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Cold-Cocked

E-mails came from readers in Phoenix and St. Louis. Both wanted to make sure I was aware that the White Sox-Rays' game last Monday drew exactly 974 patrons. Thanks, guys. Glad to know you're not so busy that you might miss something as fascinating as White Sox attendance on a wintry day against an opponent with as many challenges as the local ballclub.

Apparently the Tampa Bay Times broke the story. Quite possibly their beat writer had time to actually count the bodies in the stands as he sat through a 5-4 Rays' victory, which broke the team's eight-game losing streak. You can be assured that if Sox management went through the same exercise, the silence would be deafening. As it were, the team announced the paid attendance as 10,842.

If nothing else, we might guesstimate that the club has sold a few more than 10,000 season tickets for this rebuilding season. Hip Hip Hooray!

Even if the game had been played in the evening, as originally scheduled, in 60-degree temperatures, there still would have been enough room for a freight train to chug through the ballpark. Two seasons ago a mid-April Tuesday-through-Thursday home series against the Angels saw an average of a little more than 12,000. Last year's second game at home against Detroit drew 10,842 when it was 48 degrees with a 23 mph wind. Those were paid admissions.

Because of revenue sharing, more than 25 years ago teams began announcing "tickets sold" rather than "tickets used." Therefore, one can never be quite sure how many people are in the park unless, of course, you personally count them, which might have been the case last Monday.

Knowing that the day would be more like February than April, Sox management switched the game to a 1:10 p.m. start as the teams faced off with the thermometer reading 35 degrees, along with a brisk wind. Sox fans are loyal, but most are not so masochistic to freeze their asses off when there are at least 70 future opportunities to watch a ballgame in warm sunshine.

Old-timers have memories of crowds barely in four digits or less, maybe not on a regular basis but certainly in recurring situations depending on weather, the team's won-loss record, and placement on the schedule.

Perhaps the most dismal season in memory was 1970 when the White Sox lost a franchise record 106 games. They drew just 11,473 on Opening Day and followed up the next two afternoons with an average of 1,200. Worse yet, by the end of September in two games against Kansas City, attendance was 672 and 693 on consecutive days. And that, my friends, is how you draw 495,000 for an entire season.

Of course, things are nowhere near as dismal today. But you have to wonder how the schedulemakers decide to slate early April games in places like Chicago and Minneapolis, where the Sox were unceremoniously snowed out of three games over the weekend.

Last week was Tampa Bay's only foray into Chicago this season, so Roger Bossard and his crew were given the ultimatum to clear the real estate of snow and prepare the field for play. Meanwhile, across town, the Cubs, who had an open date on Tuesday, scrubbed their opener and waited 24 hours.

Consider this: The Sox go to Tampa Bay on August 3-5 to complete the six-game season series against the Rays. What problem would arise if the two series simply were flip-flopped? Why play in Chicago in April and Florida in August?

Even the casual observer can decipher that there are five major league baseball teams in California. Two more call Florida home. We have two in Texas, one in Arizona and another in Georgia. Three more have either a dome or a roof, for a total of 14 where weather most likely would not be a factor in early April. There even is a decent chance for acceptable baseball conditions in St. Louis, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati at the beginning of the season.

So why on earth are cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland scheduled to host games the first few weeks of the season when we know that winter has not released its grip? Games Sunday were postponed in all five of those locales because of the horrible cold, wet weather. A year ago Sunday the high temperature in Chicago was 82. Let's face it, that was an aberration. The truth is that baseball in Chicago in April is at best a crapshoot.

Perhaps the prospect of starting the season by playing, say, two weeks on the road - where the visitors win about 45 percent of the time - strikes the schedulemakers as an unfair advantage for the warm weather clubs and a penalty for their brethren to the north. However, good ballclubs win no matter where they play. Of the 10 teams last season that qualified for the postseason, only the Yankees played below .500 on the road, and they were close at 40-41.

The powers-that-be might argue that giving a team a majority of road games at the season's start and a healthy dose of home games in August and September could affect the outcome of the six-month campaign. I've always been under the impression that a win (or loss) in April counts the same as it does in September.

And what about the fans? Being fan-friendly is a centerpiece of MLB public relations, which advertises that the ballpark is a great place to bring the family and enjoy the National Pastime. Yet many folks were priced out of the market years ago, and I've yet to get my arms around the rationale that spending $50 on a ticket to risk frostbite promotes enjoyment. We have the NFL for that.

Rest assured that absolutely nothing will change. Even when the doubleheaders pile up during the season and teams have to dip into the minor leagues for starting pitchers, there will be little or no discussion about tweaking the early-season schedule.

Possibly this cynicism is a result of the Sox' lackluster 4-8 record at this point. If they were 8-4, would I be shaking my head at the irrationality of April baseball in Minnesota?

At the present time, aside from eight losses in the last 10 games, is there cause for concern about super prospect Yoan Moncada? Manager Ricky Renteria has settled on Moncada in the leadoff spot in the order, yet only five players in the major leagues have struck out more often than Moncada's 24. He has drawn eight walks, but his .298 on-base percentage is not leadoff quality.

In parts of three minor league seasons, Moncada fanned approximately 30 percent of the time. While the sample size is small, he's whiffed a bit more than 41 percent of his at-bats in the big leagues. Patience is required because the guy appears to be a superb athlete with a boatload of potential. I just wish he'd make more contact.

Then there is Lucas Giolito, on whose right arm a generous helping of Sox fortunes rest. In 18 innings over three starts, the 23-year-old righthander has provided plenty of help for the opposition by walking 12 batters and hitting another four. Seven of those morphed into runs. This is very un-Lucas like. Last season in 45 innings, he hit only three batters while averaging 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings. So far that number has dwindled to 4.0.

Notwithstanding recent challenges, all indications point to youngsters like Moncada and Giolito being building blocks toward future White Sox success. Shall we assume that all they and their cohorts need is a bit of decent weather?

Traveling to Oakland this week for three games will offer a huge improvement in the climate department before the Sox return home on the weekend to host the World Series champion Houston Astros. Be assured that good seats are still available.

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

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1. From Frederick J. Nachman:

Ticketholders for Monday's game vs. the Rays were told two days in advance they could exchange those tickets for a later date; therefore, there was zero incentive to trek to a weekday afternoon on a miserable day. I'd be interested in what the walk-up sales were that day.

2. From Patrick Cassidy:

Seems to me the solution is scheduled doubleheaders so the season can start later.

Opening in the warmer or domed cities would be okay by me too, but that would mean the same cities open the season every year.

Anyway, I don't know whether to blame Obama or Hillary.

3. From Steve Nidetz:

Two things to consider:

1.) MLB tried a warm-weather, domed-stadium start to the 1984 season for about 10 days and had to back off afterward when those teams howled about losing attendance because kids were still in school as opposed to more summery dates.

2.) Nobody has suggested MLB return to a 1969-style schedule in which you played only teams within your division the first month of the season. That way, if there were postponements, there would be plenty of time later in the season in which to make up those games. Having the Sox play the Rays (or the Cubs vs. the Braves) here in April is especially asinine.

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