This afternoon, the White Sox held a conference call for season ticket holders with new bench coach Mark Parent and senior VP of sales and marketing, Brooks Boyer. Cheryl is a season ticket holder, but since she was unable to attend, I had the honor of listening in.
Before I get into the actual conference call and the questions asked by season ticket holders, let me say that I think if every franchise is not already doing this, they should. A lot of media members can’t or won’t ask the questions that fans have. As a journalism major, I have learned that I can’t ask questions of athletes that come from my heart. I would never be able to get and/or keep a job that way. So as a fan, it’s a great way to get your questions heard and a great way to get them answered.
And if you have a site like this one where at least one writer is a season ticket holder, all non-season ticket holders get a chance to hear from the coaches and front office too.
Now to the actual call.
Gene Honda, the Sox public address announcer moderated the call. He seems like a really fun guy. He did a great job keeping the call flowing and making it a relaxed atmosphere. Honda gave a poll question before Parent and Boyer each joined the call.
First to join the call was Parent. The poll question asked was what do we think is the most important ingredient for the 2012 season: a quick start, a healthy roster, team chemistry, or a more potent offense. Throughout the call, people voted, and in the end, 42 percent of those who had joined the call said a more potent offense is what the Sox need (for what it’s worth, that’s what I picked).
Questions began with Honda asking how Parent liked SoxFest. He enjoyed himself and thought it was very well done. He also said the players were very excited after SoxFest to get the season underway. Parent also mentioned that it could have been an overwhelming experience had he been the manager, but Robin Ventura handled all the questions put to him very well. Parent likes that he is very honest, sometimes to a fault. He said that Ventura is the kind of guy he would like to be playing under if he was still a player.
The first fan question came from Gary. He asked if Parent has any influence on the lineup as the bench coach. He also asked if a player’s salary would affect his playing time, mentioning that he does not think Alex Rios deserves to play.
Parent went through the process he and Ventura will have with the other coaches. They have meetings to discuss who is doing well, who is doing poorly, and what needs to be changed. Regarding Rios, they will look at how he plays along with Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, and Kosuke Fukudome. In general, Parent will only influence the lineup if Ventura asks for his input.
As for whether salary will affect playing time, Parent is more interested in how the players who had down years – Rios, Adam Dunn, and Jake Peavy were the ones named – will rebound. With the new coaching staff and a different atmosphere, he wants to see if Peavy will rebound and get back to around 20 wins. He wants to see if Dunn can hit 30-40 home runs this season. He wants to see if Rios will buckle down and produce at the plate.
Honda asked Parent about how familiar he was with Fukudome. Parent knows that he was a good player in Japan and was good at the beginning of his Cubs career. It didn’t pan out for Fukudome on the North Side, but he said that he is an interesting guy, and they are anxious to see what he can do, especially since he’s a left-handed batter.
A fan named Felice (apologies if she reads this and I misspelled her name) asked how Parent will motivated slumping hitters like Rios, Dunn, and to an extent, Gordon Beckham. Parent said he wants the players to be relaxed. Not lazy and lounging around the clubhouse and not working. Relaxed as in not wound up and not afraid to ask for help.
He mentioned that in the past when he managed, a player who happened to strike out three times in a game was occasionally afraid to look at him, fearing that he would be upset that he struck out. Parent said that he is never upset with a player who strikes out as long as he knows the player is trying. If players don’t work to improve, that’s when he gets angry.
Parent said part of his job is to build up players’ confidence and that the new relaxed atmosphere that comes along with Ventura as manager will help with that. As long as players are comfortable and working to improve, the clubhouse atmosphere should be fine. He also added that Dunn is incredibly anxious to start the season, and he has never seen a player so ready to go.
Dave asked Parent how concerned he is with starting pitching since we have a young player coming in from the bullpen and an injured player rebounding. He also asked if there was a backup plan in place.
Parent said Peavy is champing at the bit (actually, he said chomping, but I won’t hold it against him). He is ready to train like he always did before his injury, as he is no longer rehabbing. He mentioned he spoke with Bruce Bochy, former San Diego Padres manager and current San Francisco Giants manager, about Peavy. Bochy raved about Peavy and said that he will be good again.
Parent mentioned that Chris Sale and Gavin Floyd are two pitchers we can hope to get 15-18 wins from this season, as long as they get over their hump. He also mentioned that it’s great to have John Danks here under contract and that he will be excellent this year. Parent also mentioned that other young guys like Dylan Axelrod will be getting looks in spring training to see how they are progressing and how they will fit in at the major league level.
Parent said that all the pitchers, veterans and minor leaguers, all have to show Don Cooper what they can do. Parent is excited about the players the new staff has inherited, and he is looking forward to seeing what they can do. He said that part of his job will be giving them tools to be successful but the veterans can show the young guys more than any coach can.
Honda asked who the Opening Day starter would be. Parent said as it stands now, John Danks is the Opening Day starter in Texas, and with the rotation tentatively set, Jake Peavy would pitch the home opener on April 13. He also said anything can happen during spring training, so don’t hold him to that statement.
Mike asked to clarify what a bench coach actually does since many people don’t know. He also wanted to know Parent’s answer to the poll question. Parent said a potent offense and a quick start are what the Sox really need. They also need to play well in spring training and develop a winning attitude quickly.
As for what a bench coach actually does, Parent said a common misconception of his job is that it begins at the first pitch of a ball game. In fact, his job started the moment he accepted the position. What has been lacking in the past was a communication between the majors and the minors. Parent sat down and worked with Ventura to figure out what he wanted. He needed to figure out how Ventura wanted to play bunts, first-to-third plays, how he likes to do rundowns, etc. He needed it on paper so he can meet with Buddy Bell and others who work with the minor leaguers and tell them how Ventura wants it. This way the systems are all the same and there is no need for a learning curve when players are called up to the big leagues.
At spring training, Parent’s job is to make the schedule for the players. He schedules what drills they do when, when they need extra drills, what fundamentals need to be worked on, and things like that. When Ventura wants extra drills, he has to schedule those. During games, he manages alongside Ventura because at any moment, he could be taking control. When Ventura asks for his opinion, he gives him several options, and Ventura goes from there. Parent also takes care of the clubhouse so any potential problems are not brought on Ventura since he has the media to deal with.
At this point, Parent left the call and Honda introduced the poll question for Brooks Boyer’s segment. The question? What is your favorite promotion: Elvis Night, Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day, Dog Day, or the various fireworks nights? First place was fireworks night and tied for second was Elvis Night and Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.
This time, Honda let callers jump right in with questions. Dale asked what new promotions Boyer has planned. Boyer wants all 81 home games to feel like an event. They never know if each game is the first time a young kid comes to a game or if it’s the first time we are bringing one of our friends to a game. The Sox want each game to feel like an event whether there is a promotion or not. That said, they have picked their giveaway items ahead of time without necessarily having a sponsor in order to increase the quality of the items. The Sox are working with Pepsi, and they are working on a replica 1972 jersey for a game in June, Elvis Night, and the fireworks nights.
Boyer also mentioned that there will be TWO Dog Days this season to accommodate the large number of people who want to take part and parade their dogs around the field. The Sox are also giving out chest protectors to kids which is the first time they have done this since Boyer has been here, and there are also a lot of Kids’ Days and Fireworks Nights.
Honda asked Boyer the second part of Dale’s question which made me laugh: how did they get so many black towels for the Blackout Game that quickly?
Boyer and Lou Hernandez played the “what if?” game and “hoped it wouldn’t anger the baseball gods,” as Boyer put it. They found a company in northern Minnesota, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up by the Canadian border and placed an order. They talked to the people there and had all the towels loaded on a truck. If the Sox won, the truck would head for Chicago. If not, they would cancel the order. As we all know, the towels showed up in Chicago for the Blackout Game.
Jim mentioned the article in Crain’s about the pros and cons of a marketing slogan and asked Boyer’s opinion on it. Boyer was interviewed by Ed Sherman for that piece. He said that last season when they decided on the “All In” slogan, it was reflective of what was going on with the team at the time. Dunn had just signed, and Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski had just re-signed. It had all the makings of the Sox being the AL Central leader. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out, so the slogan didn’t look too good.
This season, the slogan “Appreciate the Game” was taken from something Ventura had said. He was asked what kind of team he wanted, and Boyer paraphrased and said Ventura wanted a team that plays hard, is disciplined, and plays the game for the right reasons. He wants a team that appreciates what the games has offered them. Boyer turned that into the slogan because he wants the fans to appreciate what the game has offer, just like Ventura wants the players to appreciate the game. Boyer wants fans to walk away with a great experience every time they come to the park, whether the team wins or loses. He also mentioned commercials with Ventura’s philosophy will be airing soon.
A fan named Dean asked about TV deals. He mentioned how the Los Angeles Angels and the San Diego Padres both signed lucrative TV deals, and he wondered whether the Sox will get one of those any time soon.
To start that answer, Boyer mentioned the markets in Texas. The Rangers viewing area is all of Texas except Houston. The Astros viewing area is all of Texas except Dallas. The territory that the White Sox have is drastically smaller. The Sox share the territory with the Cubs, and the viewing area can only go so far. “Milwaukee is to the north, St. Louis is to the south, there’s a lake to the east, and we can stretch a little into Iowa,” Boyer said. The timing was right for the other markets with bigger viewing areas. There has been speculation on TV rights down the line, but the Sox are under contract with Comcast SportsNet for nine years or so (but don’t hold Boyer to that number since he’s not positive on the length), so nothing will happen any time soon.
Toby asked Boyer about releasing season tickets. He mentioned he normally has an opportunity to buy single-game tickets in the lower deck before they are released to the public but this time they were in the upper deck.
Boyer is happy that there are tickets available only in the upper deck because that means they are selling to ticket holders. He said the Sox will release more tickets, but there is no definitive date on when. He also mentioned that many people are afraid of the dynamic ticket pricing. People think those prices are only going up. Boyer mentions that there are tickets that are 30 percent lower than their baseline price. Buy early, and they will probably be cheaper. He hopes that soon there will be a place on the home page where you can see prices before you decide to head over to sites like Stub Hub. He says don’t be afraid to call about dynamic ticket pricing questions. They are happy to answer questions.
Mike asked Boyer if there was a senior day on the schedule since he didn’t see one and how season ticket sales are going.
There is a senior day. It’s September 9 against the Royals. It’s Grandparents’ Day and Seniors Stroll the Bases. As for season ticket sales, the renewal rate is pretty good. Boyer would rather have them be great, which to him is in the 95-100% range. They’re not there yet, but there has been a lot of interest in the 27, 14, and 7-game plans. There are still good seat locations for those plans.
Boyer said it was a breath of fresh air at SoxFest to hear that fans are positive and have faith in the team. Last week was a big week for selling new season tickets, so it was nice to see that people still want to come out to the games, despite how people have been beating up on what the Sox might be on sports radio.
The last question came from Laura. She asked if it was possible to put the inning and score on the marquee sign over the Dan Ryan. Boyer said the Sox are trying to put in an LED board like in right field, but with the current technology in the board over the Dan Ryan, it’s impossible to do anything in real time since the board is so old. With the new board and new technology, he hopes they can do something in real time. Speaking of technology, Boyer says when Sox fans come to the park this year, there will be an in-park application ready for Smartphones.
So Sox fans, we have some things to look forward to. What are your thoughts on the conference call?