"I grew up in a White Sox hat," Ed Howard told our Maddie Lee earlier this week.
Well, Howard's wearing Cubbie blue now.
While the White Sox added a left-handed hurler who's already being compared to Chris Sale, Garrett Crochet was overshadowed Wednesday night in Chicago, when Howard - the former Jackie Robinson West star, Mount Carmel product, White Sox ACE Program alum and top-ranked high school shortstop in the draft - went to the Cubs five picks later.
The Twitter reaction was pretty instantaneous. Some White Sox fans were treating Howard as the new Fernando Tatis Jr., another one who got away.
Even Howard thinks they should have made a different decision.
"I wouldn't say I was disappointed (that the White Sox took someone else at No. 11)," Howard told reporters after he was drafted. "The White Sox, that's their pick, and they did what they felt was best. Do I agree with them? No.
"But I'm excited to be with the Cubs. I love who loves me, and all I can say is I'm ready. I'm ready to go to the North Side and play. I truly mean that. So, I'm not really worried about the Sox pick and what they're doing. I'm excited to be a Cub."
Let's be clear, the White Sox did not make a mistake. They did what they meant to do. It's not like they were celebrating the No. 11 pick and suddenly realized Howard was available and they had forgotten about him, like some sort of baseball version of the McAllister family. Months of work went into deciding what to do with that No. 11 pick, and the White Sox decided Crochet was the best choice for them of the available players.
And it's not like the White Sox just plain ignored a special talent blossoming in their own backyard. They helped turn him into the elite draft prospect he became. Howard is not just a Chicago kid, he was part of the White Sox ACE program, which stands for Amateur City Elite, designed to help inner-city baseball players who otherwise might not be able to play at the collegiate and professional levels, while correcting the declining number of African Americans in baseball and preparing kids for success in life far beyond baseball.
The ACE program is for the benefit of the players, not the benefit of the White Sox minor league system.
And they've succeeded in their goals, not just with Howard, but with many others through hundreds of college scholarships and dozens of MLB draft picks. Howard's just the latest.
"They took care of me," Howard told Lee about the ACE program. "They got me around a lot of great coaches. They got me to the right tournaments. They helped me kind of get my name out there. We played a lot of competitive ball with them. And then I made a lot of friends, too.
"Being around more kids who played the game, African Americans that looked just like me, and you can relate to them. And we had a lot of fun going around the country playing in big tournaments. ACE was like a family to me. They did a lot for me. I enjoyed my years with them, so I like ACE a lot."
Certain fans dreamed of Howard, who has impressed with his play on the field and his personality off it, being a hometown star for the White Sox, a Chicago kid giving other Chicago kids someone to look up to. The familiarity the team had with him through the ACE program and Howard's relationship with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson seemed to make that a strong possibility.
But Howard, truly, isn't going anywhere.
Yeah, sure, he's not going to be playing for the White Sox. But he's not leaving town. The Chicago kid is going to be playing in Chicago, providing a hometown inspiration and example for young Chicago baseball players to look up to.
The dream came true.
He'll just be doing all that a few miles north.
The Crosstown rivalry is fun when the two teams meet during the regular season. And a rematch of the 1906 World Series would be absolutely awesome. But it also has a tendency to get pretty tiresome pretty quick when fun neighborly banter turns into obsession with the failure of the team on the other side of town.
I'm not saying White Sox fans have to rush out and buy Cubs jerseys. I'm saying they can be thrilled for Howard and thrilled for the city and still keep their White Sox fan cards.
If it's just a reaction to thinking Howard will be really, really good? Well, the White Sox think Crochet is going to be really, really good, too. If a decade from now they end up being wrong? That's baseball.
Teams draft players ahead of superstars all the time. The White Sox took Jared Mitchell two picks before Mike Trout. Twenty one other teams passed on the greatest player of this generation, too. If Howard ends up a better major leaguer than Crochet, oh well. It happens. A lot.
Ideally, they'll both be really, really good.
The White Sox obviously felt better about Crochet, and it's not like that pick didn't receive rave reviews. In the immediate aftermath, he was getting comp'd to Sale in more ways than one, with the experts on MLB Network suggesting he could be in the big leagues lickety-split. Howard's an 18-year-old who will need some time in the minor leagues.
It's not to say one pick was better than the other. It's to say that it's OK that Howard didn't end up with the White Sox. It's to say it's OK for White Sox fans to be happy that he stayed in Chicago anyway.
What, you'd rather he had gone to the Twins? Or the Red Sox? Or the Giants? Or the Phillies? How much good does that do for the baseball-playing kids of Chicago?
"We chose to stay with the ACE program because we wanted to help the African American kids get exposure, and inner-city kids," Howard's father told Lee. "We wanted to get exposure and … just let the world know that a kid from Chicago and the Midwest, we play ball too. It's not a lot, but the ones we have are very good players. And try to get (rid of) the stigma from the Midwest and the inner-city that we don't play baseball."
Howard now has the opportunity to do that on a national stage, to one day represent his city and his community in the major leagues. If he reaches the big leagues with the Cubs and turns into a star, he can join in and continue the work being done by Anderson, who is providing an example for young Black baseball players in the city and across the country.
The one that got away? Ed Howard didn't get away at all. He's staying right here. And that's worth celebrating on every side of town.
White Sox fans' dream came true: Ed Howard is staying in Chicago originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago