainly Sale has every right to express himself. But if he had simply alluded to the rarity of having a child in the workplace, he surely would have sounded somewhat aware of the special circumstances surrounding the affair.

Sale also failed to mention that the presence of the LaRoches didn't prevent the team from losing 86 games last season. My hunch is that in their absence, the ballclub won't lose as often this summer. They might even win 86. And unless I'm mistaken, that's the point, to win as many games as possible.

Fans don't care what Sale and his mates think of Kenny Williams. They shouldn't spend time being concerned whether everyone gets along in the clubhouse. However, expecting each player to be prepared to use his ability to contribute to a winning ballclub is another story. Are we to believe that having a 14-year-old child on the premises every day enhances the chances for success? If that's the case, you can begin to understand why the Sox were so lousy last year.

Not that I would have anyway, but I'm certainly not marking my calendar for SoxFest next January in order to hear what the ballplayers have to say. Nevertheless, I will visit The Cell often this season - cognizant that the heroes are not the young men on the field, but the working parents seated around me who have spent $200 (or more) to bring their kids to the ballpark. The same moms and dads who will walk out the door for work the next morning, leaving their kids behind.

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Previously:
* Adios, Adam.

* The Amazingly Immature And Idiotic Adam LaRoche Affair.

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Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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