Several members of the White Sox attended the start of MLB’s Beacon Awards Luncheon on Saturday at the downtown Marriott before heading to U.S. Cellular Field, home to this year’s Civil Rights Game between the Sox and Rangers.
The annual game began in 2007 as an exhibition before making its way into the regular season in 2009. The Sox have played in the game three times, but this year’s is the first in Chicago.
For reliever Donnie Veal, Saturday’s event was a chance to reflect on the progress baseball has made while also realizing that the number of African American players in the game has declined in recent decades.
“You definitely notice. I think I’m the only one out here today,” Veal said. “But as far as what you can do about it … MLB has put in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program and stuff like that. Something you can do to get out there in the community, get the game out there as much as possible."
Former Sox star Bo Jackson and Grammy winner Aretha Franklin received awards at the luncheon, which also featured baseball greats such as Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Billy Williams.
"It's important for our guys to be able to go,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think it's important for us as an organization. It's great that Bo was honored – somebody that played for the White Sox. I think [because of] his place not only in baseball but [also in] society, that's the fun part of being able to go."
Asked if baseball lost a generation of African Americans to other sports like basketball, Ventura said: “You can probably blame Michael Jordan for that.”
But Ventura also pointed out that an inner-city Chicago Little League team nearly advanced to the Little League World Series this year.
“That's great stuff to hear,” he said. “We do have a lot of African American players that are up and coming."
Sox assistant hitting coach Harold Baines was asked if he’d like to see more African American players in the game.
"Personally, yes. But kids have other options,” he said. “You can't force a kid to play baseball … Kids are not outside like they used to be in the 70s and 80s. They're more computer-literate. They've got other options other than baseball."
Rios excited for potential playoff run
A.J. Pierzynski got the video montage, but Alex Rios also returned to U.S. Cellular Field on Friday, just two weeks after being traded to the Rangers.
Rios said it helped going to a team with familiar faces like Pierzynski and Geovany Soto, the former Cubs catcher who, like Rios, played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
With a 3.5-game lead over Oakland, the Rangers look like they’re headed for the postseason, which would be a first for Rios.
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“I've never experienced the playoffs before,” he said. “The only thing I can relate to it is the WBC (World Baseball Classic) when we made it to the finals. But I guarantee the playoffs is another feeling. I’m looking forward to that.”
Rios had two hits in Texas’ 11-5 win Friday and is in the lineup Saturday against Sox starter Hector Santiago.