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White Sox fans play hard to get during premium-priced Yankees series

Empty seats were noticeable Wednesday night when first-place Sox played first-place Yankees. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Empty seats were noticeable Wednesday night, when the first-place Sox played the first-place Yankees. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2012 7:55AM

Baseball fans around the country who watched the White Sox host the New York Yankees on Wednesday on ESPN2 no doubt found it peculiar to see 26,319 fans in attendance on a gorgeous August night.

Chris Sale pitching. Two first-place teams playing. The Bronx Bombers. The home team having a feel-good year playing a clean brand of baseball under rookie manager Robin Ventura.

And all those empty seats.

“It’s disappointing, I can tell you that,’’ Sox pitcher Jake Peavy said. “It’s disappointing when you come home in late August, playing another first-place team, a team you could potentially play in the playoffs. If you have 20,000 people here, that’s not something you are excited about. I don’t know the reason why that is. I don’t understand how the pricing works, and it’s certainly not my call. But we would love it if we had a full house. It creates excitement and a little bit of a home-field advantage, and we’d love to have that.’’

With bleacher seats priced at $49, which is $15 more than the regular price, the crowd Monday was 27,561. It was 24,247 on Tuesday.

“That’s unfortunate when you play a team like the Yankees,’’ Peavy said. “You got two of the best teams playing each other in front of 20,000 people in a city that loves sports and appreciates sports.’’

White Sox fans were quick to react to the attendance reports on Twitter, almost unanimously citing the premier pricing level that applies for the Yankees and eight other dates. When the Sox hosted the Yankees in early August last season and premier pricing applied, they drew 24,142 for the first game, a Monday night, and 21,661 on Tuesday. That points to two facts: Price matters to a working-class fan base, and the 2012 team is a better draw at this time this season, although the Sox are several hundred fans per game behind their 2011 attendance.

“Most White Sox fans can’t shell out a couple hundred dollars on a random weekday for a baseball game,’’ Sox fan Eric Galka posted on Twitter on Tuesday night.

With 81 home games to choose from and all games broadcast on TV, it’s easy to choose another night to attend and stay home to watch on TV. The Sox have varying price ranges for Mondays, regular dates, “prime” dates and “premier.”

For example, upper-deck reserved seats priced at $26 for the Yankees could be bought for $7 on seven Mondays this season, including Sept. 10 against the Tigers.

General manager Ken Williams, in past seasons and this one, has said the Sox must sell tickets to back his checkbook for team-improvement purposes. He steered clear of telling fans how to spend their money this week, however, embracing the company theme of focusing on that day’s game and nothing else.

“We are focused on the stretch drive, so I have no reaction and do not expect one from anyone else in the front office, the coaching staff, nor the players,’’ Williams said. “As I’ve stated countless times, this team is focused on winning and grinding through that day’s game and giving our fans an all-out ­effort.

“For those that can’t make it out to a game, I know they are watching and passionate about their baseball team. In fact, I defend and reject the suggestion that our fans aren’t supportive and don’t care.

“I know there at least
2 million of our fans rooting and watching every day in their own way. We met them all one day on LaSalle Street [at the 2005 World Series parade], and I’m pretty sure they haven’t moved.’’

While third baseman Kevin Youkilis, accustomed to nonstop home sellouts with a Boston Red Sox, is “still trying to figure out” the sports-fan landscape in Chicago — where the last-place Cubs outdrew the first-place Sox 112,954 to 76,833 over three games when both teams were at home last weekend — ­veterans Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski have been around long enough to understand Sox fans.

“You want big crowds,’’ Pierzynski said. “I just know the people that have been here have been loud and supportive. I don’t know anything about ticket pricing, so I can’t worry about it. It’s not in my control.’’

Konerko said he was only “a little bit” surprised by the Yankees crowds.

“As players, it’s nice to have the crowd,’’ he said. “The fans that do come out are great. They’re loud and into it, so it’s tough to get on them because they’re here. But we’re just trying to play our game, and if we keep playing well they will come, ­especially if we get closer at the end.”

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