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Cold Predictions

My favorite cold-weather baseball story actually comes from a high school game.

I was teaching and coaching at the posh Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park when the athletic director was a soft-spoken, wonderful guy named Bob Steffens. Before becoming AD, he coached a number of sports, including baseball, during his long career at the school.

Parker, in its continual effort to bolster the self-images of its students, had a no-cut policy. Anyone who wanted to play on a team could do so, although there was no requirement that everyone got playing time.

Parker's home baseball field was what could best be described as tundraesque during April in that triangle at North Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. When the wind blew from the east - which it tended to do every time we played at home - there was no stopping it.

O'Hare could be basking in 60-plus degree sunshine while The Hawk kept wind chills in the 20s and 30s just yards from the lake.

When Steff was varsity coach, he gazed down the bench during one of those frigid afternoons only to find one of his less-talented players stripped to the waist.

"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm not putting on my shirt until you put me in the game," was the response.

Since I consider myself a sensitive, caring individual, I said, "Of course, you put him in, didn't you, Steff?"

"Absolutely not," he replied. "I told him to stop acting crazy and get a shirt."

The weather prognosticators indicate that this afternoon's Sox opener will be far more comfortable than that wind-blown, freezing day long ago, but before the opening series with the Twins ends on Thursday, our guys will experience their share of the vestiges of winter.

Before he left Arizona last week, Sox ace Chris Sale, a Florida native, said, "I know it's going to be cold up there [in Chicago], but it's going to be cold for the other team, too."

That's true, but the players can retreat to the heated clubhouse when their team bats, and they have the luxury of all kinds of modern clothing and gadgets to warm them.

Not so with the fans. Many may be well-equipped - after all, they go to Bear games - but that may include a flask which, as far as my research has taken me, has never been a recommended antidote for hypothermia or frostbite.

Fortunately this season's openers will be played primarily in warm-weather cities like Tampa St. Petersburg, Miami, Phoenix, San Diego, Oakland and Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, there will be big crowds at the Cell, and in Milwaukee and Detroit this afternoon regardless of the temperature. The winter has been long and nasty, and Opening Day is a positive marker in our lives that signals better times ahead.

At a recent luncheon in the California desert, legendary Detroit News writer Jerry Green was reminiscing about baseball openers in the Motor City where, according to Green, "everyday in April is cloudy."

Green covered the 1959 opener against the White Sox, one of those blustery, cold days with a few snowflakes mixed in with the fly balls. That game went 14 innings before Nellie Fox of all people drove a pitch into the right field stands with Fenger alumnus Sammy Esposito on base. The final was 9-7.

"It was the only homer he hit all year," reported Green, who was half right. Fox, the league's MVP that year, led the Sox to the World Series, and he hit one other home run along the way. Of course, Fox was a fixture at second base for the Sox throughout the '50s and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. He began that glorious season 1959 going 5-for-7, just a portent of things to follow.

The Sox's other World Series season since started off with Mark Buehrle shutting out the Indians 1-0 in 2005 on two hits. Shingo Takatsu - remember him? - pitched the ninth for the save.

Wouldn't it be nice if this season's edition got off to the same kind of rousing beginning?

Make no mistake - I'm not suggesting that this group will approach the heights of the '59 or '05 teams. But more wins than losses in April would set a much-needed tone, providing a dose of early confidence for this crew.

Sports Illustrated has pegged the Sox for 97 losses this season, while USA Today quoted one scout - why are they never identified by name? - who said they could be "decent - or really, really bad."

With the acquisitions and changes the team has made, only two fewer losses than a disastrous 2013 doesn't compute. Won't Jose Abreu, a full season of Avisail Garcia, and speedy centerfielder Adam Eaton make a difference? Of course, they will. SI predicted the Sox would finish 81-81 a year ago, and we know how that worked out.

Pitching is the biggest question mark, as well it should be, with a rotation of Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Felipe Paulino and Erik Johnson. Last season the ballclub began the year with Sale, Quintana, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and Dylan Axelrod. That quintet looked promising on paper. but only the first two finished the season in the rotation due to Floyd's injury, Peavy's trade and Axelrod's batting practice deliveries.

Our interest is piqued by all this mystery. As fans we're curious whether the new faces will help the Sox improve. As the days, weeks, and months roll by, the pieces of the puzzle gradually fall into place just as the thermometer inches upward in its slow march toward summer.

And we'll see if this new White Sox edition warms up right along with the weather.

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

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1. From Andrew Foertsch:

I'm a transplanted White Sox fan here in beautiful St. Pete FL. My dad grew up in the Back of the Yards and brought his love for the White Sox to the Nort'west Side.where I grew up an outcast in Cubbie Hell.

I love the Sox and I'm OK with the Rays unless they're playing the White Sox but for the record you got your cities mixed up. The Rays may be called the Tampa Bay Rays but they don't play in the Bay and they sure as hell don't play in Tampa.

The Rays play in St. Pete so please don't get the two mixed up. Tampa's on the east side of the Bay, has the Bucs, and other that that they got nothin'. I take that back. They have a lot of strip joints but they don't have a decent beach.

St. Pete is on the west side of the Bay and is a lot more laid back. I'm so over people getting St. Pete and Tampa mixed up so please remember that. Thanks. BTW the Rays beat the Blue Jays 9-2.

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