Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

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Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 7:48 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz - Its 5:53 a.m., a pitch-black morning in front of the White Sox spring training facility. Look up in the sky, you see the moon. Across the barren parking lot, nothing but darkness.

Suddenly there are headlights in the distance, the same as yesterday and the day before. Rest assured, theyll be back again, same time tomorrow.

The car stops. A silhouette appears.

You guys are serious! says the voice.

Yes we are, just doing our jobs. But then again, so is he.

Most guys are nestled in their beds right now.

Probably, but not him. Not Juan Pierre.

One of the hardest working players in baseball, this is how his day begins every morning during spring training. Hes a man with an internal clock thats always ticking, ready to rock well before the rooster crows.

Its just a routine. Something I follow and believe in. Its kept me around this long, says the speedy White Sox outfielder, who stole a career-high 68 bases in 2010, his 11th in the big leagues and first on the South Side.

Nothing stops Pierre from his early morning ritual. Well, except for one thing: The front door.

Juan is here so early, its locked. He walks around the building where he spots a training intern who lets him inside.

In a couple hours, Pierres teammates will be flooding the White Sox clubhouse, talking, laughing, prepping for the day ahead. But right now, its just Juan, me, a CSN cameraman, and possibly a nearby cricket.

Pierre goes to his locker and takes out his favorite workout shirt. Its black and grey camouflage with the words Beast Mode written across the front.

Its a mind-set, Pierre says. Never use any excuses no matter what. Trust me, I would like to be sleeping right now, but I know the sacrifice I have to make to remain in this game. Thats what the Beast Mode stands for in a nut shell.

By 6:15 a.m., Pierre is in the White Sox gym, on the bike for a 10-minute warm-up.

Gotta get the legs loose.

In walks Allen Thomas, the White Sox Director of Strength and Conditioning. Hes one of the best in the business, and marvels at Pierres work ethic.

This is my 16th year doing this, and Ive been around a lot of great players who love to train. Juan is a step above, Thomas says. Sometimes a lot of athletes like to do this for attention, but this has been a part of his regiment since he stepped into a baseball uniform. And he doesnt miss. You can put him on a timer, its like clockwork.

Four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) Thomas puts Pierre through a high-intense workout, one that would probably make your everyday gym-goer lose his lunch in the first five minutes.

I push him, because I know what he has in the tank, Thomas says.

This quickly becomes apparent as Pierre shuffles through a speed ladder with resistance bands attached to his waist. An exercise normally used by NFL cornerbacks, Pierre flies through the rope ladder to strengthen his legs and feet to prepare him for his number-one job: stealing bases.

Everything we do in here has a purpose, says Pierre. (Allen) always tells me why were doing it, and relates it to baseball terms. Thats what separates A.T. from the rest of the strength coaches.

After that theres stretching, free weights, ropes to emulate his swing and work his core. Theres a grunt here, a grunt there. Sweat here, sweat everywhere.

By 7 a.m., Juan is back at his locker for a quick breather. Like a minute.

Pretty intense, Pierre describes it. That went well, but its only phase one of the day.

Whats next?

The cage. Gotta go hit in the cage. I got my stamina with weight training done. But if you cant hit, you cant play.

With the sun starting to peek across the horizon, Pierre walks over to the outdoor hitting cage holding a battered piece of wood that could probably use its own walking stick. Its a black Louisville Slugger that Juan practices with, and has hit so many times, the paint has been completely wiped off the barrel.

As you can see its worn out, right where you want it to be worn out, Juan says as he points to its sweet spot. Ramon Castro and those guys hide it from me, and tell me to get a new bat. Im like old school, if I find something I like, I use it until the wheels fall off.

Is there a name for that bat?

I call her Old Faithful. Shes been with me the last three years, so Im going to ride her out until she breaks.

Most major leaguers live for the home run. Juan knows better. For a guy who has gone deep only 14 times in his major league career, hes all about the line drives.

Thats what I like to pride myself on, or survive, because all my fly balls get caught. I might have one fly ball that dont get caught a year. You cant have a whole bunch of teams full of Konerkos and Dunns. Their job is to drive me in, my job is to get on base.

Juan goes through a hitting drill hes done thousands of times, placing a pair of tees side by side with a ball on top of each of them.

Im going to come right over the top of this ball and hit the one in front of it, he explains. If I hit the back one, that means Im getting underneath it, which I dont want to do. This drill definitely helps me.

He begins.

Im always out here with a purpose.

Smack!

This is just preparation to do what I have to do to survive.

Whack!

I hit one good in the cage, I say Oh, yeah, thats a home run!

Cuhh-rack!!!

By now, the sun has arrived, just in time for the end of Juans workout. Birds are chirping, cars are rolling in. The day has begun.

But not for Juan. He treats the day like he does first base: making sure hes got a nice, big lead on it, and when youre not looking... hes gone.

Which is exactly what happened here.

Juan said thanks, good-bye, and disappeared onto the next thing on his non-stop agenda. Where did he go? Breakfast I think, the mans got to eat.

Where is he now? Not sure.

But I do know where hell be tomorrow at 5:53 a.m., and the day after that.

Back to do it all over again.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

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The team announced it reached deals with both players shortly before Friday’s 7 p.m. CST nontender deadline. Lawrie will earn $3.5 million next season and Garcia received a one-year deal for $3 million.

The club didn’t tender a contract to right-handed pitcher Blake Smith, which leaves its 40-man roster at 38.

Acquired last December for a pair of minor leaguers, Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 36 RBIs in 94 games before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Lawrie produced 0.9 f-WAR when he suffered what then-manager Robin Ventura described a “tricky” injury on July 21. Despite numerous tests and a lengthy rehab, Lawrie never returned to the field and was frustrated by the experience. Last month, Lawrie tweeted that he believes the cause of his injury was wearing orthotics for the first time in his career.

He was projected to earn $5.1 million, according to MLBTraderumors.com and earned $4.125 million in 2016.

Garcia hit .245/.307/.385 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 453 plate appearances over 120 games. The projected salary for Garcia, arb-eligible for the first time, was $3.4 million.

The team also offered contracts to Miguel Gonzalez and Todd Frazier, who are eligible for free agency in 2018, first baseman Jose Abreu and relievers Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, among others.

The White Sox have until mid-January to reach an agreement with their arbitration-eligible players. If they haven’t, both sides submit figures for arbitration cases, which are then heard throughout February.

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The 33-year-old just finished his first season with the White Sox as play-by-play announcer, working the home games at U.S. Cellular Field (before it was renamed Guaranteed Rate Field last month) alongside Steve Stone as longtime broadcaster Hawk Harrelson saw his workload reduced to mostly road games.

Benetti quickly became a fan favorite among Chicagoans on CSN and other networks in 2016 and his cerebral palsy became more of a backstory, with his work alongside Stone and his affable sense of humor taking center stage instead.

Among other topics, Benetti discussed how he approaches his job of broadcasting for the team he grew up rooting for:

Law school taught me that there are always two sides of the argument. I see it from the Sox prism, but I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that, if the Sox lose, the world’s over anymore. That first game, I was like, “All right, it’s just a game.” And then Avi Garcia hits a homer late in the game against the Indians and I call it like I would call it with a little more. And as the ball cleared the fence, when it was rolling around, I got a slight tear in my eye. And I was like, “What’s that?”

Check out the entire interview with Benetti and the full list at ChicagoBusiness.com.