Still, White Sox fans have a pretty solid reputation for responding to winning seasons with a vague, but recognizable interest. Instead of large tracts of the stadium being left empty, if the White Sox are near 1st place after the All-Star break, not a section doesn't look half-full, or semi-occupied, a solid indication of South Side residents taking a passing interest in their South Side ballclub.
The fact that the White Sox drew 38,815 at the beginning of the week for a mundane Monday night game against the positively worthless Seattle Mariners becomes less notable when you factor in that it was a half-price Monday, and the first home game for a team that has spent the last month riling up their buried but undeniably existent support structure with an incredible stretch of red-hotness.
Unfortunately, for the next three games of this most recent Mariners' series, the attendance number dropped back down to an average of 26,563, less than a thousand more than their 18th-ranked season average. "So...whatever"
would seem to remain the motto of the White Sox fans. Even though the crowds seem louder, it's either because they're reacting to actual good things happening on the field, or all of the gentleman I see sitting in the grass outside the stadium before games with dazed expressions are indicative of a more, uh, seasoned fan population now that the weather has warmed.
As a season-ticket holder (team emails telling me about my Ozzie plan addressed me as such, so I'm running with it), there are still some positive signs. Most noticeably, there are less road team fans, and less Cubs fans. They're far from being wiped from the face of the stadium, but they're no longer commanding entire rows; resulting in calamitous disasters like in May where a whole group of men in starched dress shirts and clearly just-purchased Angels hats were ambushed by a group of obese and lubricated Sox fans in a right-field, rain-soaked brawl that eventually turned most of section 103 into complete anarchy. Men punching ladies, oh my.
But beyond no longer having to hear people celebrate every time Mark Teahen takes a groundball off the shin, the positives to be taken away from this development are that demand is such that out-of-towners can't pull decent seats as easily(they could still be in the upper deck, who knows), and less people who don't really want to go to the game are filling the seats. I'm sure there are plenty of Cubs fans who enjoy the hell out of going to U.S. Cellular and rooting for the Orioles for some bizarre, poorly socially adjusted reason, but typically behind every North-sider at a Sox game, is a South-sider who couldn't find anyone else to drag along.
Another sign is that there have been less fights. Aside from the Crosstown series, which featured scores of arrests, brawls that took multiple innings to put down, and scared the ever-loving crap out of Al Yellon, there has been a notable decline in the number of brouhahas I've witnessed since May when the team stunk and every wanted to rip each other's throats out with a sno-cone spoon. Brawls indicate a lack of attentiveness to the game, disinterest, and most of all; deep, deep sadness. Despite the multiple rain-delay games I've attended where 9pm starts shifted the crowd into "all drunks-no kids" mode, people across the Cell seem to give a rat's ass about the team.
At times, at least.
At the same time, the wave seems to break out in the stands every night after the 6th inning, which most everyone I respect agrees is the universal way to say to your team "I don't care, I'm not watching, I'm not listening, spirit fingers, lalalalalalalala..." I haven't been to a Cubs game since they screwed me out of seeing pre-steroids Barry Bonds to rest Kevin Tapani's elbow, but I would hope that they have enough curmudgeonly diehards to refrain from this nonsense. They don't do the wave during playoff games, now do they? Unless they do. In which case my mind will break and this blog will convert to pictures of me eating grilled cheese sandwiches while wearing a stretched-out, bright red WCIU t-shirt. Dark times.
Ultimately, the White Sox have a fairly tepid fan base that really needs to be cajoled out by lots of winning, especially after a losing season, to show some real spark. Even during the 2005 season, when the White Sox jumped out to a huge division lead and held it all season, they only averaged a shade under 29,000 and finished 17th in the league. The real bump from the title only came the next season, when hesitant Sox fans showed at a 36,500 per-night rate to finish 9th in baseball. At the same time, attendance went down from over 30,000 to only 28,000+ in 2009 despite a successful season the year before. So who knows what's going with that. But suffice it to say, we're going to have to get a lot closer to October before holding a slight edge in the 2nd weakest division in baseball raises fan involvement beyond the level of "not embarrassing".