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Honestly Unlikable

The two little guys sitting down the right-field line on Family Sunday immediately caught my attention. There they were with identical black t-shirts bearing the number 32 on the back with the word "Dunn" unabashedly resting across their shoulders.

Sitting with their mom and dad on one of the first truly comfortable days for baseball at the Cell were Bryan, 6, and his brother Boedy, 8.

"I see you're wearing Adam Dunn t-shirts," I said. "Is he your favorite player?"

Both nodded affirmatively.

"Why do you like him?" I asked.

"'Cause he hits home runs," said Boedy.

"Yeah, but doesn't he strike out a lot?" I said.

"Sometimes," said Bryan.

Ahhh, the joys of childhood. We need to do so little to make kids happy and pleased. When Tyler Flowers hit a towering shot into the left-field seats to tie the score at 1 in the third inning, the brothers asserted that Flowers, a .214 hitter, is their second most favorite player.

Notwithstanding their two well-played wins over Oakland this past weekend, the Sox honestly are not likable. What draws us to a gang that screws up routine plays, leaves runners on base inning after inning, issues walks at the worst possible times, and strikes out with alarming regularity? Whether you're eight or 80, what's there to like?

But that's not the way the game works.

I remember my father, a Cincinnatian for the first 43 years of his life and an avid Reds fan, for his loyalty to a team that never rose higher than fifth place from 1946 to 1955 in the eight-team National League. In fact, in that time the Reds never finished .500.

But listening to Waite Hoyt, the former Yankee pitcher who was the voice of the Reds for 24 years on WLW, describe yet another loss, my dad would get excited about the likes of Johnny Wyrostek and Bobby Adams.

The former was a lifetime .271 hitter with no power but a solid player on a terrible team. It seemed like every time he got a hit - which was not infrequently - my dad would say, "That's my boy!"

And Adams, who played both second and third base for the Reds for 10 years, was a hustler and ready to play every day. My dad liked that.

On Sunday when I asked Roed, a 15-year-old sitting in front of us, if he had a favorite Sox player, he was silent for a bit, before whispering, "not really." But after a little more reflection he said that maybe Paul Konerko had earned his admiration because "he's been here for quite a while."

Longevity clearly is a means for developing the relationship between player and fan, although in this age of free agency, intricate contracts and the "bottom line," players switch teams almost as often as Dunn goes down swinging - or looking.

Konerko tied Nellie Fox - a Sox fixture at second base during the 1950s Go-Go Era - on Sunday by playing in his 2,115th game in a Sox uniform. Only Luke Appling has played in more games as a member of the South Siders.

There was no way not to love Nellie Fox. You knew exactly where he would be every Opening Day. You knew that he would play every day, hit close to .300, and run out each ground ball. He weighed just 160 pounds - the Mighty Mite - and he rarely struck out. This was what Most Favored Ballplayer was all about.

Konerko surely has reached or approached that level as he struggles to regain the skills he's displayed since first joining the team in 1999. The fans are far more patient with Paulie than they are for, say, Dayan Viciedo, a guy who showed so much promise last year in his first season with the club. Now the 24-year-old left fielder needs a crash course in Know Thy Strike Zone. If he completes it successfully, you'll see far more jerseys at the Cell next year with Viciedo emblazoned on the back.

With the team sitting on a 27-34 record, the buzz continues about the trades that loom next month if the Sox remain out of contention.

Jake Peavy is off the block because of his broken rib, but Alex Rios, a superb athlete with abundant talent who usually runs at three-quarter speed on routine ground balls, has surfaced as trade fodder. And the Sox drafted young shortstop Tim Anderson No. 1 last week, so maybe Alexei Ramirez is expendable.

Yet this light-hitting, loose-gloved team is drawing more fans this year than the contending outfit of 2012. Sunday's crowd of 31,033 was the largest since Opening Day, even surpassing the 30,631 when the Cubs visited the Cell on May 27 to hang a 7-0 loss on the Sox. The four-game series with Oakland averaged more than 24,000.

What makes management think it will do as well if it starts to unload its top players in a few weeks? Obviously the thinking is similar to that on the North Side: sacrifice the present for a bright future. We'll see how well that turns out on the other side of town.
What does appear to be working for the Sox is their "premium pricing." We had no tickets for yesterday's game and were told at the ticket window that outfield seats were "sold out," two words seldom used at 35th and Shields.

Not only that, but fans of all ages knew what was going on, cheering at the appropriate times in the late innings as Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain - he might be baseball's most effective pitcher this season - and Addison Reed kept the A's in check to preserve the win for gutsy Hector Santiago.

The Cell was alive. You'd have thought the game meant something, and maybe it did. If the men on the field can gather some of the fans' energy, they certainly would be more likable.

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

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