- Doug Padilla, Chicago White Sox beat reporter
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The sold-out Cactus League game between the rivals at Camelback Ranch marks the first departure from last year, when none of the games at Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field in the cross-town rivalry were played in front of a packed house.
Much improved teams on both sides of town means there is finally something for both fan bases to defend. With a better brand of baseball comes fan passion.
It wasn’t all that long ago when White Sox vs. Cubs was one of the best rivalries around, with all the games moved to the day at one point to give fans less chance to imbibe and run amuck.
Asked to recall his most memorable moment from the series, back when he played for the Cubs, White Sox backup catching hopeful Geovany Soto chuckled.
"I remember 2008 at the White Sox, I was catching and I remember counting the fights that came up," Soto said about the activity in the stands. "That was the most impressive. It was my first year, I was brand new there and I remember counting like three then four.
"Nobody wants that, but you could see the passion of the fans, you could see that they were really in it. Obviously you don’t want that to happen, but it was a shock. That’s all I’m saying is that it’s a shock."
Another shocking day in the series was the game in 2012 when Paul Konerko hit a first-inning home run off Jeff Samardzija. On his next at-bat, Samardzija threw a pitch that glanced off Konerko’s face.
"If it were to have happened to someone with less toughness than Paul, it probably would have been a little harder, but you know when you hit a guy and he’s a tough dude like that, that it’s not going to affect him in the long run," Samardzija said Friday. "It ends up being all right. For me, it was making sure a guy I respected respected me back. That’s all I was going for, reaching out to Paulie there, making sure we were on the same page. I wouldn’t do that for everybody, but Paulie was definitely one of those guys."
With both Soto and Samardzija wearing White Sox uniforms now, they hope to see and feel what it is like to have a full house of South Side fans giving their support in the series.
"It’s just a great rivalry," Samardzija said. "Any time you look at sports, you look at rivalries, and that’s what everyone circles on their calendars, whether it’s college football or NFL, it doesn’t matter. Those are always fun games to be a part of, because no matter what the rosters are, they’re always great games."
Soto still has work to do to secure a roster spot as Tyler Flowers' backup, but if he makes the club, the July 10-12 White Sox-Cubs games at Wrigley Field, and the Aug. 14-16 games at U.S. Cellular Field will be something to look forward to.
"I was in Texas the last couple of years, but I do remember the rivalry was pretty heavy and it was a good thing to see,' Soto said. "You had the whole city involved and both stadiums were buzzing. It was good to see and hopefully this year can be the same way."
Improved teams expected to spark passion again in cross-town matchups.