It may be in the form of a tattered film photo, or even that signed Willie Mays ball displayed on top of your grandfather’s mantel. Whatever the case may be, baseball fans have been passing down the tales and relics of their childhood run-ins with the game’s immortals for countless generations. Together, these windows into the past help preserve a story that encompasses a love for the game in its purest form. America’s Pastime is already woven deep into our cultural fabric, but a new chapter always waits on the horizon.
Over a two-decade period of attending games, I have had several memorable experiences at the ballpark.
Despite witnessing many towering home runs, blistering strikeouts, and diving catches, my most prominent childhood memories were formed before the first pitch had even been thrown. In the summer of 2003, my family and I took a trip to Pittsburgh to visit our relatives. Being within driving distance from PNC Park, we decided to catch a Pirates day game, as the team had been in town for a home series against the San Diego Padres. As the early afternoon sun shined over the Allegheny River, we entered through the gates of PNC just before batting practice. Standing along the third-base line on the park’s lower level, I took in the picturesque scenery from the baseball field, which served as the foreground of an incredible Pittsburgh skyline. Not long after, a handful of Pirates players caught my attention.
Among those players was a relief pitcher by the name of Mike Lincoln, who, along with several others, was making his way to the outfield for warmups.
As they passed by, I stuck my arm in the air and waved to say hello. To my surprise, I managed to catch Mike’s attention, and he began making his way over to where we had been standing to sign our tickets and take photos. It was the first time in my life that anything like this had happened to me at a sporting event, and it resulted in excitement that could not be measured. At 7 years old, the fact that a professional athlete took the time to acknowledge me was the coolest feeling in the world, and it’s a memory that I attribute to my lifelong love for baseball some 20 years later.
In a time where there’s a strong emphasis on finding new methods to help grow the game, the power of a simple interaction should not be overlooked. After all, it didn’t take meeting a legend like Ken Griffey Jr. to create a lasting impact on my relationship with baseball. It was that mere 30-second interaction with Mike Lincoln, a 13th round pick whose one discernible accolade was being a Double-A All-Star with The New Britain Rock Cats in 1998.
Fast forward to the present day, and things have managed to come full circle.
Each season, I find myself heading back home to Guaranteed Rate Field before the first pitch with familiar hopes. I still feel connected to this experience but in a different way. I sit with my camera in those same green seats, just as I did when I was a child, only now, I observe – paying close attention to the players on the field in relation to the crowd. Some fans are aspiring ballplayers, while others are casual enthusiasts of the game. Watching as they impatiently wait for an opportunity to meet their heroes, I put myself in their shoes and can relate to their excitement.
When a fan-to-player interaction happens, you feel its power. You think about the kid who has dreams of one day playing in the big leagues but may battle with low confidence and self-doubt. When you see players (like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, and Carlos Rodón) who have overcome great adversity throughout their careers and they give a moment of their time, that single interaction could be all it takes for a young ballplayer’s mindset to change. After fans were sadly deprived of in-person baseball for the entire 2020 regular season, it’s been refreshing to see more and more of these types of interactions – and not just on promotional days, either.
In my opinion, the Chicago White Sox truly have the best fan-to-player connection in all of baseball. Whether it’s catching an in-game toss-up from Tim Anderson, or Eloy Jiménez greeting you with a smile and a wave, these are the moments that are helping create lifetime fans with lasting memories.
While this new era on the South Side is already exciting enough, the growing relationship that the players are forming with their fanbase is making it that much more special.
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