He would prefer to make national news for hitting a game-winning home run or making a mind-blowing catch, but Carlos Quentin is all the rage in the sports world today for charging the mound Thursday night against the Dodgers' Zack Greinke, breaking the collarbone of the $147 million pitcher.
Covering Quentin during his four seasons with the White Sox, you could often see the volcano burning inside him. I never wanted to be around if it ever erupted. Greinke wasn't so lucky.
Players used to tell me there are two sides to Quentin. At the ballpark, we'd only see the guy who looked like he wanted to kill someone. There were two times when I did get to see that other side of Quentin. Once when I bumped into him at a Whole Foods in 2008 He came up to me, smiled and said hello. I almost didn't recognize him. The other time was in spring training in 2011 when Quentin opened up in an interview about himself, revealing why he is the way he is.
Who is Carlos Quentin? This is about as close as you can get.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He's been described as intense, moody, distant, and unapproachable. A man who if given a choice between a five-hour root canal and a 10-minute TV interview would probably race to the dentist and say hold the Novocaine.
Since being acquired by the White Sox three years ago, this is the Carlos Quentin we have come to know, an extremely private person who hates to talk about himself, and prefers to keep his life at a distance from the media.
Like 200 miles.
So imagine my surprise when a member of the White Sox revealed that Quentin, despite his public demeanor, is actually a funny guy who can be the life of the party.
It was such a stunner, I thought about having the information scroll across the bottom of Comcast SportsNet as if it was breaking news.
"I'd like to know who told you that," Quentin says with a smile as we begin our interview. It's spring training, the time when he smiles the most. However, once the regular season begins, the expression usually disappears, replaced by a stern, focused stare that can knock down a brick wall.
But as we sit across from each other, Quentin seems lighter and more relaxed, as if a transformation is taking place.
Is this the real Carlos Quentin, the man behind the baseball mask?
"It's hard to talk about, but you're on the right track," Quentin says. "I definitely have a personable side to myself that I keep hidden from the mass public, and I've done it throughout my life. It's become a part of me. My wife knows who I am, my close friends do, my family, a lot of my teammates. Everyone has their own battles to fight, and I'll continue working on mine."
Quentin, a Stanford grad, is one of the smartest athletes around. Maybe too smart for baseball. His analytical mind is always on, as if permanently plugged into an electrical socket. Probably not the healthiest way to survive a 162-game season. It's a problem hes trying to fix.
But with that mind comes some valuable tricks, like delivering movie quotes. Name a film that he has seen, and he can fire back multiple lines as if the script were embedded in his brain.
"I've got tons of them. I'm not going to try right now," he said, before breaking out some Will Ferrell from Blades of Glory. "Looking is for free, touching it will cost you something. Hence, movie quote. This is actually the first time documented that anyone has ever gotten a movie quote out of me in an interview."
"I have the exclusive."
"You do," he clarified. "Exclusive rights."
It's this part of Quentin we rarely see; witty, sarcastic. I ask him if it's tough to show this side to the public. To let people in.
"Yeah, I think so. For everybody. When I talk about this, I'm completely aware that I'm not the only person who does this," he said. "It's a common thing for a lot of players. This is our livelihood. This is a serious thing. I've taken it to heart throughout my entire career, throughout college, throughout high school. You keep that in the background and it's just being able to come out and be yourself while that's still looming over you. It's a blend that some people are very good at. A lot of people on our team are great at it. And some people need to work on it."
One piece of advice that Quentin has heard time and time again is to lighten up. He wishes he could just hit a button and quickly calm everything down inside his mind. But it's not that easy. Never has been.
"When someone tells you to do something that you continuously try to do, it's like 'you don't think Im trying?' What do you think, like I just decided no,'" he said. "Before I used to take it a little personally, but now I just kind of chuckle. No one walks in my shoes except myself. I appreciate people trying to help in certain ways, but I'm open to it. I'll get there. I'm not, not trying."
To lighten the mood, I asked him if it's time for another movie quote.
"No, we're getting serious," Quentin says with a smirk. "I might start crying."
The Quentin we saw in 2008 when he almost won the American League MVP (36 HR, 100 RBIs) is still very much here, although some of the rage that was burning inside him that season has quieted down. Quentin says he took the trade from Arizona to the White Sox personally, and has since learned from it.
"I felt like I was kind of given away. I've never been upset at the Diamondbacks, but I just felt like in a young player's career, when a team gives up on you, trades you away, there’s some adjustment to that," he explained. "You go on this successful path, and all of a sudden you hit a huge bump, a huge roadblock, and you realize that the people you spent time with are now gone, and it can happen just like that and you kind of guard yourself. But you can't keep guarding yourself over and over. And that's been kind of the habit I've fallen into to protect me from the woes that baseball can bring. That people don’t talk about."
If he didn't play professional baseball, Quentin probably could have made it to the NFL. At University High School in San Diego, he was named Western League Defensive Player of the Year as an outside linebacker. Considering he plays baseball like he's Brian Urlacher, I often wonder if he should have been a football player instead.
"Ahh, me too," Quentin says laughing. "It would have been easier. I have no problem running into something over and over. Physically it would take a toll, but tell me to go tackle somebody and I'll do it."
In the calm waters of spring training, Quentin can be the loose, relaxed version of himself. You wonder how long it will last. Maybe he does too.
The regular season will begin, things at some point will go south. It's baseball. It happens to everyone. How will Quentin react then?
"I hope I still get to talk to you," he says with a big grin. He then decides to take our conversation in a completely different direction. Who am I to get in the way?
"I mean, there’s a chance I might not speak to you after this interview," he continued.
"I might not want to interview you," I jokingly responded.
"Let's take a couple of breaths together," Quentin said. "You're pretty funny. I actually don't mind talking with you. A mental note. I'll remember to say hello to you from now on."
Can I put on my resume that Carlos Quentin wants to talk with me?
The banter continued:
"Honestly, I'm not that important. You know it too. You're just joking. People will watch this because of you," Quentin continued.
"No, because of you."
"No, it's not about me, it's about you."
"I'm making this happen?"
"You're the media. You're the face."
"I'm not even on camera."
"I'm just on the field. I graze and hang out. I swing a bat. That's all I do."
I then prepare him for what will be the toughest question I will ask him. He shivers. Actually, not really.
"Got any jokes," I ask.
He thinks for a moment, pondering what kind of joke he can tell on television. He's thinking about the kids.
"What did the mama tomato say to the baby tomato?"
I think I've heard this one before.
The punchline hangs in the desert air for a second. It's a tad uncomfortable. I better laugh. But it's nice watching Quentin squirm.
"We should never use that," he said, breaking the silence with a laugh. "Ever. That took away all my credibility. Street cred -- gone."
I'll disagree. It was him being himself. The real McCoy. The guy behind the guy. The player we never get to see. It was fun while it lasted. Hopefully we'll meet again.