Ballantini: Baseball love is in the air at Sox camp

Ballantini: Baseball love is in the air at Sox camp

Friday, February 25, 2011
11:57 a.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. When youre able to play baseball in February, hope cant help but spill out of clubhouses and into the streets of this pop-up town.

Its springtime in Arizona, and theres no better place to be than All-In.

This is the time of year thats so easy to fall under the spell of, and I say that not only as snow is still dusting everybody back home. Down here, all of us here are united by the love of this silly game, baseballand if youre not falling in love in February in Arizona, maybe its time to look for another line of work.

But dont take my word for it; walk around this Chicago clubhouse with me, and see just how dear the game is to these White Sox.

Theres Juan Pierre, in-season or out, driven by his passion for the game. Famous for his beastly drive to become better, I have a soft spot in my heart for him. At a time when fewer and fewer players might suit up and play the game for free, Pierrethe first to arrive and last to leavewould, undoubtedly.

Sitting next to Pierre is Lastings Milledge, who at just 25 can spin a weary tale of elusive potential and escaped stardom. Rather than drop out of the game bitterly and allowing himself to register simply as another Where Are They Now tale of woe, Milledge is fighting for a fourth outfielder spot on the White Sox without yet having the benefit of a spot on the 40-man roster. He readily admits his immaturity, and realizes hes tried to claw his way to major league stardom without a single mentor to help guide him. Perhaps Pierre has arrived in his life just in time.

Omar Vizquel will be 44 as the dew burns off of the 2011 season, and he bites his thumb at anyone chiding his senior status by continuing to worm his way into the lineup. At a time when this all-time fielding great could be jogging into a role as coach-player, he remains a player-coach, taking on Arizona Fall League phenom Eduardo Escobaralmost 22 years his junioras his latest pet project. And Vizquel still finds time not just to mentor the likes of Escobar or Jordan Danks, but get his work in for the season. Yeah, it wasnt just the indefatigable Pierre wearing down grass bunting on side fields on ThursdayOmar the Ageless was there, too.

Jake Peavy has been feeling the pressures of a curious injury streak of late, one thats scarred his time so far with the Chisox. But its not justification of a weighty salary that has pushed him miraculously through his rehabilitation. He continued last springworking himself back to ace-level by going 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA and .917 WHIP in five June starts, mind youknowing something wasnt right with his body. The only thing that could stop this former Cy Young winner from pitching was having his lat rip off the bone. Peavy wants back in the White Soxs vaunted rotationnot recklessly, but out of his love of the game. And no surprise, hes ahead of schedule on the comeback trail.

The team rapscallionoutside of manager Ozzie Guillen, of courseis A.J. Pierzynski. Guillens scouting report on A.J. has been oft-repeatedif you have to play against him, you hate his guts, but if youre his teammate, you hate his guts a little less. It would be easy to dismiss Pierzynski as a scallywag trading his fortunate baseball genes in for an easy paycheck, but that would fly in the face of the fact that the White Sox are going to have to rip the catchers mask from A.J.s cold, dead hands. Whether mentally struggling, physically ailing, or merely slumping, Pierzynski insists on playing. Missing a game? A personal affront.

Sitting together as locker mates are Mark Teahen and Brent Morel. With every reason to treat one another with dispassion, these two teammates root for one another, figuring the best man will win the third base job, and that there will be space for both on the roster and in games.

Oh, and there are more tales of baseball passion in the White Sox clubhouse. Look at Jesse Crain, the newest power arm in the pen, whose velocity is actually increasing as he approaches 30 years old. Sergio Santos, last seasons feel-good fireballer, has replaced the unease of knowing whether hell be on the big league roster with the challenge of working a new pitch into his repertoire, or at least mastering his off-speed ones. Chris Sale could ascend from college boy to Chisox closer in less than half a season, all while yet to turn to his best pitch of all, his changeup.

And dont stop at just the players, every one of whom can spin his own personal love story for baseball. Look at the team jefe, Guillen, who wants us all to believe that pulling on his stirrups is more tedious than tweeting. But dont believe the cagey skipperhe loves the stage afforded by managing the team he dreamed one day he would. Theres not a person in camp Guillen wont give some hell toand he loves every last one of them.

His boss, Ken Williams, was pulled by his love for baseball away from a sport he might perhaps have better excelled at, football (convinced by the passion of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who flew to the Bay Area to make sure Williams signed with the White Sox). As an African-American GMand yes, that list is still woefully shortWilliams has suffered more than his share of lumps and not-so-veiled insults. And yet the game addicts himhe cannot walk away, even with 10 years under fire as the man in charge of the White Sox.

Ozzie and Ken spent a half-hour together on Thursday, sidling up together in opposing golf carts, and while there surely was talk of personnel and plans, what you heard most from the longtime friends was laughterloud, what-the-hell-are-they-cackling-about laughter. No kid aching for an autograph or rookie struggling to find his place in the organization could burst with such love for this game.

And that brings it all back to me, charged with observing this game and covering this team. I offer no apology for being a lifelong White Sox fan, elating in the good times and aching through the bad. And while that might cloud my press box judgment for a snap, as I jump and yell at Delmon Young when he tries to displace A.J.s jaw at home plate, it doesnt make me any better or worse a beat writer. My fellow White Sox fans know all too well that rooting like hell for your team doesnt make you a homerit merely means youre all the more likely to question why no ones aiming for Joe Mauers jaw than apologizing away another loss to the Twinks.

My connection to the team is a personal one thats pushing back dangerously close to four decades now, one that many of my peers and the players who wear the uniform do not share. But my love of the game? That makes me no different than those players on the field, or the coaches maneuvering them. Im not a millionaire, and my ability on the field stopped me well short of ever getting a chance to play for anything substantial between the lines. But the one thing I do share with the White Sox I speak to every day is my love of the game, and of the team.

Write me off as gung-ho, if you wish, and have a laugh at my expense. Thats just fine, I dont mind. If youre following me On the Road, well, you probably are right there with me.

We are all driven by one thing: baseball. Really, is there anything better than that?
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Adam Eaton on clubhouse protests: 'You've got to stick up for yourself'

Adam Eaton on clubhouse protests: 'You've got to stick up for yourself'

Whether you agree with them or not, the White Sox have consistently shown a willingness to fight for their cause all season.

Twice last week, and in March with Adam LaRoche, White Sox players took a stand against management decisions they don’t agree with.

The more recent incident of course occurred Saturday and ultimately led to Chris Sale’s five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property.

White Sox players also made headlines when they declined to tip the Seattle Mariners clubhouse attendant as a form of protest to a new team policy instituted that redirects 60 percent of those tips back to a club account to cover expenses such as postgame meals, etc. Traditionally, all money tipped by players has gone directly to clubhouse personnel without team involvement. Eaton said players merely are standing up for their beliefs.

“You’ve got to stick up for yourself,” Eaton said. “As cliché as it might sound, it’s just power to the players. The players have a voice in this game and if you don’t feel like something is par for the course or up to standard, we definitely vocalize it. It’s not that we’re spoiled or anything like that.”

“It’s just the way things have been ran and how things have been, with the instance of Adam LaRoche, the kid coming into the clubhouse -- I thought we got a lot of support with all kinds of guys putting pictures up online of them and their kid being in the clubhouse. With the Seattle thing, the other 29 teams are doing it. Sale’s a little bit off the radar -- I kind of like it.

“We feel strongly about something we’ll do something about it.”

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White Sox players met with Seattle assistant general manager Jeff Kingston during the trip to talk about the policy in a story first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Eaton said Monday that White Sox players have an envelope full of checks ready to hand over to Mariners visiting clubhouse manager Jeff Bopp when the situation is resolved. It’s not that they want to hurt Bopp, but they want the policy changed similar to how the San Francisco Giants quickly amended theirs last year. Eaton said the Cleveland Indians also tried to get around Seattle’s policy. He expects it will be an issue that is discussed in upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks.

“More or less we want to give the money to the people that are doing the work in the clubhouse,” Eaton said. “We don’t want the front office taking money from the guy that’s down there working until 1 o’clock in the morning cleaning our uniform and cleaning our spikes. We treat those guys with the utmost respect. They work their butts off. When we made a decision as a team not to pay, it was because we want that clubby to get the money he deserves. The front office, they’re not down there during the day, they’re not doing any work, and they’re receiving the funds. We don’t see that as a productive practice.”

Suspended White Sox ace Chris Sale to start Thursday against Cubs

Suspended White Sox ace Chris Sale to start Thursday against Cubs

Chris Sale will return to the White Sox mound Thursday against the Cubs for the first time since being suspended five games for cutting up his team’s 1976 throwback uniforms on Saturday. 

The 27-year-old left-hander, who was issued a five-game suspension by the White Sox on Sunday for “violating team rules, for insubordination and for destroying team equipment,” will remain away from the team for the first three Crosstown games this week. Manager Robin Ventura said Sale would probably throw a side session sometime this week, but due to his suspension, any work will have to come on his own. 

Ventura said he won’t necessarily have a discussion with Sale when the five-time All-Star returns to the club in the cramped confines of Wrigley Field’s visiting clubhouse later this week. 

“He’s going to pitch. That’s what he does,” Ventura said. “I don’t think there has to be a big meeting or anything. He’s pitching Thursday.”

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Because of Sale’s bizarre pregame incident, the White Sox on Saturday had to use six relievers — Matt Albers, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, Zach Duke, Nate Jones and David Robertson — to get through eight innings before the game was suspended due to a line of heavy thunderstorms that rolled through the South Side. Robertson on Sunday pitched the ninth inning of the suspended game and the ninth of the regularly-scheduled contest against Detroit (he gave up three solo home runs to blow the save in the second game) and is likely unavailable for Monday night’s Crosstown opener against the Cubs. 

White Sox players said they moved on quickly after Sale destroyed those uniforms he didn’t want to wear, pointing to the team’s two wins on Sunday for supporting evidence. And Ventura doesn’t think a team-wide meeting is necessary to address any issues when Sale does come back on Thursday. 

“Guys have seen a lot of stuff and it’s about playing, I think they’re about playing and we’ll go with that until something needs to be addressed,” Ventura said. “As far as playing, guys are just moving on and playing.

“…  I’m sure they’ll have conversations about it. But I don’t think we need to have a whole team meeting and address it that way.”

White Sox will start Anthony Ranaudo Wednesday against Cubs

White Sox will start Anthony Ranaudo Wednesday against Cubs

The last time the White Sox saw Anthony Ranaudo pitch, they drew five walks and scored five runs without recording a hit against the 26-year-old right-hander. 

That disastrous outing — which came in a 13-11 White Sox loss to the Texas Rangers — was Ranaudo’s last major league appearance. The former LSU ace and 2010 first-round pick was traded to the White Sox May 12 for minor leaguer Matt Ball and spent the last two months with Triple-A Charlotte. 

But with Chris Sale earning a five-game suspension for destroying throwback jerseys on Saturday, the White Sox needed to bring up another arm. And with right-hander Jacob Turner struggling in two outings in place of the injured Carlos Rodon, Ranaudo will start for the White Sox Wednesday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. 

“Hopefully I get another chance to go back out there and prove that’s not who I am,” Ranaudo said before learning of his scheduled start. 

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Ranaudo once was a big-time prospect, being ranked 67th in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season. But he’s never been able to find success in the majors and will enter his start with a 6.33 ERA and more walks (32) than strikeouts (28) in 58 1/3 innings from 2014-2016. 

In 13 starts with Triple-A Charlotte, Ranaudo posted a 3.20 ERA with 53 strikeouts, eight walks and 12 home runs allowed over 78 2/3 innings.

“I think he’s refined (things) a little bit more to be able to throw some strikes and have command,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You’re going to have to have it, especially if it’s warm. So hopefully he’s got it.”

Ranaudo can’t afford to have his command escape him, as it did in May against the White Sox, when he faces the Cubs — which lead baseball with a 10.6 percent walk rate — on Wednesday. 

If his Crosstown start goes well, Ranaudo could stick around after Sale returns on Thursday. But for now, the right-hander is happy to get another opportunity to prove himself at the major league level.

“It was a little unexpected at the time, obviously, with everything going on,” Ranaudo said of his call-up. “But it was awesome, yeah. I’m just happy to be here and whatever role I’m in, I’m excited about.”