On opening day, White Sox fans out in full force: ‘This has always been Bridgeport tradition’

Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Baseball is back in Chicago, and with it, a glimmer of hope for baseball fans on the South Side.

Standing next to a portable grill outside Guaranteed Rate Field before the start of Thursday’s game and waiting for his burger to broil, Mike Dilger contemplated how many games his White Sox team might win this season.

“We’re aiming for 50 wins this year,” he said.

Garrett Crochet shines, but bats are cold for the Chicago White Sox in 1-0 opening-day loss to the Detroit Tigers

Despite coming off a stinging 101-loss season last year, White Sox fans were out in full force on opening day, as thousands of fans flocked to the South Side to see the team take on the Detroit Tigers, ultimately losing 1-0. The White Sox reported more than 33,000 fans in attendance on a sunny, 50-degree day.

“Everybody’s down in the world,” said Dilger, of Frankfort, before the game. “We’ve got to have some hope and baseball brings out hope.”

The first pitch of the season also brought up questions of how many years the White Sox could remain in Bridgeport, as owner Jerry Reinsdorf has teased plans to build a new stadium in the South Loop. On Thursday, fans were defiantly opposed to the move, which would move the ballpark two “L” stations farther north and out of the Bridgeport neighborhood.

“This has always been Bridgeport tradition,” said Maria Nudo, 59, who continued a long-running family tradition Thursday by attending her 41st annual opening day game.

Chris Miller, a longtime fan and South Side native, agreed, calling it a “stupid” idea.

“There’s nothing wrong with this stadium. It’s a great stadium, it’s in good shape,” Miller said. “There’s plenty here for anybody, family or visitors. You can’t go to the North Side and tailgate. Here, you’ve got lots all over the place.”

For die-hard fans, opening day offered a fresh start to a long 162-game season, while more casual fans enjoyed their first chance to go to the ballpark this year. The smell of brats and burgers mixed with beer as adults with a day off work and kids on spring break filled the tailgating lots, clad in black and white stripes and jerseys. A military flyover and spurts of fireworks signaled the return of baseball before the first pitch.

Nudo’s tradition of attending opening day grew out of going to games as a child with her mother before eventually taking her own children to games.

With the changes on the roster throughout the offseason, Nudo said she’s had a hard time keeping track of the team’s dynamics. The starting pitcher for the White Sox, Garrett Crochet, saw his first start in the league Thursday, becoming just the ninth pitcher in the last 110 years to make his first career start on opening day.

Despite the unknowns, Nudo said she feels optimistic based on chatter she’s heard about the team.

“It’s been different, but you know what, I was hearing some good things so I’m upbeat and positive,” Nudo said.

Miller said he has been a White Sox fan since he “first learned about baseball” and that he and his wife, Amber, go to as many games as they can based on ticket prices and family schedules.

“We haven’t gone to opening day in a while because we have three kids, and they cost an arm and a leg,” Miller said of ticket prices on opening day.

With their kids at home, the Millers took the day off work and splurged on tickets behind home plate. “I think the kids are a little upset they aren’t here, but they can come to another game,” Miller said.

Feeling good Thursday, Chris Miller bet money on an opening game win for the White Sox, but regarded the new season with a simple “eh.”

Despite the fanfare of the day, one White Sox fan broke his 10-year streak of attending 751 home games in a row, opting instead to watch the game on television at home.

“It was one of those things I started one year wanting to go to every game, and it just kept going,” said James Duda, 41, who started the streak in 2014.

He added that continuing the streak bordered on becoming “a burden,” and when he attends every game, the crowds on opening day can feel like a hassle.

Duda won’t be gone too long, though, as he plans to return to the ballpark Saturday, as the White Sox look to redeem themselves against the Tigers.