By Matthew Mata
For many Sox fans, Opening Day means more than the start of baseball season, but rather pre-game rituals, where Sox fans flood the city’s south-side with the smell of brats, beer, and corn hole dust. Tailgating at Guaranteed Rate Field is a unique experience, as the White Sox are the only Chicago baseball team to offer tailgating to its fanbase.
Despite the White Sox’s struggles on the field, Hannah Sundwall – coordinator of media relations for the White Sox – said in 2018 the estimated number of tailgaters for home games was between 3,800 and 4,300 fans, which peaked over 5,000 during the team’s “home games in the summer months.”
This is roughly twenty-five percent of all attendees, as the White Sox averaged 20,110 attendees per game according to an ESPN database. Sundwall credits these numbers to the organization’s “commitment to ensure fans can enjoy every aspect of the ballpark experience.”
Tailgating is a major aspect of the White Sox experience, as it allows fans to live out the organization’s slogan of ‘passion, pride, and tradition.’
Freddy Razo, a native Chicagoan and Sox fan, has been tailgating on Opening Day for the last ten years and describes the annual tradition as one that starts early. At roughly 8:00 a.m., two hours prior to when stadium lots open, Freddy Razo met his friends at La Casa De Pueblo, a neighborhood restaurant in Chicago’s Pilsen community; just west of the ballpark.
He reveals that this is the first of two stops he and his friends make before heading to tailgate, “it’s the meal before the meal that holds us over until we get the grill going.”
The adjacent grocery store is stop two of two and is where Razo describes it as a one stop shop, “we get our carne asada (skirt steak), ice, beer, just everything I need.”
By 9:30 a.m. Razo says the day’s only challenge begins – in order for tailgaters to “reserve” spots next to their friends, all cars must enter the lot simultaneously – “it’s not impossible, but sometimes you get that jerk who cuts in entering from the other side of the street, but you know we speak to the parking attendants and it all works out.”
To watch parts of Freddy’s interview click here!
Having ten years of experience tailgating not only Opening Day, but games throughout the season, Razo emphasized the sense of community tailgating brings to a fanbase that has been through a rough rebuild. He highlights the culture and community that is fostered through tailgating as it is more than just setting up a grill and cracking open a beer, but rather about the memories and excitement that is build around not only baseball, but the food, music, and storytelling involved in tailgating. How the innate intimacy of parking lots allows for a recognition of familiar faces who tailgate regularly, which translates to a community where carne asada can be traded for a neighboring tailgate’s turkey leg or italian beef. Razo describes this community as one that extends beyond the parking lot adding it is not uncommon to run into tailgaters once inside the ballpark and share a beer extending the bond over the tailgate festivities, to now the game of baseball and their hometown team the Chicago White Sox.
Jake Goldwater is a lifelong White Sox fan who shares Razo’s belief that tailgating is an extension of the organization’s slogan of pride, passion, and tradition, as he says he has matured through his experiences tailgating since the age of seven. During an April 16th home-game against the Kansas City Royals, Goldwater was wrapping up a tailgate with his father, as it is their annual tradition to tailgate the first game of their season tickets. Goldwater says tailgating solidified his fandom for the Sox, as the tailgaters always showed him compassionate. He shared memories of how despite being the only child, kids from neighboring tailgates would invite him to join in on games of catch or wiffle ball. But that was not the only game Goldwater was learning, as he admits tailgating increased his baseball literacy and judgement saying, “the things you here in the parking lot are unfiltered,” but are words and perspectives that helped solidify his own; whether he agreed with what was said or not.
Goldwater expressed the influence tailgating has had on him beyond it being where he had his first beer freshman year in highschool, or where he was when the White Sox won game 2 of the 2005 World Series, but rather, “these tailgates weren’t just a social gathering but more a way of expressing and carrying on the tradition of the team. When you go to a White Sox tailgate you see people sharing in the experience and connecting on a different level…these experiences and traditions are what make the White Sox fan base a family that will ride together through the best and worst of times.”