Say "White Sox homer" and baseball fans beyond Bridgeport immediately think of Hawk Harrelson's face before Adam Dunn's swing.
"I said what I said and I meant what I said,'' an unabashed, unapologetic Harrelson said Thursday on WSCR-AM 670.
In an odd way Hawk being Hawk — if you don't like him, don't watch, dadgummit — fittingly overshadowed a Sox team that quietly does its best work the louder everybody else talks.
The Sox feature a core of proud professionals with something to prove, led by an egoless manager, Robin Ventura, who doesn't need attention and an early MVP candidate, Paul Konerko, who doesn't want it. They still struggle at the box office as much as they have surprised us in the standings, a team with live bats and young arms but no nickname — yet.
They have become so accustomed to being unassuming that rookie closer Addison Reed hasn't picked a song yet to announce his entry into the ninth inning, which these days is like a commercial without a jingle.
"Whatever they have for me playing is fine,'' Reed said Thursday. "I don't care if I have my own song.''
As long as Reed keeps recording outs, it will be music to the Sox's ears. The Sox's surge last month coincided with Reed's emergence as somebody Ventura could trust to get the final three outs. They were 12-14 on May 5 when Reed notched his first save and have gone 17-8 since he assumed a role that fits his temperament as well as his 98 mph fastball. Just as nothing demoralizes a team quicker than a blown save, few things stabilize a bullpen like a reliable closer.
Ask somebody why the Sox have become the most surprising team in the American League and any answer rightfully begins with Dunn and Konerko and starters Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. But without Reed, now 6-for-6 in save opportunities thanks to an improving changeup that complements the heat, I don't know if the Sox would lead the division.
"For some reason I like that situation and get more pumped up,'' Reed said.
No longer is Reed known best for being Stephen Strasburg's closer at San Diego State, where his 20 saves in 2009 led the NCAA. Reed keeps in touch with his more famous college buddy and thinks of the Nationals pitcher often, such as Monday when he relieved Sale after his 15-strikeout performance.
"They both throw hard and have nasty stuff, so absolutely I see comparisons between them,'' Reed said. "I honestly believe both are going to have real successful and long careers.''
They have begun saying similar things about Reed, who along with fellow 2010 draft pick Sale and homegrown products Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo, has taken pride developing while contending in spite of doubts.
"I don't really know how people can talk bad about our minor league system now,'' Reed said. "Or our team. People were writing us off from the beginning, but we knew what kind of club we had. Everything's coming together, and it's not surprising at all.''
I still think the Sox need to add a proven starter and improve consistency at third base to contend into September. But the intangibles defining the Sox make it impossible to say they can't.
Asked what gives him reason to have faith in the Sox, CSN analyst Frank Thomas cited "the memory of Kevin Hickey'' — a reference to the popular Sox coach whose passing has provided the team inspiration. Indeed, no sabermatician can measure the value of a common cause in baseball, and if the "South Side Hic Men," believe the power of Hickey's memory gives them a special edge, it doesn't really matter if you or I agree.
What is the harm in believing June 1, Sox fans? Leave the objectivity to those of us who can't cheer in the press box. The Sox are the potato chip tempting you to ruin your diet. Eat it. They are the neighbor's pool taunting you at the end of a long, hot day. Dive in. Indulge yourselves, South Siders. Enjoy this as long as it lasts. Stretch your boundaries of baseball logic.
If a team means that much to you, the fun of sports sometimes involves fans letting their hearts rule their heads. You know, like Hawk would.