After the coronavirus shut down major-league baseball on March 12, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was much like everybody else in and around the game.
He was patient.
As the stoppage dragged through April and May and spilled into June, Hahn tried getting his needed baseball fix watching videotape from last season. It got a little stale.
“There’s only so many times I can watch that Eloy (Jimenez) home run at Wrigley last year and not wind up thirsty for more,” Hahn said. “Let’s go.”
On Sunday night, Hahn gets his wish.
Limited to intrasquad games since summer training camp started on July 3, the Sox and Cubs go at each other at Wrigley on Sunday. Kyle Hendricks starts for the home team against right-hander Drew Anderson, a longshot to make the White Sox’s roster.
It’s only an exhibition game, but for a city widely starved for fresh sports it’s a major event.
“More than anything, the fact that we’re able to play against an opponent now, I think it’s a different vibe,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Everybody will benefit from it in this particular instance, but I want to see where we’re at. I want to see how cleanly we’re playing, things of that nature.
“It gives them a little bit more of an incentive when you’re playing against some opponents, let alone our opponents on the North Side, which should be fun. I hope everybody is able to take advantage of watching it.”
Watching the game in person isn’t an option, so Cubs and Sox players need to find other ways to generate energy.
In Sunday night’s game at Wrigley Field and Monday night’s rematch at Guaranteed Rate Field, pumped-in crowd noise is expected.
For now, that will have to do.
“It brings me back to college fall ball games, when there are no fans in the stands and it’s dead quiet,” top White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn said. “It’s different times, you have to get used to it. But it’s a blast to be on the field.”
Exhibition games are rarely a blast in a normal season. This one definitely defies that description, making the Cubs-Sox scrimmage a must-watch meeting on both sides of town.
“It’s going to be important for our guys to get that feel of a real game,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. “We’re sort of used to these intrasquads and I think our guys have done a good job competing in these intrasquads. But to play a nine-inning game against a different uniform I think is really valuable and I think we’re all excited about it.
“I think everyone’s kind of looking forward to Sunday. I think it will make things seem real in some ways. We’ve been all together this whole time and I think that playing the game with two teams competing against each other, it will make things feel real and it will get us ready for Friday (season opener vs. Milwaukee).”
Real game or not, fans or no fans, Cubs-White Sox games always seem to be long on entertainment.
Last season, Jimenez snapped a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning with a 2-run homer in a June 18 game against the Cubs at Wrigley.
The year before, in a May 11 game on the North Side, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras powered an 11-2 win with 2 home runs, 2 doubles and 7 RBI.
The two Chicago rivals have been playing interleague games against each other since 1997, and they also lock up two times in Arizona during spring training.
Given all of the turmoil created by the coronavirus, the Cubs-White Sox practice games the next two nights are likely to be as meaningful as any they’ve ever played.
And, looking ahead to the upcoming short season, the Cubs and Sox play three times at Wrigley Field (Aug. 21-23) and wrap up the 60-game sprint with three more at Guaranteed Rate Field (Sept. 25-27).
“Let’s all embrace it as a city,” Renteria said. “I know that most of Chicago would like to see a crosstown World Series someday. Maybe this will be a little taste of it.”
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