By Jim Owczarski
Robin Ventura probably didnt set out to change the minds of Chicago White Sox fans during the three-day SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton this weekend, but judging by the buzz in and around the various ball rooms and salons from Friday to Sunday, the new manager has affected some.
Though he did seem worn down as did Adam Dunn - by continuous questions about the failings of 2011, Ventura was mainly upbeat and funny, disarming fans with a quick wit and ability to get laughs at the expense of his coaches and general manager.
Is he laid back? Maybe. Compared to his former teammate and predecessor Ozzie Guillen? For sure.
As Ventura said Sunday in his final seminar of the weekend, hes different. And this team will be different, despite many familiar faces. Fans began to buy in, for the most part, even if they werent quite pushing up the expectation level to that of past seasons following the 2005 World Series championship.
Im excited, second baseman Gordon Beckham said. If they dont want to be excited, thats fine. Im excited and I know the rest of the guys are excited to get going. Were excited to have Robin here and a couple new coaches. Theres a lot to look forward for this year and for us. It really is.
General manager Kenny Williams was coolly received at the very start of the convention but left his last public appearance with cheers and thanks for 2005. Though he did say during the weekend that the Sox are tapped out financially, he afforded that the modified rebuilding process he oversaw this offseason may open some doors later.
We did a little bit of (re-tooling) to protect our future and we did some things to protect our present, Williams said. Hopefully its enough to remain competitive and hopefully if we have need in the middle of the season at some point maybe we can go and address it then.
But, Dunn felt like Sox fans will see a couple of important players this year that they didnt see in 2011.
We made two pretty good moves, I think, this offseason," he said. "That was hopefully getting me and Alex Rios back. Thats the way Im looking at it. We pretty much have the same team. We lost a couple of key players. We have guys capable of stepping in and filling that role and do a little better. Thats what were expecting.
One of outside elements putting a damper on fans initially was the news leading into SoxFest that defending American League Central champion Detroit Tigers signed All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder. But, as was his M.O. over the weekend, Ventura wanted to keep the focus on his team.
Were worrying about what we do, he said. The (players) know the Tigers won last year and now you add Prince, they know its out there. It doesnt guarantee anything. They know first-hand what can happen when youre the one thats supposed to be 20 games better than somebody else and all of a sudden youre not. Theyve lived it and theyve seen it. They know it can turn around also.
A turnaround is what many are hoping for, players and fans alike.
That started this weekend, but begins in earnest when pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 22 and with spring games beginning March 5.