You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.
Well, we're about a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Chicago White Sox. Your author is Claire Zulkey.
Claire Zulkey brings it daily at Zulkey.com. Her words are after the jump.
When I first sat down to consider the state of the 2007 White Sox, I zelt ambivalent, jaded. The 2006 season was a strange one for me as a fan — it began with a bit of World Series hangover. I attended Opening Day, but after sticking it through a freezing rain delay for an hour or so, my companion and I had a couple of Kosher dogs and headed home. We got no "Your World Champion White Sox" fanfare, no chance to scream for our favorite heroes from 2005. It felt like an omen for the season ahead.
Yes, I was excited for baseball to return, yes I loved the White Sox, but that hunger, that desperation from seasons before was diminished. The battle cry for 2006 was a repeat, but I knew deep down it was unlikely to happen. It would have been great to establish the ChiSox as a perennially contending franchise, and not some random fluke team, but nothing reminds you of how damn long and hard the baseball season is like Opening Day in Chicago, where most typically you have to wear mittens and a scarf. I remember, back in the Michael Jordan Bulls era, how we just knew that we'd repeat our championship. It was a given. I didn't have that feeling last season with the Sox. So what was the point?
My lack of excitement for the 2006 season paid off with a frustrating year — the Sox had the components to be as good as the 2005 team, but it just didn't click. They missed so many opportunities to move baserunners, the team chemistry seemed to have cooled and maybe most significantly, Mark Buerhle was just off — he wasn't pitching well, he wasn't pitching fast and he seemed down. Everyone is familiar with Ozzie's big mouth, but Buerhle makes up a great deal of the clubhouse soul, so when he was in a funk, so were the rest of the people at US Cellular Field. The magic just wasn't there. Although the team was just good enough to get me hopeful, at the end of the summer we failed to take advantage of the biggest opportunity of all: the Tigers slipping. I was glad that the World Series was mercifully short and that I could put baseball behind me and focus on the football season ahead.
I might need a few more weeks to get over that, too.
The offseason moves that the team made this last winter didn't do much to excite me, either. Buerhle's, Jermaine Dye's and Tadahito Iguchi's contracts are very publicly in question, which never exactly seems to inspire loyalty or focus on the season at hand. Promising pitcher Brandon McCarthy was dealt away, and the acquisition of "vets" like Darrin Erstad can make fans fidget. We're told our new pitchers are promising, but they're still largely untested — velocity is well and good, but how about accuracy? As of last week, no, I wasn't very excited for White Sox baseball.
I almost felt that maybe somebody more keyed up than I should be writing the season preview, since it seemed like it would be bad luck and bad reading.
But then, something happened.
Kenny Williams got mad.
Kenny Williams, our general manager, seems to have graduated from the Tiger Woods Speech and Dental School. He strikes me as a nice guy who really cares about the team, but as I said, I found his offseason moves uninspiring. So did the Chicago media. "Williams' moves head lengthy list of worries for Sox" read a February 4 headline in the Chicago Tribune. While Williams is accustomed to being second-guessed by the press, recently, he seems to have gotten a bee in his bonnet.
"I have to be honest. Despite what you might be reading or hearing, I am as excited about our winter as I have ever been since I've been sitting in this chair," he wrote in his "State of the Sox" email to fans. I'm not 100 percent convinced that he's built a rock solid foundation for another championship team, but the fact that he cares enough to get riled up when the media doubts him gives me hope. Maybe this new crop of freakishly tall pitchers will make for a solid bullpen. Maybe Toby Hall will be a good backup to AJ Pierzynski, especially at bat against lefties. Maybe the fans will feel the jacked-up prices on their tickets were indeed worth it. Maybe there is a fire under our ass after all — if not to get the championship back, just to prove that we are indeed quite serious.
Some things still concern me. If Mark Buerhle can't bounce back, I don't think we have a chance at the postseason. Can Scott Podsednik stay healthy, let alone raise his batting average? Will he still be cute? Can this team convince me they're really a team, and don't just wear the same uniform — despite the back office dealings that become front page news?
It wouldn't be Chicago White Sox baseball — or any kind of baseball — without the doomsday predictions and cautious optimism. I'm curious to see what this 2007 season brings, and curiosity brings hope, and hope springs eternal (until the first bad slump of the season).
Lets's go go-go White Sox! I'm with you all the way. Mostly.