CHICAGO, Ill — The 2018 installment of “Sox Fest” was for the most part, a love fest on Friday afternoon. Fans from all over converged on the Hilton Chicago for their chance to meet their favorite White Sox players and coaches, with some fans just looking to shake the hand of the man with the plan, General Manager Rick Hahn.
Despite the claim that Sox Fest was sold out for the first time since 2006, the event was in fact sold out in 2015, like it was this time around. Fans packed the main ballroom at the Hilton Chicago to see the opening ceremonies at promptly 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon in January. The line to the ballroom, was wrapped nearly to the lobby of the downtown hotel, and some fans had to settle for watching the ceremony on a projector in the overflow ballroom upstairs.
Shortly after the opening ceremony, fans swarmed the autograph lines for hours, disproving the once popular belief that the fan base would never make it through a rebuilding effort by the club.
During a taping of NBC Sports Network Chicago’s Sports Talk Live, hosted by David Kaplan, White Sox play-by-play commentator Jason Benetti said the future of the White Sox is going to be quite simply, “lit”, as the youngsters like to say these days. But despite the emphatically humorous proclamation by Benetti, that would be the feeling and theme of night one of Sox Fest 2018.
Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria spoke to the fans, and answered questions for nearly an hour, and Jason Benetti and Tim Anderson shook hands, took pictures and signed autographs for fans in-between seminars. During the session with Hahn and Renteria, the second year-skipper Rick Renteria said that his expectations for the 2018 Chicago White Sox are simple, “Compete,” Renteria Said, “Give it everything we have for nine innings, expect to win, and make the adjustments when we don’t.”
As far as the fan’s obvious excitement with the current state of the franchise, Renteria had this to say, “You should be excited about the talent we have accumulated, Rick [Hahn] and the front office have done a great job,” Renteria said. “We take pride in what we do, and I think we’re doing the best we can with our product for the fans.”
As far as the idea that the White Sox would deviate from their existing plan, General Manager Rick Hahn made it clear that while the timeline “would be adjusted accordingly if guys [prospects] continue to rapidly develop,” the White Sox are not ready to go all-in just yet. Hahn did say though, that when the time is right, that White Sox fans shouldn’t worry about the club shying away from spending money to add the final touches to what they hope will be a championship caliber team for years to come.
“I’m not gonna say next off-season, but I will say there’s nothing magical about the $68 million number that [Jose] Abreu has,” Hahn said. “We’ve made nine figure offers before, we just haven’t converted on them yet, but there’s nothing stopping us from doing it again”
One of the more popular questions was the status on super-prospects Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez, and when they might be ready to see the Southside. Hahn said that nothing would rush their plan, but that special players like Kopech and Jimenez have a way of forcing their paths to Major League Baseball sooner than later.
Hahn did say that, “off-speed pitches, and the mastery of those pitches,” will be a major hurdle for Michael Kopech to surpass before he can be considered for a promotion to the major league level.
One thing that maddened White Sox fans in 2017, was the amount of bunting that the club did, and Manager Rick Renteria said on Friday night that while at times players went off script more than he would have liked with taking the initiative to bunt, he feels that knowing how to execute the fundamental task, and more importantly knowing how to recognize the situation is an absolute must for all ballplayers.
Overall, the feeling at day one of this year’s Sox Fest was best described as “joyfully optimistic”, or in the words of Jason Benetti, “lit”. White Sox fans have plenty of reason to feel that way, as 2018 appears to be the premature stages of the winning window on the Southside of Chicago.
Follow Patrick Flowers on Twitter for the latest from Sox Fest 2018 this weekend.