CHICAGO -- SoxFest festivities taking place at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago during the weekend of Jan. 21 won't be much different from the lineup of these past winter baseball events.
That lack of change, aside from new players arriving to meet a portion of the White Sox fan base, doesn't seem to be a problem for the attendees.
"I really think what it has become is really what the fans want, and so honestly, it hasn't evolved that much," said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly, who has been involved with SoxFest since its inception.
"Fans have told us loud and clear how they love the opportunity to see the players and get autographs," O'Reilly said. "It's a gathering of the core group who come every year, and new fans who are excited about kicking off the season and looking forward to getting autographs and photos and the question-and-answer sessions."
Five autograph stages will be set up at this year's SoxFest, along with two photo stages. The photo element was added a couple of years ago, while the popular town hall meetings, during which fans can ask questions of general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, will once again be on the agenda.
Those particular meetings have ranged from somewhat heated in 2004, when the White Sox lost a large group of free agents during the offseason and the Cubs were coming off a near-miss in the NLCS, to darn near a revival session in 2006 after the White Sox won the 2005 World Series and then added Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez during that ensuing offseason. This year's sessions figure to take on a highly positive tone with the White Sox going "all in" in their acquisitions of Adam Dunn and Jesse Crain and their decision to bring back A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko, raising the payroll to a franchise record above $125 million.
A specific schedule still is being put together for the weekend events. But a variation of these town hall meetings will take place on Friday and Saturday, and the White Sox hope to fit one in on Sunday, according to 0'Reilly.
Friday's events are reserved solely for those who bought the weekend hotel SoxFest package, but single and two-day passes will be available for purchase on Thursday, Jan. 13 starting at 10 a.m. CT. They can be purchased at whitesox.com/soxfest. Single-day passes are $50 for Saturday and $35 for Sunday, with two-day passes running for $70.
Weekend passes, which are available only with hotel reservations, are $75. Only those fans who purchased a hotel package and weekend passes are eligible to buy the Big Hurt Experience, which includes a private autograph session with Frank Thomas.
Most of the active 2011 White Sox roster will be in attendance. That list features Konerko, Pierzynski, Mark Buehrle, Matt Thornton and Gordon Beckham, to name a few, joined by newcomers such as Dunn and Crain. Even rookies such as Brent Morel and Chris Sale will be on hand to mingle with the fans.
"I've heard about it a little bit from last year," said Morel, who has been projected at this point as the White Sox starting third baseman in 2011. "I actually looked it up, and I just know it's for the fan base, where the players are doing signings and question-and-answer sessions."
"Offseason time is precious for the players, and we are respectful of that fact," O'Reilly said. "There have been instances where guys are rehabbing and don't want to interrupt the process. That said, we really have an amazing roster."
Guillen and his staff will be at SoxFest, as will Williams and assistant general manager Rick Hahn. Former players such as Roberto Hernandez, Ron Karkovice, Ron Kittle, Bill Melton, Bill "Moose" Skowron and Jose Valentin are also scheduled to be there, as will broadcasters Ed Farmer, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, Darrin Jackson and Steve Stone.
Friday's session runs from 4 to 9 p.m. CT. Saturday's session is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday finishes off the weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fans will get to meet some of the exciting personnel additions made by the White Sox during the offseason, but in the case of the SoxFest layout, keeping things pretty much the same has its benefits.
"Over the years, we've tweaked it a little bit," O'Reilly said. "There's an interactive area and this year there will be a trophy room, where the World Series trophy, Bill Melton's home run crown and I think even a Gold Glove will be on display.
"We hear loud and clear from the fans how they love what it is, so we shouldn't mess with it."