White Sox opening day looks different, but fans are undeterred: ‘Just as long as we get out here’

Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

Kristine Gericke has lost count of the number of times she’s attended a White Sox opening day with her mom.

After a year away, she had been thinking about the ballpark hot dogs for weeks by the time Thursday’s home opener came around. But even though COVID-19 precautions meant the fan experience would be different, she, her mom and her son were just happy to be back.

“Just as long as we get out here,” her son, Cameron Gericke, 19, said.

The crowd was limited to 20% of the capacity at Guaranteed Rate Field and tailgating was banned, but for many the most important thing Thursday was that baseball, and specifically in-person attendance, was back.

Even the rain that picked up just as the first pitch was scheduled to be thrown and delayed the start failed to drive off fans, who continued to trickle in during the rain delay.

Undeterred by the new rules, fans found their own way to create a game day experience. For some, that meant turning a tailgate into a few beers in the parking lot and trying to avoid detection.

Donna Taillon was at her 32nd White Sox home opener with a group of friends and family. They would typically tailgate in the parking lot for hours, she said.

Taillon attended spring training in Arizona, and regardless of any new rules, she was thrilled to be back at the ballpark. But it was different.

“Baseball is back,” she said. “But I think opening day, tailgating is part of the game. Playing bags, meeting people.”

It was different, too, for Scottie Armstrong, Natalie Weston and Mikey Tucker. Armstrong and Tucker had attended 20 straight opening days together. They exclude the 2020 season which, of course, doesn’t count, they said.

They’re used to waiting an hour or more in line to get into the ballpark on opening day, they said. This year, the lines were minimal.

The reduced crowd would likely change the energy of opening day, but it wasn’t all bad, they said. Armstrong guessed the fans at opening day would be the loudest, making up for the empty seats.

“People that came this year really, really wanted to be here,” Tucker said.

Or, he joked, the reduced capacity might make it feel “like any other White Sox game,” when attendance can sometimes be sparse.

Worried the capacity limit would make it hard to get tickets, Claire Obert and Kim Kohlndorfer bought season tickets to be sure they would get priority.

Obert lives in St. Louis and said the tickets were worth it. Her family is longtime White Sox fans, and she missed baseball during last year’s abbreviated season. Now, not only is baseball back, but the team could be contenders and will be exciting to watch, she said.

Some were introducing their young children to the game after a year delay. Eric and Alex Arcella were eager to bring their daughter, who is nearly 3, to her first baseball game.

But opening day is already a tradition for 2 1/2-year-old Isaiah Pedroza. By his mother’s count, Thursday was his third: Sarah Pedroza came while she was pregnant with him, and brought him again when he was a few months old in 2019.

For Dave Roberts, the game was an outing with his two grandsons, Charlie and Mick Stream. Charlie, 14, and Mick, 8, took the afternoon off school.

Roberts, a self-described die-hard Sox fan, hesitated to come because of the pandemic but decided between his recent vaccination and social distancing precautions he felt safe.

Opening day felt different, and was far emptier than usual, he said. But he was happy baseball was back and hopeful for the rest of the season.

“Hopefully, when we’re back here for the World Series, things will be back to normal,” he said.

sfreishtat@chicagotribune.com