White Sox look to a rosy future
Winning team, good ballpark have popularity on rise
CHICAGO -- This is a tale of great White Sox success.
Believe it or not, it's a story of achievement that doesn't begin with, "Once upon a time, there was a baseball team competing for fan interest with its North Side counterpart."
There's no need for the White Sox to worry about anything going on over at Clark and Addison.
It's the White Sox who changed the focus of their team last offseason. It's the White Sox who won 99 games and the American League Central title in 2005. And it's the White Sox who are four games away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1959.
Most of all, it's the White Sox who are engaged in a franchise renaissance, as their popularity grows with each postseason victory and each postseason series win. Whether the South Siders pick up eight more victories and a World Series title or lose the American League Championship Series in four games to the Angels or Yankees, they seem set up to take this pique in interest and continue to make it grow.
Here's a look at three specific areas in which the White Sox have improved their lot through this season's improbable run to greatness.
During the last home game of the regular season, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf decided to take a walk around U.S. Cellular Field for a couple of hours. He found a sold-out crowd relishing every aspect of the White Sox victory over Minnesota, as well as enjoying the atmosphere of the ballpark in general.
"This park had a tag that it was a cold place," Reinsdorf said. "We've officially lost that tag."
The renovations of U.S. Cellular Field over the past few years have changed this overall feeling, with maybe no more important addition than the Fundamentals deck in left field. Not only does the deck give the park a more impressive look, it also brought in at least 5,000 kids on certain game nights, according to Reinsdorf, to enjoy the hands-on baseball experience.
And when the White Sox demographics are examined, the target audience comes up as youngsters and suburban families. So, when Reinsdorf took his stroll on this particular Sunday in September, he was happy to see the makeup of the crowd.
Along with the formerly austere description of U.S. Cellular came the idea that fans don't support their White Sox. Considering the attention the organization gives to its young fans, it makes sense that crowds in April and May will be lower with school in session than the rest of the season-- especially if the weather doesn't cooperate.
But the White Sox success brought the fans back on a consistent basis, to the tune of a 2.3 million through the turnstiles and a single-season record of 18 sellouts this season. Their 17.6 percent increase in attendance was the largest in the American League, and the White Sox postseason run already is spiking season-ticket sales for 2006.
Brooks Boyer, the creative driving force as the franchise's vice president of marketing, knows the White Sox have to strike while the iron is hot.
"Look at a product like Pepsi, and the Pepsi you have today is the same Pepsi of 15 years ago," Boyer said. "The contents of our can changes from year to year, so you take advantage of what we are right now -- the American League Central champs.
"We anticipate high season ticket renewals and people already are inquiring about season tickets for next year. But we have a lot of work to do between now and even Jan. 1 to get ready to gear up to max our sales potential."
Scott Reifert has been with the White Sox for 15 years, and he cannot remember a year in which the White Sox received so much media coverage. That includes the division title years of 1993 and 2000.
To back up his point, the team's vice president of communications mentions the increased story count from the Chicago media, not to mention the plethora of national magazine and newspapers that featured the White Sox on their respective covers. There's a compilation of those covers at the back of the team's postseason media guide.
"As I thought about it, there were kind of three waves," said Reifert, in breaking down coverage of the White Sox. "We had the initial start with how well the team had played and started to get attention nationally for that.
"Then it switched to Ozzie and then it switched back to how poorly that team had played over the six-week stretch. I would argue it was more Cleveland being out of their minds and that we didn't play that poorly.
"Then, it was kind of the last phase, the renaissance of the team," Reifert added. "It's been an interesting year."
This interest should continue to be in place as long as Ozzie Guillen resides at the helm. Whether he's firing verbal volleys at Magglio Ordonez, cracking jokes about himself or carefully analyzing a White Sox victory, Guillen has become the face of the White Sox.
In Reifert's estimation, it has helped make the South Siders into the team they are today.
"You look at some teams where the players are the main characters and sometimes that causes one guy in the clubhouse to stand out," Reifert said. "What has been good about this group is it's very much a team."
For as long as Reinsdorf has owned the White Sox, winning has been his bottom line and all the lines above. But never before did he feel it essential for the White Sox to win until their 15-game lead on Aug. 1 gradually started to slip away.
"Nobody had ever lost a 15-game lead, and it would have been just horrible if we lost it," Reinsdorf said with a smile. "I was a basket case as it was dwindling down, but now I'm not uptight at all.
"If we would have lost that lead, it would have demoralized our fans. Now, no matter what happens, our fans are going to feel good about themselves. If you get to the postseason in baseball, you've had a good year."
A number of important offseason baseball decisions need to be made by general manager Ken Williams and the White Sox brass, involving Paul Konerko, Frank Thomas and Joe Crede, to name a few. Will the team add more speed at the top of the order or a left-handed power stick in the middle?
Whatever the decisions, the pitching in place should keep the White Sox in contention. But Reinsdorf, Reifert and Boyer agree that one good season doesn't mean much if a second strong season doesn't follow close behind.
"The real plus for this year is that a lot of people have come out who haven't been here and realized this is a [heck] of a place," Reinsdorf said. "It's a great place to bring your kids and a nice ballpark."
"If you win the World Series, it's going to make a bigger difference than if you don't win the World Series," added Boyer with a laugh. "Obviously, you want to continue to advance. The longer you play, the more the focus is on the team and the more focus on the team, the more it helps you build."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.