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Red Alert On The Red Line

Compared to the thousands of people who use the Red Line to get to work every day, Sox fans really have little to complain about.

Starting Sunday, the CTA will close its nine southernmost stations on the Red Line, including 35th-Sox, which lets fans off just a half-block from the Cell. Five months from now, the CTA promises that the new tracks will make travel "faster, smoother, better."

We'll see about that, but in the meantime, fans going to U.S. Cellular on the "L" can use the Green Line - after transferring at Roosevelt - which lets them off two blocks further east. Judging from comments to a Sun-Times article posted on Friday, this will be a minor inconvenience. Sox vice-president of communications Scott Reifert went so far to say, "We really don't think it will have a huge impact on us."

The way the team has been playing, you wonder if Reifert was saying, "Impact? What impact? Why would anyone travel - on the 'L' or otherwise - to see this miserable team?"

But my guess is that Reifert has seldom, if ever, taken the "L" to work ,so closing the team's train stop the remainder of the season is no big deal to him in any case.

But it is for those who want a convenient, cheap way to get to the ballpark. While the team estimates that an average of only 3,500 fans use the "L" each game, my experience is that far more Sox faithful use public transportation, especially if a big crowd is expected.

As far as I can tell, the Sox's website hasn't even acknowledged the work scheduled for the Red Line. A couple of clicks leads one to information indicating that it's easy to get to the Cell on the "L:" just take the Red Line and exit at Sox-35th.

Even if you accept the front office's estimate, where's the love for those 3,500 diehards? Many are older folks on fixed incomes as well as students who are piling up debt and look forward to jumping on the "L" and going to the ballgame with minimum fuss. Sure, they'll need to walk just two additional blocks, but why minimize the "impact." They pay the same ticket price as the people who drive Mercedes'.

I also wondered what kind of reaction the CTA would receive if, say, it decided to shutter the Addison stop for five months during the baseball season. You think Tom Ricketts would say, "Just dumb luck. Wait 'til next year?"

There was a time when most people living outside the neighborhood spent hours traveling to 35th and Shields. Both the Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways weren't opened until the early '60s, and coming from the northern suburbs meant taking the Edens to Peterson and driving east to Lake Shore Drive before heading south again to the ballpark.

Thankfully, night games didn't being until 8 p.m., so we rarely missed the first pitch. It was easier for my golf buddy Sam Dicola, who grew up at 55th and Morgan and attended his first Sox game in the early '40s.

"Sometimes I walked over and took the Halsted bus that went down to 35th and I walked [to the ballpark] or the Racine Avenue bus and hooked up with the 35th Street bus," Sam told me last week. "It was one of those cars where the conductor could go out and pull the gizmo that attached to the electric line, a street car. It took 25 minutes to get there."

Sundays were extra special for Sam.

"There were seasons I went to all the Sunday doubleheaders," Sam said. "I spent my day there. I got there early enough to watch batting practice."

The Comiskey Park neighborhood had a rough reputation - at least among some white people - because it was located in a black area.

"I don't remember any discussion about that [in my house]," he said. "I used to stay late sometimes to get signatures. By the time I got home it might be getting close to dark. Often I was there by myself. I always felt comfortable."

Not everyone feels so comfortable this season at the Cell. Not because of racial tensions. No, the cold weather and the team's inexplicable poor performance have already tested the mettle of Sox fans. Had it not been for Chris Sale last night pitching a one-hit shutout and facing only 28 batters, the Sox would have fallen further from the .500 mark. As it was, they split six games last week.

(Sale's one-hitter was one of two masterpieces from last week. On Tuesday, the Mets' Matt Harvey allowed a lone infield hit by Alex Rios as he also faced 28 batters in a 1-0 Sox defeat. Sox hitters were helpless against a guy who looks like Cy Young material.)

The 3-2 loss Saturday night in front of almost 29,000 - I wonder how many took the "L" - was another agonizingly close, low-scoring game characterized by mistakes at the worst possible time.

The game was decided more or less in the third inning when catcher Tyler Flowers let a Jose Quintana pitch wiggle away from him, enabling Albert Pujols - not exactly a speedster - to score from third. Pujols used a bit of trickery and guile in eluding Quintana's tag. Neither team scored again.

And wouldn't you know it? Just the night before, Flowers let another one get by - he has four passed balls in this young season - letting in the last Angel run in the top of the seventh in a 7-5 Sox loss. (Though we must also point out that Flowers didn't get much help from reliever Matt Lindstrom, who stayed anchored to the mound as baserunner J.B. Shuck came down the line to score.)

Did I mention that the inning began with an error by third baseman Conor Gillaspie? Not the best way to behave in the late innings of a 5-5 game.

The week also was noteworthy on two other occasions. In Monday's makeup game in Kansas City, a game the Sox won in 11 innings on Jordan Danks' home run, the Sox managed four hits and a walk in the top of the ninth, all of which resulted in just one run. That's hard to do. But again on Friday in the bottom of the second inning, the Sox accounted for five hits and just two runs, thanks to Jeff Keppinger being thrown out at home to end the inning.

By the way, Danks the past two seasons has hit two homers, both game-winners. And within hours after each, he was sent back to the minors. If the guy is confused, who can blame him?

(All he did upon returning to Charlotte was team up with brother John for a special Mother's Day win.)

It's scary to think where the Sox would be without its starting pitching, especially Sale and Jake Peavy. They have an 8-3 record between them, an ERA of 2.94 with 94 strikeouts and just 20 bases on balls. All with a porous defense behind them.

And yet, almost 75,000 fans turned up at The Cell for the weekend series, a testament to the notion that "If it's reasonably priced, they will come." Without the ease of the Red Line, though, and with a team whose major achievement this season may be winning the errors title, that notion will be sorely tested.


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

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