The trip Barb and I made to U.S. Cellular Field Thursday night — our first as Chicago residents — was a lot of fun. The weather was beautiful, it was Big 10 Night at the ballpark, and I was surrounded by fellow members of Michigan State University’s Spartan Nation, Chicago division.
Oh, yeah, there was a baseball game, too, between the hometown White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. The best said about it is that I’m glad there were so many delightful distractions. This scoreboard photo, taken just before the last out was recorded, tells the story…
The game was closely contested throughout and was important in the American League Central Division race: Both teams are trying to stay within hailing distance of the first-place Detroit Tigers, who ended the evening leading Cleveland by 1-1/2 games and Chicago by 4.
But the game was kind of a yawner, marked more by wasted scoring opportunities for both teams than by any electrifying action. The White Sox left 11 runners on base for the game, while the Indians stranded 10. Both teams had bases loaded situations but left the ducks on the pond.
It was a relief to learn that White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber was not badly hurt after taking a line drive to his head in the second inning (ironically off the bat of Cleveland outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who until a trade a few weeks ago was a member of the cross-town rival Chicago Cubs).
Humber fell to the ground but got up immediately, and then walked off the field under his own power. The least you can say about the dude is that he’s got a really hard head.
The loss dropped Chicago to 61-62 in what has been an enigmatic season. The team has a good deal of talent, but much of it has been underperforming, in some cases dreadfully.
Paul Konerko, despite his game-ending popup Thursday, is the one big exception, leading the team’s regulars in every major offensive category: batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.400), home runs (28) and runs batted in (84). He lit up the scoreboard Thursday with a home run that temporarily gave the Sox a 1-0 lead.
But if you look closely at the big screen in the middle of the scoreboard, you see one of the biggest problems that the White Sox have faced this year. That’s cleanup hitter Adam Dunn greeting Konerko as he crosses home plate. And below is a display showing Dunn’s catastrophic batting stats: .166 batting average, 11 homers, 40 rbi.
Two singles in four at-bats boosted Dunn’s average up to .168. This is him leading off first base, an exceeding rare pose in first season wearing Chicago black and white.
Dunn’s season-long slump has stuck out like a sore thumb because he signed a 4-year contract with the team last winter for $14 million per — a royal sum the White Sox were willing to dish out because Dunn was coming off two seasons with the Washington Nationals in which he hit 38 homers and batted in more than 100 runs each year and batted .267 and .260. And those seasons came on top of Dunn’s five consecutive years of hitting 40 homers or more for the Cincinnati Reds, his first major-league team.
The Nationals’ decision not to offer Dunn a long-term, high-priced contract last winter — an unpopular move among many fans because of his history as a top-tier slugger and good guy — was based in large part on his poor fielding skills, not any expectation that his batting average would drop more than 90 points and his power production would fall by at least half.
But Dunn, while he is absorbing much of the Sox fans’ wrath, is hardly alone. Alex Rios, an outfielder currently in his third year of a big-dollar seven-year contract, is hitting .213 with a .255 on-base percentage, just seven homers and 28 rbi. Last year, by contract, he hit .284 with a .334 on-base percentage, 21 homers and 88 rbi.
The Sox’ struggles don’t make for a bad night out, nonetheless. The Cell is a comfortable enough place to watch a game and the sightlines from our lower-deck, rightfield seats were fine. But the ballpark, opened in 1991, surely lacks the character and old-timey charm of Wrigley Field uptown.
And the clincher, for me, would be convenience, even if I didn’t bring pro-Cubs inclinations with me when I moved to Chicago.
From our apartment, we can walk about 15 minutes to the Addison Red Line station, get on a train, ride for about 40 minutes, get off at the Sox park station, and walk for what felt like a half-mile before joining a scrum of humanity trying to get into one of the stadium’s surprisingly few entrances. (Despite its proximity to a CTA stop, it is a pretty parking-centric facility.)
Or we can walk a few yards past the Addison station and find ourselves in Wrigley Field, which not only is my favorite ballpark but one of my favorite places on Earth, period.
Granted, the Cubs’ 55-70 record, even after today’s exciting 5-4, 10-inning win over hated rival St. Louis, makes the White Sox’ mediocre record look sterling. But let’s face it. I moved to the North Side of Chicago, which by definition makes me a North Sider.
Go, Cubs, Go!