The Chicago White Sox presented Beyond the Diamond, an inaugural season-opening celebration to benefit Chicago White Sox Charities (CWSC), on April 10.
Presented by Peoples Gas and Wintrust, the event was the first of its kind to be held in the Atrium at the United Center and attracted a sellout crowd of more than 500. The festive evening featured a sit-down dinner and a lively program that included an onstage introduction of past and present team members, a season preview presented by White Sox manager Rick Renteria, a “Family Feud”-style game among team players, and much more.
During the VIP Big League reception, guests enjoyed arcade games and rubbed shoulders with Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Tim Raines, as well as two-sport great Bo Jackson. During the First Pitch reception, attendees listened to live music from New Groove.
A silent auction offered autographed baseballs, a game base from Jose Abreu's first cycle (hitting a single, double, triple and home run in the same game) on Sept. 9, 2017, and a broken, autographed game bat from Jim Thome's 500th career home-run game.
Guests had the opportunity to create their own baseball cards by posing against a green screen backdrop of Guaranteed Rate Field with Southpaw, the team's mascot.
To kick off the program, popular public address announcer Gene Honda introduced the White Sox's entire team roster, starting lineup, coaching staff and former Sox stars Ron Kittle, Harold Baines and Bill Melton, as well as Jackson, Thomas and Raines.
Christine O'Reilly, CWSC executive director, presented an overview of the charity and its efforts in the community.
"We started CWSC in 1990 with the intention to extend the organization's commitment to be champions for the community,” she said. “It began with an initial grant of $1 million to refurbish baseball diamonds across the city, and here we are tonight, 28 years later, with nearly $30 million donated in total.”
Charles Matthews, president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, discussed the team's 2018 season, saying, "The Sox are playing the game like men but enjoying it like little boys."
He then introduced Sox manager Renteria, who spoke about the team's commitment to the game and the community. "After a tough loss, they're still all here tonight because they know there's something more important than even the game," he said.
Honda shared the importance of the Amateur City Elite (ACE) inner-city youth baseball program, calling it "one of the charity’s most successful endeavors." Troy Williams, an ACE-alumnus-turned-coach, discussed how the program, now in its 11th year, changed his life.
"It's truly made a difference in many kids' lives who don't have the opportunity and resources to play travel baseball at the league level," he said. "The program has enabled me to pay it forward to the kids I coach now. … My life is incomplete if I've failed to leave a place better than I found it."
To date, nearly 170 college scholarships have been awarded to ACE participants, and since 2007, there have been 21 ACE draft picks by Major League Baseball teams.
White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti conducted a live auction with assistance from baseball great Frank Thomas. A custom White Sox guitar — signed by all the players and celebrities in attendance — sold to Bo Jackson, a great in both baseball and football, for $5,000. A National Baseball Hall of Fame road trip sold twice at $6,100 each.
White Sox then players faced off in an entertaining rendition of “Family Feud,” with Benetti hosting two teams, one led by outfielder Nicky Delmonico and the other by infielder Yolmer Sanchez. The night ended on a sweet note with dessert, live music and arcade games.
The new fundraiser raised nearly $300,000 to support the charity's initiatives on youth education, programs for children and families at risk, pediatric cancer treatment and research, and youth baseball.
"Powered by our fans, we are committed to making Chicagoland a better place to live, work and play beyond the diamond," O'Reilly said.
Freelance writer Candace Jordan is involved in many local organizations, including some whose events she covers.