Letters From Summer Camp: White Sox scrimmage in empty park
Dear White Sox Fans:
Today is Saturday, July 11, 2020.
It's been awhile since I last wrote. I apologize for that; there's simply been a lot going on. A virus has flooded through the campground, and already there are two players in the infirmary with positive tests. All indications are that they're doing well, and asymptomatic. Even so, it wouldn't be respectful to name them as they've each requested privacy.
It's hard to say there's much in the way of routine these days. Things are quite surreal, in fact.
The White Sox played their second intrasquad matchup yesterday afternoon. I'm happy to report that Guaranteed Rate Field looks unscathed from what has otherwise felt like an apocalyptic year.
In 80 degree weather, beneath baby blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds – ones oddly reminiscent of crumpled Kleenex – the park looked simply majestic.
There's a groundskeeper here at camp by the name of Roger. Roger Bossard is his full name, but some of the campers call him The Sodfather, a homage to a popular movie from the 1970s starring Al Pacino.
Roger prepped for a round of thunderstorms coming in from the West, which is usually enough to shut down camp for the day. But we were all lucky. While it rained heavily yesterday morning, you'd never have known the difference – at least not when looking at the field later that day.
It's said Mr. Bossard keeps his tools in a special shed east of where the press cabins are, but he must keep a bottle of magic in there, too, considering how pristine the freshly-mowed grass and smooth infield dirt appeared under a suddenly welcoming sky.
Playing assignments were posted early yesterday morning, when campers woke up to the sound of radio pop music still playing from stadium speakers. Everyone's looking forward to when the organ made famous by Nancy Faust can once again ring in the campers for their 1:10 section activities.
Inspections of the clubhouse cabins may be on hold, as typical synchronized uniforms looked far more like a hodgepodge of what remains clean from camper's suitcases.
Some players wore the conventional White Sox logo, others wore sleek warmup gear that seemed to mold to their skin, while a smattering wore jerseys with a batter man logo parked on the upper chest.
Edwin Encarnación was the most decked out, with the look of a ninja. He was clad in a fully black outfit on a rather hot day, even choosing to wear a thick, dark face mask that made him appear quite intimidating whenever he stepped to the plate.
His pet parrot, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Despite it being the White Sox vs. the White Sox, one side was awarded the designation of "Home Team," and it's safe to say that the "Home" lineup is the iteration most likely to trot out against the campers from the North – the Minnesota Twins – on July 24, save for a few exceptions.
The "Home Team" appeared as follows:
1) SS Tim Anderson (R)
2) CF Luis Robert (R)
3) 1B José Abreu (R)
4) DH Yasmani Grandal (S)
5) LF Eloy Jiménez (R)
6) RF Nomar Mazara (R)
7) C James McCann (R)
8) 2B Nick Madrigal (R)
9) 3B Leury García (S)
SP Dallas Keuchel
Some notable absentees were Encarnación who played first base for the "Away" team and Andrew Vaughn, who was tested at third base yesterday. Apparently, that move is to keep Vaughn fresh defensively, but it's hard not to ponder whether it could be a test of his versatility as well.
Vaughn didn't look too out of his element over there, and in a shortened year, his polished bat could find its way into the lineup. And there are reasons to necessitate it as well, especially if rumors about a certain absent third baseman out of the infirmary are true.
It's always a slippery slope to critique the headmaster, certainly during inordinate circumstances, but it would seem as though during a traditional game, Madrigal –with his high propensity for contact and astute base running skills – would be a great fit in the No. 2 hole, at least as a way to get on base ahead of the thumpers.
Some of this may depend on how commendable his OBP proves to be, but for his part, Madrigal posted a walk today and showed great instincts on the base paths, getting a sizable lead and then going on contact to break up a potential double play.
Dallas Keuchel easily has the most notable beard of all the campers, so you can spot him in a pinch. His beard is "not too shabby" looking —well, actually it is, but that's what makes it cool, or better yet, to use the fitting colloquialism: Not too shabby.
Keuchel didn't pitch too shabby either, retiring all seven batters he faced and notching three strikeouts. The stuff looked crisp, so crisp in fact that the counselors let him get a fourth out in the second inning just for the fun of it.
It's good to play for the home team.
That said, the away team consisted of some interesting outfield pieces in Luis Basabe and Adam Engel, the latter of whom could be heard calling for a fly ball in front of 40,000 empty seats.
There weren't even crickets in attendance. Although there was a dragonfly that flew onto my pen as I was writing notes for this letter around the third inning – not the best display of social distancing, I might add.
The only other spectator in attendance was a giant white goose out in right field. He was sitting across the rather dried-up pond on Goose Island. His beak was wide open, both the color and stature of a catcher's mitt, and he seemed to be angling to snag a deep home run.
Abreu came the closest to providing him with such a gift, with a blast the opposite way, but it was east of the pond and far too shallow for the goose.
Tim Anderson ripped a ball to the deep end, but in the words of Hawk Harrelson (A famous camp storyteller) it was the "right size, wrong shape" for the Goose, as the ball was scorched to straightaway center, skirting just over the 400-foot marker like a goose skirting over water.
It was his second hard-hit ball of the day, as he'd slapped a sharp single to left field earlier in the game. What made the home run special, though, is that it ended the inning entirely. It's one thing to end a pitcher like Brad Keller with a javelin bat flip, but to end an inning entirely? Anderson just keeps getting even more impressive.
Other notable moments from today's activities were that Jiménez continued to rock some red batting gloves his mom sent him. Everyone at camp has some green envy, or rather red envy, about those glossy red gloves.
Reliever Ian Hamilton, so much so that he wore a red glove today. But maybe it was a jinx, as he kept missing low and away to the glove side. But it's still early in the season, and there's plenty to be excited about regarding Hamilton – and Eloy for that matter.
Robert too. And Vaughn. Don't forget Lucas Giolito. Or Honor Camper Abreu. Or newcomers like Grandal and Keuchel. And Madrigal, and Gio González. And now my pen is nearly running out. That's how many names there are to list.
So in the interest of saving some ink, I suppose now is as good a time as ever to wrap things up.
It's easy to get homesick, especially now, when things don't feel all that normal. But Summer Camp is nothing but an experience, and the more unique an experience, the more memorable.
The Chicago White Sox are about to embark on a 60-game sprint. It's going to be the type of season you engrave into the trunks of trees and look back on decades later. More importantly, I recently heard a campfire story that there's a pretty special trophy sitting in the mess hall.
And I'm happy to report that everyone here wants to bring it home.
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