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updated: 3/31/2014 8:16 PM

An Opening Day win to soothe the White Sox soul

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  • White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko waves to the crowd during Monday's introductions at the White Sox home opener against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.

      White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko waves to the crowd during Monday's introductions at the White Sox home opener against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • White Sox left fielder Adam Eaton gets tangled up with Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier during Monday's home opener at U.S. Cellular Field.

       White Sox left fielder Adam Eaton gets tangled up with Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier during Monday's home opener at U.S. Cellular Field.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie scores on a play at home during Monday's home opener against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.

       White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie scores on a play at home during Monday's home opener against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

There was a decidedly different tone to the Opening Day festivities on the South Side on Monday.

Different from last year -- at the least -- in its optimism. Altered -- at the most -- in its style. Transformed -- for its part -- by a feeling.

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The only anger -- save for the fans stuck at the gates and delayed entry because of new MLB security policies -- was displayed by Jose Abreu as he repeatedly attacked the baseball, presumably one that had stolen his lunch money when the hulking man was a small child.

Otherwise, there was quite the happy ballpark as the White Sox and Chris Sale took care of the Twins 5-3 before a sellout crowd of 37,422, many of whom left thinking that 2014 might be 20 wins better than 2013, when the Sox lost 99 games.

That seems less than realistic considering the miles still to travel, but on the nicest day Chicago has seen in five months, no one was in a mood to argue with sunshine and lollipops.

"It's the birthright of every baseball fan to be optimistic on Opening Day," said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. "And we feel we've made lot of progress, but we're not fooling ourselves. We know we're not there yet."

What has arrived is a calm confidence that the Sox have made a serious course correction and are pointed in the right direction after the acquisition of players they believe will be stars, like Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson.

"We are excited about our young core, even more excited to see what happens when they realize how good they can be," said executive vice president Kenny Williams. "Sooner or later, that will happen. We hope it's sooner."

There is a peace about Williams now as he settles into his second season without carrying the burden belonging currently to Hahn, who also appears more buoyant and less methodical, knowing he has already begun to transform the roster, modeling it in a fashion more closely related to his vision.

The Sox believe this reload -- they don't ever speak of long-term rebuilding on the South Side -- will happen quickly, and they couldn't have asked for better signals Monday afternoon, already looking smarter, faster and more sure-handed than during a miserable 2013 season.

"It doesn't feel at all like last year," said Paul Konerko, who watched from the bench Monday. "There's been a lot of changes, a lot of new faces. There's still a lot of guys who have been here, but the vibe is much different."

The vibe was different on the field, where the Sox got immediate contributions from Eaton (2 hits, 1 run), Abreu (2 hits, 1 run, 1 RBI) and Garcia (2 hits), while Alejandro De Aza (3 RBI) stole the headlines with 2 homers, becoming the first Sox player to blast a pair on Opening Day since Jim Thome in 2008.

"The young guys were exciting and with the conditions you really had to concentrate," said manager Robin Ventura. "For us to play a clean game defensively is big, a step in the right direction."

The vibe was different off the field as well. Last season, the clubhouse was eerily quiet even after a victory. That's not possible with a self-deprecating Eaton occupying a locker in a corner from which the media could be heard laughing 100 feet away.

While Nick Swisher seemed more performer than actual witness, Eaton appears genuinely incapable of anything less than constant movement and energy, and his presence is a well-timed infusion of talent and animation.

Of course, nothing warms the heart and erases bad memories like a victory in Game 1.

"It's a big deal because you look at what last year was and you can wipe that away," Ventura said. "You play a clean game, you get the right hit at the right time, you pitch and you've got guys taking an extra base on a ball in the dirt.

"It's clean so you can wipe away that smell of last year."

You smell only as good as your last shower and the Sox know one game does not deodorize entirely, but the Sox left the yard Monday night to a sweet aroma, rose petals strewed about and bouquets tossed in every direction.

Much better than the alternative, which stinks.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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