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We're Here, They're Gone

The cycle begins anew this afternoon in Kansas City. Before it's completed, not only will we see leaves on the trees, but they will be tinted with orange, yellow and brown. For those of us who pay attention, we'll either be bursting with post-season anticipation or wondering how long it will take Rick Hahn to axe Robin Ventura. Or somewhere in between if the team improves but fails to challenge baseball's elite.

The journey begins with 99 and 89 losses the past two seasons along with declining attendance for the past eight. Prognosticators like Sports Illustrated predict that our athletes will improve another 10 games and lose just 79, finishing third behind the Indians and Tigers. Does that mean the number will dwindle to 69 in 2016?

But don't trust SI. They picked the Indians to win everything. The last time they did that was 1987 when Cleveland dropped a major league-leading 101 contests. A year ago, the venerable publication said the Sox would finish 63-97. Gosh, if our guys do eight games better than predicted in 2015, we'll remain interested right into October.

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas say the Sox are 12-5 to win the Central Division and 5-1 to nab the AL pennant. The Over/Under for wins is 82. The Sporting News says take the Over. That's encouraging. Yahoo! Sports didn't exactly go out on a limb, predicting that the White Sox will, indeed, finish 82-80. You get the picture.

What's clear is that this is a different team than a year ago. Not counting Chris Sale, who will begin the season on the disabled list even though he's slated to start the team's sixth game on Sunday, there are a whopping 16 players from Opening Day last year who will not begin the season on the South Side. Six - Erik Johnson, Nate Jones, Maikel Cleto, Leury Garcia, Daniel Webb and Adrian Nieto - remain in the organization either on the DL or in the minor league system.

Of course, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn have retired. We wish them well.

The other eight include the once-promising Dayan Viciedo, whom the Sox released in February. He failed to make the Opening Day roster with Toronto so the Blue Jays released him so that the 26-year-old can find employment elsewhere. Sox fans were enamored with Viciedo who seldom met a pitch he wouldn't swing at. Melky Cabrera represents obvious improvement in left field.

Alejandro De Aza was traded to Baltimore last summer, while Marcus Semien went to Oakland as part of the Jeff Samardzija deal.

Pitchers from a year ago who recently were released include Scott Downs (sent packing by Cleveland), Matt Lindstrom (Angels but re-signed by the White Sox last week to a minor league contract ) and Felipe Paulino (Red Sox).

Atlanta still has Donnie Veal under contract although he failed to make the big league roster.

Then there is the strange case of Ronald Belisario, he of the 5.56 ERA in his only season with the White Sox. Seems that prior to spring training the right-handed reliever fractured his non-throwing shoulder in the act of exiting his swimming pool at his home in Venezuela. Having spent last summer watching him pitch, I can totally believe that.

Despite the fact that Belisario creates danger and difficulty where none had previously existed, the Tampa Bay Rays signed him in early February. In Las Vegas the Rays' Over/Under is 77.5. Take the Under.

And let's not forget Gordon Beckham. He's back. The one-time prospect-turned-suspect spent the final 38 days of last season with the Angels and signed with the Sox in late January as a free agent. If Conor Gillaspie falters at third base or Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez can't cut it at second, Beckham is a reasonable insurance policy.

Players come and go. In a sense, they are incidental - many are easily forgotten - in comparison to the loyalty and dedication of the core of fans who certainly recognize the talent (or lack thereof) of the current team. That glimmer of optimism that this season will be more successful than the previous few is addictive along with the overall appeal of what Babe Ruth called "the greatest game in the world."

Perhaps the players should be asking the fans for autographs. The people whose unquestioned presence season after season represent not only themselves but past generations Sox fans. They truly are the fiber and spirit of the franchise. Or how about the vendors, some of whom are in their 60s having started hawking when they were teenagers, signing an autograph for some of the athletes who are new to town and may be here only for a brief moment?

Of course, what makes people like Jose Abreu, Sale and Alexei Ramirez so special is their unique talent, which none of us share. They are not the one percent. They are far more elite than that. They're the precious few on the planet who have the ability to hit a baseball 400 feet or throw one 95 miles an hour.

But their time is fleeting. Konerko will spend the summer with his family in Arizona. The Big Hurt wears a coat and tie and sits in a TV studio. Minoso has passed. Few remember Appling.

Yet we're still here, picking the games we want to see and checking the weather report for Friday's home opener before stowing the winter coats. That's the way it's always been.

It's not only baseball history that keeps repeating itself. A year ago the ill-fated Malaysia Flight 370 was shrouded in mystery. Today we can only guess what was going through the head of the pilot who crashed his plane into the side of a French mountain a couple of weeks ago.

Last March, 100 partying kids on spring break were arrested in California while this spring some idiot opened fire at a party in Florida. ISIS was just gaining momentum last Opening Day as the world's most notorious evil-doers. al-Qaeda was the biggest threat. It's like choosing between Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. Take your pick. Hernandez has replaced Pistorius at the defense table.

A year from now Bush might be facing off against Clinton. Sound familiar?

While the saga of a baseball season may be less consequential than other events, it sure makes for better theater. Once upon a time the Yankees were as repeatable as a damaged vinyl record. But those times have receded far into the past. The frickin' Royals in the World Series? It really happened.

Will our Sox be the Royals of this season? Not likely, but there certainly are enough of us who will stick around to find out.

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

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