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Back To The Future

This was the kind of weekend we expected before the season began. Playing against the front-running Texas Rangers, our guys dropped the first game by a lopsided 11-5 count but came back against one of baseball's best in Yu Darvish on Saturday and finished the deal on Sunday.

But that's just part of the story that included the return of A.J. Pierzynski - and to a lesser extent Alex Rios - along with the Civil Rights Game on Saturday which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

When Pierzynski strode to the plate in the top of the second on Friday evening, the crowd of 31,891 - swelled by the annual Elvis promotion - rose to its feet and gave the long-time Sox favorite a deserved ovation. It was well-earned and, well, touching.

At the end of last season, no one was quite sure whether the Sox would re-sign A.J. so there was no genuine send-off for the catcher who joined the team in 2005 and helped lead the charge to the World Series title that year. Seven solid seasons followed in a career highlighted by consistent hitting, good defense and a approach to the game where he was always looking for the edge, rules-permitting or otherwise.

As A.J. was warming up pitcher Martin Perez in the first inning on Friday, management screened a tribute to Pierzynski on the Jumbotron.

I'm a sucker for stuff like this. I loved it.

Rios also received polite applause, although nothing like the reaction to Pierzynski which continued throughout the weekend. Few fans were enthralled with Rios, especially after he hit his first home run in a Texas uniform on Saturday to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead in a game the Sox won in the bottom of the ninth on a Josh Phegley bullet into left field to score the winning run.

In the old days - like three weeks ago - Phegley would have popped up and the game would have gone into extra innings, where the Sox have dropped 13 of 21 in this inglorious campaign.

But these are the new White Sox with Phegley, who also homered in Sunday's 5-2 win; Avisail Garcia, who risked life and limb crashing into the fence Sunday in pursuit of Jeff Baker's home run; and Andre Rienzo, who got his first big league win on Wednesday in Kansas City where the Sox swept the slumping Royals.

Baseball royalty visited the Cell on Saturday for the annual Civil Rights Game in the persons of Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams and Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon, among others. MLB presented its Beacon of Life Award to Bo Jackson and Aretha Franklin for embodying the spirit of the civil rights movement.

Aretha stayed home because of illness, but former Tiger great Willie Horton - a friend of Franklin's - accepted the award on her behalf. Horton, now 70, stood by home plate in a much less-imposing stance than when he played against the Sox in the '60s and '70s. The guy was a hitting machine. Built close to the ground, he had muscles upon muscles. If Sox pitchers weren't scared when he came to the plate, they should have been.

Meanwhile, Bo looks like he could suit up and help the ballclub right now. Aretha Franklin's presence would have been lovely, but having Willie Horton and Bo Jackson standing side-by-side added a touch of class which wasn't lost on the folks who saw them play and listened to their words on Saturday.

Later in the Comcast booth, Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone hosted first Aaron and then Robinson. Hank is 79. He looks 20 years younger, and he and Hawk yukked it up as Hawk told the story, among others, about how he was a batboy in Savannah when Aaron played there as a member of the minor league Jacksonville Braves in 1953.

Robinson showed up in the bottom of the sixth and was greeted by Hawk, who said, "You've been a busy girl today," pointing out how she attended a luncheon and a roundtable discussion, and now was at the ballgame.

God bless Hawk. So what if Jackie Robinson's daughter was in town to celebrate the civil rights movement? Forget that her dad endured the greatest of indignations as he broke the color barrier. So what if she's 63 years old? The girl was running hither and yon during the weekend. Political correctness be damned.

A video clip followed of the unveiling of a new U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating the civil rights movement. The stamp depicts a placard which reads, "We demand equal rights now."

"Isn't it beautiful?" exclaimed Robinson. "Oh, wow, yeah," responded Hawk, who then launched into a story about the only time he met Jackie Robinson. It was at a golf outing in Florida, and Harrelson made the fantastic revelation that in the entire 18 holes, he and Jackie never once mentioned nor talked about baseball.

Hmmm. They must have concentrated on how African Americans could gain job equality. Maybe open housing was the topic on the eighth green. No doubt how to improve inner city schools was discussed as Hawk and Jackie walked to the 13th tee. We'll never know because Hawk didn't say.

Instead, Stone jumped in to add that the Civil Rights Game transcends what's happening in baseball as it represents progress and programs throughout the country.

The great majority of us have never sat in a broadcast booth, trying to interview the daughter of one of the pivotal figures of the 20th century while at the same time attempting to describe the action of a major league baseball game. In this particular game, Adam Dunn hit a really tough pitch from Yu Darvish into the left field bullpen to tie the game at two while Robinson was seated between Hawk and Stoney.

Granted, Harrelson and Stone had their hands - or at least their microphones - full. Nevertheless, it would have been far more interesting to hear Robinson, who was a little kid when her dad's career was winding down, reminisce about what life was like at home as a little girl in those times. She was a witness and part of history, but we'll have to wait for another occasion to get a glimpse of it from her perspective.

Meanwhile, after drawing almost 26,000 per game for the Texas series, normalcy no doubt will return to the Cell tonight through Wednesday as the hapless, rebuilding Houston Astros visit. They've won 43 games this season and lost twice that many. Seems like the Sox are in a prime position to continue their relentless drive toward fourth place. They've won eight of their last nine and are 14-6 over the last 20 games as they've edged to within three games of the Twins. This is exciting stuff.


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

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021