A Chicago White Sox fan walked up to the mic during a session with players at the 2001 SoxFest and posed a simple question to pitcher Kip Wells.
“What are you going to do about those walks?” he asked. “It’s driven me to drink.”
It was a typical SoxFest moment, and Wells didn’t take it personally.
“I know,” Wells replied with a sheepish grin. “I’m the one out there walking them.”
SoxFest tends to be a little edgier than its counterpart, the Cubs Convention, with blunter questions and some heated back-and-forth between fans and management. When executive vice president Ken Williams was general manager, you could see the steam rising from the top of his head. Sox fans don’t mince words.
Due to reasons unexplained, the organization opted not to hold SoxFest this winter, a decision that has created a tremendous amount of backlash on Twitter and the internet, especially after the Cubs held their convention last weekend.
It was understandable SoxFest was canceled in 2021 and ‘22 because of the pandemic, but several teams, including the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, resumed their fan fests this month. Were the Sox trying to avoid the wrath of fans, or was there another reason for the decision?
It doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done. And with a little more than three weeks before spring training begins in Glendale, Ariz., the Sox desperately need some help getting fans excited about what’s in store for the 2023 season.
Fortunately, we’re here to help.
Here are 10 things to look forward to in 2023.
1. It couldn’t get any worse
This goes without saying. The Sox were overconfident heading into 2022, from upper management to the players, but spent most of the season trying to get to .500. Injuries were a part of the struggles, but underperforming stars such as Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada and Lucas Giolito also factored into the mess. Motivation should be no problem in ‘23.
2. Pedro Grifol is not Tony La Russa
SoxFest would’ve been the perfect time to get to know the new manager. Oh, well. At first glance, Grifol seems like the perfect antidote to La Russa, and he’ll get a chance to show what he’s all about in spring training. Every new manager deserves a honeymoon period. How long it lasts for Grifol will depend on how the Sox start the season.
3. The chip on Dylan Cease’s shoulder
After being left off the American League All-Star team last summer, the team’s poet laureate used the snub for motivation. “Just trying to win is enough motivation for me,” he said after returning from the break. “But I’ll take any chip on my shoulder I can get.” The chip worked, and Cease finished second in AL Cy Young voting. It’s going to be hard to ignore Cease this time if he continues dominating hitters as he did in ‘22, but the chip should remain.
4. Andrew Vaughn is out of the outfield
Vaughn tried his best, but with a minus-14 in defensive runs saved, he ranked as the second-worst defensive outfielder in the American League behind the Seattle Mariners’ Jesse Winker (minus-16). With José Abreu gone, Vaughn will return to his natural position at first, with slick-fielding Andrew Benintendi playing left and Eloy Jimenez becoming the primary designated hitter. Sox pitchers should benefit from the switch.
5. Tim Anderson is healthy again
After surgery in early August to repair a sagittal band tear on the middle finger of his left hand, Anderson was slated to return for the final weeks of the season. He never made it back but should be fully healed and ready to return to his first-half form. Anderson has two seasons before free agency. But after seeing how much Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson were paid this winter, he should be primed to improve defensively — and to stay on the field.
6. Garrett Crochet eventually will return
When the left-hander will be added to the Sox bullpen is unknown. After Crochet missed 2022 following Tommy John surgery, the Sox figure to start him in Triple A and control his workload. But his importance is magnified with closer Liam Hendriks battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the Sox will need Crochet in the second half for a postseason run.
7. ‘Hi, Mom!’ Talking Bobblehead Day
The coveted Eloy Jiménez talking bobblehead will go to the first 20,000 fans to show up May 13 against the Houston Astros. Eloy’s mom is not included.
8. Reaction to Joe Kelly’s book
After a dismal start to his Sox career, Kelly finished with a 1.13 ERA in his final nine appearances, showing signs of his old self. With the release this spring of his new book, “A Damn Near Perfect Game,” Kelly will be in the spotlight everywhere he goes, just as he prefers, after ripping Carlos Correa, Josh Donaldson, the Astros and others. Now he has no choice but to pitch well this season.
9. Two new bars in the upper deck
The Sox are opening two upper-deck drinking spots they’re calling “View Bars” in Sections 516 and 548. The team released two photos of the bars, which will be available to all fans and also through group sales. Selling upper-deck tickets has been a difficult task, except for opening day and the City Series against with the Cubs, so it makes sense to try and entice fans to hike up to the 500 level.
10. Liam Hendriks’ rehab
Cease told reporters last week that the news on Hendriks was “pretty devastating” for everyone. “But it sounds like something he’ll be able to overcome, and obviously it’s much more important than baseball,” he said. “We’re all with him.” Everyone agrees that Hendriks will beat this thing. Hopefully he’ll be back on the mound soon, but even seeing a healthy Hendriks in street clothes would be an inspiring sight for Sox Nation.