By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
Give a guy $56 million, watch him hit .171, and we all become tee-ball parents.
“Yay, Adam! Adam got a hit! Honey, take a picture – did you bring your phone? I know, I’m low on battery, too…just take one…Great job, Adam!”
After Dunn ended an 0-for-19 skid yesterday with a fourth-inning single off of the Royals’ Jeff Francis, something odd happened. The response to the unexpected result was amused surprise (especially since it was only his second hit off a lefty all year), which then grew to an ovation as many rose to their feet.
It seemed utterly sarcastic at first, but then it changed. I can’t tell you exactly when or how, and it’s tougher to determine since my interpretation is influenced by the way TV presents such things, but there was a perceptible drift away from “At least you didn’t strike out, you big idiot” and toward “Come on, big fella, hang in there!”
Dunn’s response was telling, and significant. Standing at first base, he removed his helmet and waved to the crowd, directly acknowledging them. It seemed genuine, and not the kind of thing you’d do defiantly if you thought you were being mocked.
If this has happened before with an expensive, struggling player on the south side, I can’t remember it.
I can recall countless cases of full-throated exasperation, and a Bronx cheer to match almost every real one. But this is new, strange, and not altogether unpleasant.
The subsequent outpouring after Dunn’s game-flipping two-run homer in the eighth confirmed what was occurring – there was a temporary, powerful sense of ownership created by the earlier moment, with last night’s crowd uniquely invested in his performance. They stood behind him, he made sure to let them know he was aware of it, and the fan/player connection seemed to exist more so than ever, at least for a day.
That’s why the over-the-top reaction and curtain call seemed reasonable. Nobody thought we’d reach the point where a less-than-booming shot against the Royals in July would lead to such things, but here we are.
Ownership is what this is all about, really. Sox fans know it’s a four-year deal, and may have moved past the booing stage, into some kind of supportive resignation. The thought may be “Ok, he’s not what we thought we were getting, but he’s going to have to hit for us to win anything, and I’m tired of yelling at him.”
It would be much easier if he were a villain, or a brooding, scowling moper. The fact that Dunn has been so open about his struggles has made it difficult to keep punishing him, since it’s clear he’s doing it to himself.
Even gripes about his conditioning and work habits have quieted, now that he’s been taking extra batting practice and working with Greg Walker.
“The thing about the fans, they boo and stuff because they want to see the team and me personally do so well,” Dunn said. “That’s how I’ve been looking at it. It makes it more special when they cheer like that.”
When Dunn was signed, he was the focal point of the ensuing “All In” ad campaign – essentially a hardass challenge to fans to match the team’s poker-table raise with their own dollars. And this is not just any fanbase, but one of the most notoriously fickle and demanding.
And here we have what may be the biggest free agent bust in franchise history, and Sox fans are making the conscious decision to provide encouragement.
I never thought I would see such a thing.
And now for some reason I’m craving a juice box and some Teddy Grahams.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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