Today, January 29, 2017, marks the last day of the 25th Annual Sox Fest at the Hilton Chicago. I had a chance to attend the fest on Friday and came away from it energized for the 2017 season and beyond. Even with the team on the north side winning a world series in 2016, fans packed the Hilton waiting for an opportunity to see the past, present, and future stars of the team.
The weekend officially kicked off with an opening ceremony in the International Ballroom at 4:00pm. While I stood by the runway waiting for the festivities to start, two giant screens played highlights of Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Brett Lawrie, and Todd Frazier to name a few. It was fun to watch the good that happened in the past year (like Frazier’s 40 homeruns) instead of just focusing on falling below expectations. This weekend was about starting fresh and gaining momentum for the rebuild that started at the Winter Meetings in December, 2016. When the opening ceremony began it was no surprise who received the loudest reactions from the crowd. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the ebullient play-by-play announcer, received the biggest reaction of any non player but it still was not as big as the reactions to Bo Jackson, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada. Like I said, the past, present, and future.
Once the opening ceremony wrapped up fans rushed to the connecting rooms to buy merchandise, take photographs with certain players, and wait in line for autographs. As you can imagine, the line to receive autographs from Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada dwarfed any other autograph line in the building. Abreu has been a fan favorite since he first put on a Sox uniform in 2014 and Moncada is a franchise player in the making. I opted to wait in a different line. Down a long hallway was another large room where Charlie Tilson and Zack Burdi were signing autographs. The line was much shorter but the impact those two will have on the team will be just as important as some of the bigger names people are familiar with. Burdi, he of the 100 mph variety, figures to be the future closer for the White Sox. David Robertson is currently the closer but if he has a strong first half in the 2017 season contending teams will be knocking on the Sox door looking to pick him up. Burdi figures to start the season at AAA but it will not be long before his plus plus fastball and his 90 mph slider finds a home at Guaranteed Rate Field.
I have already gone on record with my thoughts on Charlie Tilson. I think over the course of 2017 Sox fans will realize we have another Adam Eaton on our hands, but without the support of Drake LaRoche. For more on Tilson, see https://chisportsnation.com/2017/01/18/the-next-adam-eaton-charlie-tilson-is-ready-for-the-show/.
After the autographs, and a quick picture with Tim Anderson, I attended a Q&A session with Jason Benetti, Rick Renteria, and Rick Hahn. After a few words from the panel, the audience was invited to ask questions. On the state of the rebuild, Hahn acknowledged that “It has obviously been a process. We are much closer to the start than the end.” He praised the support of Sox fans but asked for patience as they will not be making a Chris Sale level trade every week. One fan pushed Hahn on the James Shields trade, which ended up being a bust, and Hahn responded tactfully and with contrition. “It was meant to stop the bleeding at the back end of the rotation.” He went on to say that the 2016 team lacked depth which hurt the team when players were injured. With the trades the Sox have made this season, Hahn hopes the “whole process will avoid patching on the fly.”
As for prospects Hahn received in the aforementioned trades, Han indicated that all of the players “need more development” but “the good ones have a way of accelerating the time frame.” Hahn reiterated that the 2016 draft was “one of the best the team has had in many years” which helps create that depth the 2016 team lacked.
While Hahn gave some candid answers, it was really Rick Renteria who stole the show. I believe Sox fans are going to really like the demeanor of Renteria as he guides this team from rebuilding to contention. Renteria said one of his major strengths as a manager is “communication” and “it is his responsibility to lead when issues arise.” He understands that he is “the parent” and it is his responsibility to help make “quality citizens.” While it may sound weird for Renteria to talk about grown men as if they are children, the White Sox had many clubhouse issues last year and some people around the team criticized the way former manager Robin Ventura controlled everything. It sounds like Renteria truly understands his role as a leader. Renteria routinely referred to the “White Sox Way”, which he described as “playing the game right” and “really going after it. Only about 5-7 teams in the majors really go after it” and he intends for the White Sox to join that group.
Renteria displayed a charisma that left the room very satisfied. The “White Sox Way” is something every fan can get behind. It involves working the count, hustling to first base, diving for balls, and as Renteria said, “playing the game the way it is supposed to be played on the south side.” If that is the future of this team then sign me up.