Cory Walters' favorite thing about U.S. Cellular Field is the bronze Frank Thomas statue on the left-field concourse. It was unveiled by the White Sox a couple of years ago, depicting the best hitter in team history with his left arm and bat extended, swinging for the fences, a paragon of power.
"Frank has always been a hero of mine," said Walters, a junior at Illinois State University. "Growing up, watching him crush home runs was pretty awesome, and from what I've seen, he is a very humble man. It's really cool I get to interact with him in some sorts."
Thanks to a party thrown for Walters' 22nd birthday at a recent White Sox game, that surprise interaction between fan and hero just became a reality. Walters is among four family contestants in this season's 26th episode of the hit MLB.com game show "Bucks on the Pond" powered by Ford, and as usual, the Big Hurt is behind the wheel, asking the "Say The Word" bonus question powered by Ford SYNC.
"I've been going to Sox games since before I can remember, so that ballpark is a second home to me," Walters said. "Being on the show added to another great experience at that field, one that I will never forget. There is no place I would rather have been on my birthday."
Walters is joined in the White Sox Social Media Lounge by brother Matt Walters and sister-in-law Gina Head, all of Bloomington, Ill., as well as Cory's mother Denise Walters of Rantoul, Ill. Would they add to the total MLB.com cash payout of $18,910 over the previous 54 overall episodes spanning 24 of the 30 Major League ballparks in the last year?
Or would they become that rarest of rarities, a group of more than two who whiffed and went to their seats as trivia losers?
"Bucks" is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel, and you'll have to watch this episode to find out how this birthday bash turned out. Fans at the ballpark interact with MLB.com's studio through the magic of technology in conjunction with game action inside. Shows are posted each Tuesday and Thursday. In creating a new experience for fans, MLB.com is giving people a chance to earn bucks while they spend bucks at the ballpark.
Contestants are asked a trivia question -- general knowledge and baseball -- on each pitch during a half-inning of baseball. Get the question correct and win money. Get the question wrong and it's a strike. Three strikes and you're out.
The questions' difficulty and value increase with the number of outs in the on-field action: $5 easy questions to start, $10 medium-difficulty questions after one out, $20 hard questions after two outs. If the contestant lasts longer than the team's at-bat, they win the bucks in their bank.
Cross the $100 mark during the show, and that's where the Big Hurt comes into play. You can wager any part of your bank on that next question, which is asked each episode by 2014 Hall of Fame candidate. Answer correctly and you win, but answer incorrectly and you lose that amount ... and it's another strike. Fittingly, his question for the four Sox fans is about home runs.
Topics covered in this episode include auto workers, White Sox sluggers, 1980s hit songs, water consumption, U.S. states, chemistry, White Sox catchers, "Groundhog Day," home run calls, White Sox RBI leaders and oceans.
Cory Walters learned a few things along the way, including the fine art of conferring with teammates before answering. Currently working at Planet Fitness, he will start this fall at Illinois State, where he said he plans on "studying in the fields of philosophy and entrepreneurship, with hopes of one day starting my own business franchise and investing in many others."
Thankfully for the two brothers, their mother knew a little something about Sonny and Cher. After taping the show, they headed for their seats, soaking in nine innings.
"The environment," Cory said, explaining why he likes the U.S. Cellular Field experience so much. "Can't beat that South Side environment."
In addition to the White Sox, teams visited by the "Bucks" crew include the Angels, Astros, Athletics, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Phillies, Red Sox, Reds, Royals, Padres, Pirates, Rockies, Tigers, Twins and Yankees. Bookmark MLB.com/bucks, and be on the lookout for the "Bucks" crew at your ballpark.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.