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Underutilized

If the White Sox were a Chicago public school, they very well might find themselves on the list of 54 schools slated for closing because of low achievement and an empty building.

The Sox rank 26th - out of 30 major league teams - in runs scored, 28th in batting average, and dead last in on-base percentage. After Sunday's 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay, they had outdrawn only three other franchises at home (and they are the league's worst draw on the road).

However, things are not as bleak as they might appear.

Apparently the team's marketing efforts, characterized by cheaper tickets and parking - $10 for yesterday's game - along with accommodations for families, are paying dividends. After 14 home dates, the Sox average attendance is 20,105, compared to 18,282 a year ago. That's an increase of nearly 10 percent.

And the fans coming out to the ballpark have been having a grand time despite a mediocre 7-7 home record.

Take last Wednesday, for example. The announced attendance was 16,765, and at least a quarter of those were school kids enjoying a day off. When the PA system instructed "everybody clap your hands," kids in the bleachers and the corners of the upper deck immediately obeyed. When the Jumbotron pleaded for noise, the boys and girls promptly complied, and the Cell came alive.

When Alex Rios hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning for what turned out to be the deciding blow in the 3-2 Sox victory, some of the kids - obviously the few who were actually watching the game - cheered. However, it was way cooler on the four occasions when Cleveland manager Terry Francona changed pitchers in the late innings since dancing was permitted, and the kids rocked to the pop tunes as the new pitcher took his warm-ups.

"We had a blast," said Barbara Rasinski, the principal at St. Bede the Venerable School on 83rd Street, which had about 300 students at the game.

One, Adam Sanchez, threw out the first pitch and got his full-page photo - the kid has great form - in the Sun-Times on Thursday.

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Adam is being treated for cancer, and his schoolmates all had green t-shirts dedicated to Adam as they cheered, danced, and partied in the left field bleachers.

"He's an amazing kid, a fantastic guy," said Rasinski. "He comes to school every day [during his treatment]. We have a great family atmosphere here. We're very supportive of each other."

So why not go to a museum or the Art Institute for a field trip in support of Adam? "We do that as well," said Rasinski, "but Adam is a big baseball fan."

As is his principal, who added, "I'm absolutely a Sox fan, and I'm a Northsider, by the way."

Last week was somewhat unique in that the Sox had day games both Wednesday and Sunday, when the crowd was 22,677. Again, there were plenty of kids in the seats with their parents and grandparents. Like me, the older folks tended to come out to see if the Sox could somehow defeat Cy Young winner David Price - they couldn't - while many of the younger set were there simply to have fun.

And the focus seems to be on the younger fans. The scoreboard in centerfield now informs us of the music which greets each Sox hitter. Groups like Metallica and AC/DC - the only ones I ever heard of - Rick Ross, Rebelution, Nortec Collective, and Needtobreathe introduce each Sox batter.

I will say that the song "Keep Your Eyes Open" by Needtobreathe, which is the Tyler Flowers' introduction, is sound advice for the young catcher.

The Sox made a valiant effort yesterday against Price, finding themselves in a 3-3 tie going into the top of the eighth. However, the strangest fan behavior occurred as reliever Nate Jones was giving up two hits and two walks, resulting in a 4-3 Rays' lead. I'd estimate that 90 percent of the crowd was staging a wave of which the Dodger Stadium faithful would have been proud. Personally I was heart-broken, especially after the usually sure-handed Rios couldn't catch Ryan Roberts' pop fly, upping the lead to 6-3. The majority of fans were having a ball.

While no one would be harder on Jones than Jones himself, Nate had a shining moment during the lunch hour on Friday as he and fellow reliever Matt Lindstrom along with broadcaster Ed Farmer greeted fans at the food court in the Thompson Center to publicize the state's organ donor program. Secretary of State Jesse White also was present hyping his prize program.

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Farmer and the two pitchers signed baseballs and photos for folks who stood in line and then registered to be organ donors.

Meanwhile, back at the Cell, Adam Dunn began to emerge from an April snooze by first walking three times on Wednesday - whoopee! - and then following up the rest of the homestand with a 5-for-14 binge, a couple of homers, five RBI, four more walks, and just two strikeouts. Tampa Bay is the only team I remember that does not use the usual shift when Dunn is at the plate. Maybe that helped the big fella, but he clearly has begun to make contact.

Gavin Floyd went on the DL on Saturday, but let's wait and see how Hector Santiago does as his replacement. Floyd has a 5.18 ERA so far this season. Santiago should be able to improve on that.

Regardless of whether Dunn begins to hit and Santiago is a suitable replacement for Floyd, the Sox are going nowhere unless the bottom of the order - yesterday it was Conor Gillaspie, Flowers and Dewayne Wise - starts to produce and the defense reverts to its 2012 form.

I'm reminded of the story my brother tells of a little kid walking out of Comiskey Park after a doubleheader loss in 1960, looking up at his dad, and saying, "The Sox better play a lot better in the World Series if they expect to win it."

That team won 87 games and finished third. This team won't come close to that if things don't change. Oh, well, as long as we can do the wave and listen to Needtobreathe, who cares?

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

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