Welington Castillo (SMOKIES PHOTO/RENNIE LEON)
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – It’s only fitting that as interleague play began in major league baseball over the weekend that the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox was renewed, or in this case established.
There is no wind; Sevierville’s 14,788 residents wouldn’t fill half of Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field; and no one is confusing the Hampton Inn that overlooks Smokies Park with the historic Wrigleyville rooftops.
Nevertheless, the future of the Cubs-White Sox rivalry was on display on Saturday when the Smokies donned the colors of their big league affiliate during “All Things Chicago Night” at Smokies Park.
“We came up with the promotion a couple years ago just because we became a Chicago Cubs affiliate,” Smokies general manager Brian Cox said. “Then we started looking at the idea of doing it when the White Sox were in, so with the Birmingham Barons, we thought it’d be fun to mess around with that as a (promotion).”
“I had a chance to play against the White Sox in Vegas in spring training and this is very similar. There are a lot of the same guys, and a lot of the same prospects are there,” added Smokies shortstop Darwin Barney.
The first-place Barons (29-14) are the Double-A affiliate of the White Sox and had pummeled the Smokies, 8-2, in the opening game of the series Thursday and added two more wins Friday night during a doubleheader.
Saturday was a different story.
Welington Castillo, the Cubs’ consensus top catching prospect, has been fighting through a season-long slump that has him batting a dismal .192 -- an especially difficult situation when the team’s alternate catcher, Steve Clevenger, has increased his average to .365.
But Castillo hit a home run in game one of the doubleheader on Friday that would have been the game-winner had the Smokies bullpen not blown their third save in a week.
Castillo on Saturday pounded a two-run homer that nearly clipped the scoreboard in left-center, which stands roughly 410 feet from the plate.
The 4,569 people in attendance may have been there for the deep dish pizza, or Chicago-style hot dogs, but they may have also witnessed the next chapter of the Cubs-White Sox rivalry.
“The guys in the other dugout are trying to get to Chicago just like we are,” said Smokies starter Casey Lambert. “Maybe a couple years down the line, those are the hitters I’m going to be facing on the North Side of Chicago and not the East Side of Tennessee.”