White Sox ‘go nuts’ for Blackhawks goals

Nellie-Fox;-Chicago-White-Sox;-Blackhawks

White Sox legend Nellie Fox represents for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Luke Fox)

CHICAGO – Even before he was traded to an Original Six town, Tyler Flowers was a huge hockey guy, which is odd because he’s a baseball player from Georgia.

But his brother played the winter game, so he gave it a shot one season. Flowers was 12 years old, a poor defenceman that could bodycheck but not much else.

“I could only stop to my left. Couldn’t stop to my right. That complicated things,” says Flowers, before squatting behind home plate. “There’s so many things going on, and it’s so fast, I developed a respect for the game from playing that one year.”

As a pro with the Braves, the catcher and his wife would frequent Atlanta Thrashers games.

“Not many people would show up, so we’d get good seats for cheap,” says Flowers. “Hockey live? There’s nothing like it. TV does not do it justice.”

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After getting traded to the White Sox in 2009, Flowers adopted an affinity for the Blackhawks, who were rising out of the doldrums and on the brink of winning a pair of Stanley Cups. He bought a place in Arizona and started going to Coyotes games, too.

His respect for what the Blackhawks do just a $12 cab ride south of U.S. Cellular Field is rooted in discipline. When he watches a player get blindsided, Flowers is impressed when the victim doesn’t take it personally, hollering at his TV, “Go after the guy! He just took a shot at you!”

The mental aspect of both baseball and hockey can be similar.

“You have to be focused during a tough day at the plate to not carry that frustration into your defence,” says Flowers. “Their game is obviously faster-paced, constant action; we’ve got action for only a couple of seconds, then a break. Theirs is nonstop, go-go-go.”

Go to the park formerly known as Comiskey on a night of a Blackhawks game, centre-fielder Adam Eaton says, and expect attendance to be down. Naturally Sox fans are ’Hawks, so the ball club has gone to great lengths to support its northern neighbours.

The sculptures of the team’s legends — Carlton Fisk, Nellie Fox, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, et al.—that dot the outfield concourse all sport Blackhawks sweaters Tuesday night. And when Sox games coincide with playoff games, a goal horn blares across the field each time the good guys score.

“Everyone here wants to know what they’re doing,” Eaton says. “You can tell that when the horn goes off and they go nuts. It’s really nuts when that happens. Even for the other team. Houston’s in town, they see that [Monday, during Game 3] and are like, ‘That’s pretty neat.’ ”

Flowers, one clubhouse stall over, clarifies that the goal horn is delayed so as not to interfere with the ball game.

“They’re not doing it mid-pitch or mid-at-bat, which is good,” he laughs. “Ask someone. When we hit a home run, do they make a noise in their arena? I think they should.”

Of all five of Chicago major sports teams, Eaton says the Blackhawks are the most popular game in town, and have been for the past five years.

“You don’t go out to dinner or lunch and not see a Blackhawks jersey. It just doesn’t happen,” says Eaton, the Sox’ leadoff hitter. “What better place to play baseball than Chicago, where you have the Blackhawks right down the street?”

Like Flowers, Eaton too spends his off-seasons in Arizona and makes a point to catch the Blackhawks when they visit the Coyotes. When he was first traded to Chicago, he was invited to play Shoot the Puck, the famed intermission contest at United Center. The hockey team gave him an authentic sweater — a souvenir he cherishes.

We ask Eaton if Chicago can rally form their 2-1 deficit and win the Stanley Cup. He giddily proceeds to break down the series.

“Tampa’s tough. They’re so electric; they have such a great offence. They play so well together, but if our stars shine like they have in the past and we get good goaltending and good play in front, I think we’ll be all right,” Eaton says.

“They never cease to amaze us, as a city. We think, ‘It’s going to be tough in Anaheim,’ then we beat ’em in seven. Never doubt them. Soon as you doubt ’em, they prove you wrong.”

And don’t doubt the strength of hockey town’s spirit, even on a night at the yard.

“It’s one big city. No matter what sport it is, we always root for those guys,” says pitcher Jake Petricka. “We want them to win as much as we want to win tonight.”


Sox talk ’Hawks: Two White Sox describe their favourite Blackhawk

Tyler Flowers on Corey Crawford

“I’m kind of a fan of Crawford back there. He’s gotta deal with a couple more obstacles than I do, with pucks deflecting off sticks right in front of you, people blinding you.

“It’s a similar position in that you don’t get a lot of praise when you do your job, but you get a lot of criticism when you don’t. You don’t get a lot of praise for blocking balls or framing pitches, but sure enough everyone notices when one gets by you.

“I’ve always respected the goalie aspect. Never done it, but I see the similarities. I’ve become a Crawford fan, especially for the struggles he went through for a period of time. He came out on top of that and continues to lead his team.”

Adam Eaton on Andrew Shaw

“My favourite player is either Shaw or [Patrick] Kane, with [Jonathan] Toews a close third. Shaw is nasty, which I like. He’s very gritty. He gets under guys’ skin, which I like. He’s the guy you love having on your team but hate playing against.

“You learn a lot about a player when you don’t watch the puck, so I’ll watch him. Shaw does a lot of stuff without it. He really works, and you see what he gets paid for behind the scenes. Then he finds himself in the middle of something, so it’s fun for me to watch him.”

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photos by Luke Fox

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