GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Towards the end of last season as Adam Dunn was closing out one of the worst hitting seasons in baseball history, he spotted White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson in the parking lot at U.S. Cellular Field.
Since Harrelson was on the microphone for most of his 177 strikeouts in 2011, Dunn probably felt bad for Hawk, a die-hard White Sox fan who could only sit, watch, and helplessly broadcast Dunns struggles live on the air game-after-game.
Dunn made Harrelson a promise.
I told him, Do you have to be hurt to win Comeback Player of the Year because if you dont its mine. Ive already claimed it, Dunn said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. I dont know if you get a trophy or what. Its not an award that I want to win but I havent won it, so I might as well win it.
The White Sox didnt win enough games last season, only 79 of them. Dunns well-publicized struggles had a lot to do with it. After batting just .159, its now Dunns mission to win back, not just his credibility, but an entire White Sox fan base that watched in agony and anger as he failed at such a clip it nearly put him in the record books.
What would it mean for Dunn to have the comeback year hes been thinking about since the final out of last season?
It would be huge. My goal is, I want to win Comeback Player of the Year, among other awards, Dunn said. Im not done. Im 32 years old. I keep hearing about this stuff and its borderline comical. How can you go from A to B and now youre done. It makes no sense.
No one knows what it was like to walk in Dunns shoes last year. Only Adam does. If you booed him, its very likely he heard it. The jeers became the soundtrack of his season. Reflecting back on what occurred, both on and off the field, one might assume that the experience made Dunn a stronger person. Adam disagrees.
You know, no. I feel like Im a strong person to begin with, he said.
But did he learn something? Plenty.
I learned a lot in the last year, and a lot about people, not just yourself. Who really cares about you and really cares about what you do. Theres a difference between that. As bad as it sounds, I think that it was meant to happen. I think you kind of weed out people that are around you and love you for the wrong reason.
One of Dunns closest friends is pitcher Jake Peavy, whose locker is right next to Adams both here at the White Sox spring training facility and at U.S. Cellular Field. Peavy had his own share of problems last season trying to stay healthy. However, that was nothing compared to what Adam and his family faced, bearing the brunt of a season that never turned around.
To watch his family kind of go through it with him I think was awfully tough, Peavy said. I think a lot of people dont think about that. Our families are sitting up there right with the fans, and we understand theres going to be heckling and talking, but when youre in your own home ballpark and youre trying as absolutely hard as you can, and you cant get out of a funk, its tough to have to sit up there and your kids have to listen to people yell about their dad. It was painful. Theres no doubt.
Dunn says that Peavy helped him get through his inner battles, a fight that continued as Adam remained his outward happy-go-lucky self. Whatever problems he was having, Dunn did his best to keep them at the ballpark.
I tried not to take it home, he said. My wife didnt deserve it, my kids didnt deserve it. It was hard for them to watch just like it was hard for me to do it. I made the conscious effort. If I had to stay at the ballpark two hours afterwards just to make sure that Im okay and not bring it home, then I would do that. Thats kind of how I dealt with it, to remember its baseball, its your job, its a game, your family has nothing to do with it.
Dunn enters the 2012 season with many skeptics who dont believe he can succeed at a high level in front of the bright lights of a big city. I brought up the perception that exists that he cant DH, that he cant excel in the American League, and that he cant play for a contender.
Okay. I mean, okay, apparently I cant. Ive only had one year and it wasnt very good, but Ive been told I cant do a lot of things and Im here.
Did the pressure to win and live up to the 4-year, 56 million contract he signed affect him?
I felt like there was a lot of pressure on a lot of people last year, and obviously didnt handle it well. I dont know why that is, myself included, Dunn said. I dont mind pressure. I put more pressure on myself than anybody can possibly put on one person, and Ive done okay with it.
Dunn describes his current state of mind as carefree. He added, Im in a great place right now, especially starting now not having to talk about last year.
So besides his prediction for winning Comeback Player of the Year, what else does Dunn expect for the upcoming season?
I expect to do what Ive done my whole life. Im not expecting to do anything more, anything less. Im expecting to go out and play 162 games at least. The numbers will be what they are in the end.
It's now a new beginning and he closed the interview with this:
I want people to expect great things, because I expect great things.
The season awaits.