The surprise call-up from the minor leagues when the series began, Saladino has been taking the train to and from the ballpark this weekend, embracing not only life in the city but also soaking in all he can during his debut weekend in the majors.
With his first career MLB hit -- an RBI triple in the first inning off Jon Lester -- and his solid defense at third base the past two games, that anonymity might not last much longer.
“It’s the first thing I can actually say I’m speechless about,” Saladino said shortly before heading to the turnstile at the Addison Red Line stop. “I can’t really put it into words. The whole thing -- you know, Lester, triple, first hit, RBI -- it’s about as cool as it gets.”
Not lost on Saladino is how lucky he is to get his first taste of the major leagues in a sold-out Wrigley Field for White Sox versus Cubs, with its miniature playoff atmosphere.
“Yeah, man, it’s a rivalry,” said White Sox starter Chris Sale, who gave up just one run over seven-plus innings while striking out 10. “You’re talking about two teams in the same city. It’s hard not to have fun. You get up a little bit for it. It’s fun, good atmosphere, sold-out crowd.”
Tyler Flowers, who delivered a crushing two-run double off Lester in the seventh inning, was basking in his achievement as much as he was relating to Saladino afterward.
Flowers also made his major-league debut at Wrigley Field in a 2009 late-season makeup game. He remembered that Carlos Torres was on the mound for the White Sox that day, he fouled out to first base as a pinch hitter and he couldn’t stop his knees from shaking as he came to the plate.
“I know exactly what he’s going through, and that’s a great moment for him,” Flowers said. “He will remember this in detail.”
The thing about the 2015 White Sox is that outside of Sale, feel-good moments have been few and far between. Saladino delivered one on a day Sale was the star of the game with his return to double-digit strikeout totals.
Not only did Saladino field his position well at third base, a spot he played mostly in spring training, but he also nearly had two other hits Saturday, only to see them get taken away consecutively on a spectacular play by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and a replay reversal that changed a safe call on what would have been another infield hit.
“This is good as it gets for me,” Saladino said. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and everything is magnified, every play, everything sets off the fans.”
Saladino’s 0-for-3 debut Friday sounded a lot like Flowers’ in 2009, with two extra at-bats. There were knees knocking, palms sweating and a whole lot of deep breathing.
“There were some nerves, definitely some nerves,” Saladino said. “I was just trying to have fun with it, compete the best I can, but still enjoy the moment and have fun with it. Ultimately, we won, and that’s what matters, so it made for a great day.”
Saladino’s window of opportunity is closing fast. He was called up to give the White Sox lineup versatility for a weekend series at a National League ballpark, at the expense of shortening the bullpen. Right-hander Scott Carroll was sent down Thursday to create a roster spot.
The projected scenario is Saladino sticks around through Friday’s doubleheader at home against the Kansas City Royals. Right-hander Matt Albers figures to take the extra 26th roster spot for Friday’s day/night twin bill, with Saladino going back to Charlotte after the double-dip and Albers' staying in the bullpen.
That would mean three more games, one of which would be one last affair in the electric atmosphere of the crosstown series on Sunday.
If and when he leaves, he will take an interesting perspective on the 2015 White Sox with him. As far as Saladino is concerned, after playing in the team’s two well-played, crisp victories over the Cubs, the idea that the White Sox were a wayward team in April and May, without much morale, seems like an odd concept.
“I wasn’t here, so I have no idea what it was like,” Saladino said. “But you wouldn’t know. Everybody’s out here with one common goal, and that’s to win ballgames, and it helps when everybody’s playing well so right now. It’s just a lot fun. It’s good.”
“Good,” hasn’t been used much to describe the White Sox this year. All it takes is the new viewpoint Saladino has provided.
"Playing the way we were and losing games, morale can get down," manager Robin Ventura said. “But you continue to come back, and we have some professional guys in here who continue to grind away. You don’t look too far down the line or think too much in the past; you just play today. They’re starting to feel that.”
Saladino didn’t create the White Sox’s run of nine victories in the past 11 games; he just managed to shine a brighter light on it. If you want to talk to him about it, he’ll be on the train.