When the Blackhawks visited U.S. Cellular Field Tuesday night, they were welcomed with open arms by both their fans, who traveled south from their usual United Center haunt, and the home team.
“When you look at what teams do across the country, they view other teams as competitors,” said White Sox Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer. “We see it differently; we’re looking at the Blackhawks as partners.”
Chicago Blackhawks Night at U.S. Cellular Field marks the first of what Boyer hopes will be many cross-promotional events between two of Chicago’s preeminent sports teams. Boyer says that combining the White Sox and Blackhawks’ fan bases is a natural move because their fans share a similar passion and enthusiasm for their favorite team.
“I think when you look at Blackhawks fans and White Sox fans, they’re very similar fan bases - two very hard-core fan bases that match up really well. When [Blackhawks Senior Vice President of Business Operations] Jay Blunk and I started talking about it, that’s one of the first thing we noticed – all of the crossover. They seem to fit together well.”
“For me to be treated like this is really special,” said former Hawk and current television analyst Eddie Olczyk about the warm fan reception. “I think the relationship between the Hawks and the White Sox can grow into something bigger and better.”
Among the events at Blackhawks Night was a pregame parade for Blackhawks season ticketholders, a meet-and-greet with current and former Hawks players, and a ceremonial first pitch delivered by Hawks winger Patrick Sharp
“I’m a little nervous,” said Sharp before the pitch. “If I was throwing the first pitch, I wouldn’t be nervous, but I’m doing something a little different for the fans. Hopefully all goes well, but it’ll be fun regardless of what happens.”
Sharp delivered on his promise of "something different" when he walked off the mound before
the first pitch, only to return with a hockey stick. He then flipped the first pitch into the glove of Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, a perfect strike.
Defenseman Brian Campbell, who did the honors last week at Wrigley Field with slightly less success, said that Sharp’s decision to use his stick had nothing to do with Campbell’s own wild pitch. “I didn’t give him any advice,” explained Campbell. “I was listening to James Wisniewski last week and that didn’t help me.”
All in all, the experience was one that players from both teams enjoyed.
“It’s awesome meeting other athletes. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten to meet some of the Blackhawks,” said White Sox outfielder Nick Swisher. “Obviously, expectations are high, and I couldn’t wish them any more luck.”
But for the Hawks players, the electricity of the night served as just another sign of Chicago’s increasing excitement for the start of the 2008-09 Blackhawks season.
“It’s awesome. Just being around the Chicago fans is a good feeling,” said winger Jack Skille. “The city is coming around- a lot of hockey fans- and they’re excited for this year.”
“I’ve heard all summer about how excited the fans are for the season,” said Sharp. “Now that I’m back here with the fans, I see it. We’re happy to be here and looking forward to starting the season.”