Saturday, February 26, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz. After a week or more of drills, no game action, and none of the wickedly delicious drama to spice life up as in previous camps, the Chicago White Sox got just what they ordered, turning forward time with the welcome distraction of hosting two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip in the clubhouse on Saturday.
I love baseball, Waltrip said. Just getting to peek inside the game is really you watch a game on TV and you dont really think about all the things that go into it, or whats behind the preparation. These guys have been really nice to me. They make me feel like Im part of the team. I really enjoy seeing this.
The feelings from White Sox players were mostly mutual. Sure, Chris Sale admitted no interest in NASCAR but that he tease-texted his huge fan of a father about Waltrips appearance, and Edwin Jackson joked around with Waltrip for five minutes without having an idea of who he was. But Mark Buehrle, A.J. Pierzynski, Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn, and John Danks all planned on attending the Bashas Supermarkets 200 later on Saturday afternoon. Each player entertained Waltrip before Saturday mornings drillsthis in spite of the NASCAR veterans predilection toward the Atlanta Braves.
My favorite team has always been the Braves, Waltrip said. I grew up in Kentucky, and the only baseball we really got back when I was a kid was the Braves on TBS. I grew up a big Dale Murphy fan, and I remember what I was doing on the day Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th home run.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen bounded into the clubhouse and was stunned to see that Waltrip had been installed at a locker in an area all the way across the room from the White Soxs self-proclaimed Redneck Row (including Buehrle, Danks, Dunn, Jake Peavy). Guillen immediately started yelling, whats he doing over there, the rednecks are too far away!
Waltrip was startled, but impressed.
I loved his energy, you know? he said. Saturday morning, spring training, and he bops in here like were getting ready to play Game 7 of the World Series. Its pretty obvious why people love playing for him.
While the closest most White Sox had ever gotten to a racecar was Dunn, who said he sat in pit row once and had to have the pit crew tell him to get off the tires he was sitting on (they said, uh, you have about 45 seconds before we knock you over, according to Dunn), Waltrip could envision Ozzie getting behind the wheel.
Id like that, Waltrip said. We have the Richard Petty Driving Experience in NASCAR, where you actually get to show up and drive a car. When people get to do that its something that really gets their attention; well go out to Charlotte and run 185 mph and you put someone in a Richard Petty car and theyll run 140 and think theyre the next coming of Jeff Gordon. It would be the equivalent of me actually getting a ball out of the infield here and thinking Im ready for Opening Day.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.