White Sox Opening Day: 39 Degrees and Billion-Dollar Burgers
The Chicago White Sox opened the 2013 season on Monday by beating the Kansas City Royals, 1-0, at U. S. Cellular Field in front of an announced crowd of 39,000 people.
In other words, there were one thousand people in the ballpark for every degree in the air.
The high temperature in Chicago for the day was 41, maybe 42 if you sat near Ron Kittle, but most of the day it was in the 30s and felt more like a Chicago Bears game or a séance meant to summon the spirit of Cotton Mather than it did a spring baseball game.
The cool air did not chill the enthusiasm of the South Side crowd. Granted, there were some empty seats but that’s always going to be the case for the White Sox, a team whose clientele is more working class than upper crust and also because the Cell offers so many pleasant, scrumptious and expensive distractions.
(What’s the biggest distraction at Wrigley Field? Baseball.)
As always, the Sox have tweaked and primped their beautiful little ballpark for the new season and are now offering an even greater array of caloric-proud foods. One new kid on the menu is the Comiskey Burger which comes in either the double – $8.50 – or the triple – $10.50 – but, curiously, not the home run which you would think would be appropriate for a team whose love for the four-bagger is rivaled only by that of guys who buy lots of fast food chili and drive a ’75 Cordoba.
The Comiskey Burger tastes a lot like a cheeseburger your cousin Sal might grill up at the family reunion except the Comiskey Burger is served up with a side of Major League Baseball instead of a drunken argument nicknamed “Protestants V. Profligates.”
Oh, and Cousin Sal charges $11.50.
The Comiskey Burger was good, though. The meat was hot, the cheese was melty, the bun was fresh, and the onions stopped moving as soon as you bit them in half.
The obvious way to wash down a Comiskey Burger is to chug a large container of alcohol. But Opening Day during New Year’s Day weather plays tricks on the mind and the stomach and so the choice on this day was to chase down a greasy burger with that old U.S. Cellular Field staple: Helmet Nachos. Anyone who ever doubts American ingenuity or Oprah’s sincerity has never experienced nacho chips, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, free-range chicken, onions, jalapenos, salsa, and the good Lord’s blessing served in a replica batting helmet. The Nacho Helmet is nothing less than a culinary orgasm which requires two people to carry and half of section 130 to eat.
It also costs $15. Last year it was $13.
The Nacho Helmet won the battle on this day as its five diners gave up by the fifth inning in part because they were stuffed and also because by that time the remaining nacho chips tasted more like ice chips and the surviving bits of chicken and cheese were talking to each other.
The fifth inning was a good time to change one’s focus from food to the field because that’s when the game featured its only scoring, a solo home run from Sox catcher Tyler Flowers off of Royals starter James Shields into the bleachers in left-center.
Flowers’ blast was all the offense Sox starter Chris Sale needed as he went seven and two-thirds, striking out seven, walking one and allowing seven hits, all while serving as a reminder that, yes, sleeveless skinny people can survive in Arctic weather.
Getting excited about winning on Opening Day is like thinking that the people on TV really are talking to you. It’s silly, but no harm done, right? What the White Sox hope to take away from Monday’s triumph is optimism that they’ll have better fortune against the Royals this season than last. In 2012 the Sox went 6-12 against K. C., a team that finished with just 72 victories. If the Sox had gone 9-9 against the Royals they would have tied the Detroit Tigers for first place in the A.L. Central. You can take the math further places from there.
If the Sox are to have better luck against the Royals, a team that has not been in the playoffs since the days when people asked not what you have on your DVR but whether you even had a VCR, (Note to reader: if the metaphor in that previous sentence doesn’t work just ignore it and insert “1985.”) then Messrs. Sale and Flowers will be key. Sale is the Sox’ ace lefty and the anchor of a staff that has a lot of potential. As the skinny kid goes, so do the South Siders.
Flowers is taking over behind the plate for A. J. Pierzynski who, after eight mercurial and wonderful seasons on the South Side, has left for the Texas Rangers. Flowers is not as good as A.J. with the bat but he’s better in the field. And if he can slap the occasional dinger like he did on this day, the Sox might have enough offense elsewhere in the lineup to stay in Detroit’s shadow.
The White Sox also need to have a hot start to keep the fans coming. Attendance has dropped steadily over the past few seasons and it could get worse this year if the Sox don’t win and April remains as cold as February.
And, because they’re the Chicago White Sox, there are also other factors that can’t help but align against them. The Chicago Transit Authority Red Line “L” train is the primary mode of mass transit for Sox fans and a massive reconstruction of that line begins next month. There is another “L” train line just a few blocks away and there’s nothing wrong with driving. But if the Sox are bad, snow is falling and it’s a bit less convenient to get to the park, that spells trouble.
The White Sox are well aware that fans aren’t coming out like they used to and have taken the very rare step for a major sports franchise of lowering prices for tickets and parking and are rumored to be working on a promotional deal in which Don Cooper will sing at your office party. (No.)
It also deserves mention that those who run the White Sox realize there are many things more important than baseball. As they do during every game, the Sox honored a member of the armed services on Monday. It provided the most appropriate standing ovation of the day. The Sox also paid tribute to former members of the Sox community – not just players and coaches but also journalists and others – who have died in the last year. And, before the national anthem, the public address announcer asked that everyone remember the victims of the Connecticut school shootings in December as well as the victims of the continuing violence that has plagued Chicago.
These are decent things to do. Win or lose.
Keep the burgers hot and the nachos crisp. Show no mercy for the Kansas City Royals. Remember that just because April starts cold that doesn’t mean summer can’t sizzle.