CHICAGO -- On the eve of soccer’s World Cup, a random sampling of Chicago White Sox players revealed that Brazil is the favored team in the clubhouse.
Of the 22 White Sox players asked, eight picked the host country to win the tournament that begins Thursday when Brazil plays Croatia.
The biggest Brazil supporter is, of course, pitcher and Sao Paolo native Andre Rienzo, who played in a soccer academy in his home country until he was 16 before switching his primary focus to baseball.
“It’s huge in Brazil right now,” Rienzo said. “There are parties and people like it and people want to go see the games happen. I hope Brazil wins because it is in Brazil. If Brazil does not win, they will go and have trouble.”
Aside from the White Sox players who hail from the United States, the only other player from a World Cup-qualifying country is Jose Quintana, a Columbia native. Quintana and Alejandro De Aza were the only players to pick Columbia. De Aza is from the Dominican Republic, which isn’t represented on the pitch, but his wife being from Columbia influenced his decision.
Four players selected the United States to win it all, although those selects were more by default from players who wanted to stay loyal to their home country. Adam Eaton acted disinterested, then was spotted wearing a U.S. soccer jersey; perhaps he had more interest than he was willing to admit.
Alexei Ramirez is from Cuba, but he is an ardent Argentina supporter, going as far as to put his Lionel Messi Argentina jersey in front of Rienzo’s face while he was doing an interview.
“I have a deal with Alexei that if Brazil wins he has to go get a Brazil shirt and get a picture,” Rienzo said. “If Argentina wins, I have to get a picture with an Argentina jersey. I hope Brazil, because if I take a picture with a shirt from Argentina, people in Brazil will kill me.”
Jose Abreu picked France, Scott Carroll picked the Netherlands, Chris Sale picked England and Adrian Nieto was the only White Sox player to select defending-champion Spain. Adam Dunn tried to pick three teams -- England, Spain and Brazil -- before finally settling with the home country.
Gordon Beckham and Moises Sierra declined to pick a champion. Beckham said he doesn’t follow the sport closely enough to make an informed opinion, while Sierra said he wasn’t interested because his native Dominican Republic was not participating.