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Sox Reach Out to Fans at SoxFest

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Feb 2, 2009 4:00PM


While the other baseball in team in town still disregards online media, Chicagoist had full access to this weekend's SoxFest, the annual winter festivities for White Sox fans and players. The three day kickoff to the 2009 season, SoxFest included town hall seminars, memorabilia for sale, autograph sessions with players, and interactive games and activities for Sox fans.

Among the highlights of the weekend were the town hall panels, which gave Sox fans direct access to the team's players, broadcasters and management. While many fans still remain starry-eyed from '05, and many were encouraged by last season's unexpected postseason invite, that didn't prevent some fans from asking tough questions -- though nothing like in years' past. Perhaps that's why Sox manager Ozzie Guillen challenged fans to step up and ask harder ones following Friday's session.

Some did on Saturday, although it was GM Kenny Williams who faced the majority of them. But Williams answered fans' concerns over issues like the perceived lack of off-season improvements with candor and clear explanations backed up by example.

The Sox GM explained how working under Jerry Reinsdorf's directive to "win, every year... and break even financially," he was positioning the team to be competitive this coming year while also building the foundation for continued success. This explains why the Sox haven't thrown big money at marque free agents on the backside of their careers. Williams also gave interesting insights on how he viewed deals the Nick Swisher trade, in which he turned one disappointing veteran into five promising players -- the three prospects returned in the deal, along with the financial resources to sign Cuban phenom Dayan Viciedo and take a gamble on Bartolo Colon. When pushed to explain why he hadn't spent more of the money saved by moving Javier Vasquez, he explained the financial difficulties all MLB teams will be facing due to reduced sponsorship and advertising revenue and the need to conserve resources for arbitration-eligible players and re-signing current players.

Perhaps the onslaught of tougher questions during Saturday's session is why Kenny felt the need for some help on on stage. After 12-year-old Ethan Ellis asked an insightful question, he was invited to grab the chair alongside the GM for the remainder of the panel. The kid stole the show, telling Ozzie, "don't be so fickle," and demanding to know who'd start at second base for the Sox. By the end of the hour, Williams had invited Ellis and his dad to come out to visit him at his U.S. Cellular office sometime.

Other panels included some of the younger players speaking about their rise through the minor league systems and how they made it into pro ball, as well as Sox marketing, ticketing and stadium operations execs fielding suggestions from fans and season ticket holders about ways to improve the ballpark experience. Brooks Boyer unveiled plans for a new LED scoreboard replacing the old out-of-town scoreboard, Christine O'Reilly discussed the team's new charity and volunteer initiatives, and fans made suggestions about issues like ticket re-sale through StubHub and the possibility of "peanut-free" sections for allergic kids.

With only two weeks until the beginning of spring training, the mood among Sox fans was decidedly more positive at this year's SoxFest than a year ago. While Ozzie or Kenny couldn't yet give answers to who will be the leadoff hitter, starting at second base or rounding out the rotation, they did discuss the great potential of those in consideration to round out the line-up. Now we wait to see how those position battles shake out in Glendale, AZ later this month. Only two more weeks until Spring Training begins!

Photo by Benjy Lipsman