Chicago White Sox

Sox Drawer: White Sox Fantasy Camp

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Sox Drawer: White Sox Fantasy Camp

Monday, Jan. 11, 2010
8:10 PM

Its a perfect, sunny day in Glendale, Ariz.

We have our caps. We have our cleats, as well as our shiny new White Sox uniforms.

Time to take the field.

A few minutes into our very first practice, a high fly ball travels to short left-center field. Next month, Carlos Quentin or Juan Pierre will be here to catch it. But in the meantime, its up to Rick Larson from McHenry.

Rick has his glove. Rick has his shades, but when the ball comes down, Rick will unfortunately have something else.

A bloody, black eye.

Welcome to the first day of White Sox Fantasy Camp.

Around 80 of us have traveled a couple thousand miles to be here for the week-long event. Some to relive their childhood, some to test their skills against former White Sox greats.

Another is here to document it, and not make a fool out of himself in the process.

That would be me.

But judging by the first 24 hours, its only a matter of time before I am the brunt of some humiliating jokes, because as I am quickly learning ... nobody is left unscathed, and that includes the former players who are acting as both coaches and stand-up comedians.

Here is a brief sampling of the ribbing that goes on all day, every day. And keep in mind, this is the clean stuff:

Hey everyone, Moose Skowron is here. Most of you probably dont know this, but Moose is mentioned four times in the Old Testament.

Ron Kittles version of boredom is when he hears someone talk, and hes not talking about Ron.

Robin Ventura is the only person with five hits off Nolan Ryan. Unfortunately, two of the hits were to Robins chest and three were to his head.

Yes, its been almost 20 years since Nolan gave Robin that noogie sandwich in Texas, and hes still hearing it. Always will.

Were all here to play baseball, but also to have fun and hear stories.

Oh, the stories. Heres one Tom Paciorek told all of us before our initial workout. And Im paraphrasing:

One day in the 1980s, Rick Sutcliffe is on the mound pitching for the Cubs in Pittsburgh. The first batter smokes one over the wall. Home run. The cannon at Three Rivers Stadium goes off. BOOM!

Next batter comes to the plate. Sutcliffe throws. Same result. Home run. The cannon sounds again. BOOM!

Sutcliffe sees Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors taking a slow walk towards the mound.

Get back in the dugout! shouts Sutcliffe. Im fine.

Sorry Rick, Connors says. I have to come out here. They need more time to reload the cannon.

Ba-boom!

We played one game today, we'll play two a day starting tomorrow. My team is coached by Paciorek, Carlos May and Mark Salas.

Hows my baseball ability you ask?

Although I have played softball for years, I hadnt participated in an actual baseball game since Little League. And you wonder why I became a sportscaster?

Growing up, I was known for two things: having great range at shortstop and then sailing my throws over the first basemans head, nailing everything and anything in sight; people, bicycles, dogs, cats. Everything but the first basemans glove.

As a result, I heard a lot of Ooooohs, which were immediately followed by a chorus of Awwwwws.

Fortunately, I played left field today. Im not overthrowing anybody.

I went 1-for-3 with a single in that first game, but we lost to a team coached by Kittle and Richard Dotson, 5-3. But thats nothing compared to what happened to Ventura and Harold Baines team. They got crushed, 28-2.

Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I went over to Robins locker afterward for a postgame comment, only to see that he had changed his name on the top of his locker to Buttermaker.

Robin, what happened??

It didnt go well," he said. "And Im not naming names.

At least not yet.

As for our friend Rick who got hit with that baseball three minutes into camp, it appeared that his week was finished.

But in the third inning, a figure came walking out of the clubhouse and onto our baseball field. He picked up a bat, walked over to the plate, and dug in. Kittle was on the mound, and he delivered a fastball.

A 45-mph fastball. Hey, its fantasy camp.

And despite having a large bandage over his swollen, black eye, Larson smashed the first pitch he saw through the infield for a base hit.

And for one moment fantasy met reality. Rick Larson ... youre my hero.

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No player has impacted the Double-A Birmingham Barons the way Michael Kopech has since … Michael Jordan?

That’s the belief of long-time Barons play-by-play man Curt Bloom, who said Kopech has garnered more attention than almost every player he’s covered during 26 seasons in the booth.

Bloom acknowledges that nobody will ever surpass Air Jordan’s 127 games with the Barons in 1994. But the advent of social media has made Kopech an extremely popular attraction this season. Whenever he takes the mound, the team’s social media accounts see a significant increase in page views, engagement and impressions.

“Jordan-esque,” Bloom said. “Nothing will beat Jordan. LeBron could come down. But this reminds me of it. It triggers it. A jolt.

“Nothing stirred like this guy has and I do say, and I think Kopech will tell you the same thing, a big chunk of the reason is we have social media. We didn’t have that for Jordan. We did not have that for Aaron Rowand. There’s always a ying for a yang.

“That being said, it’s still gone beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’s unavoidable to miss the Barons’ remembrance of Jordan’s season when he reportedly paid $350,000 to buy the club a luxury bus “The Jordan Cruiser and the Barons set records for attendance. The team drew 467,867 at their old stadium, Hoover Met, and Southern League attendance was more than 2.5 million.

Jordan’s image wearing a Barons No. 45 jersey can be found throughout Regions Field, including a massive banner near the home-plate entrance.

Kopech has been a focal point for White Sox fans since he was acquired in December.

Whether it’s his 100-mph fastball, his lofty prospect status or simply the fact he came over in the Chris Sale deal, eye balls have been drawn to Kopech all season. The right-hander has only increased the awareness with his steady presence on social media, including giving away game-used items to fans.

Throw in his recent dominance on the mound — Kopech has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in his last 41 innings — and the hysteria is real.

The Barons determined early on this season that they would follow in the steps of several major league clubs and anoint the day he pitched at home Kopech Day. The White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins have all recently done the same for Sale, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez.

Kopech has only lived up to the hype.

“He’s answering the bell,” Bloom said. “There’s definitely awareness in the city, in our followers, the Twitter universe.

“My daughter Chloe who has no idea about baseball, she asks me, ‘Is Kopech pitching?’

"That’s what has been created.”

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A strong relationship with pitching coach Jose Bautista allowed Michael Kopech to make a midseason adjustment he thinks is critical to his dominant stretch.

The Double-A Birmingham pitcher said he’s learned a ton about himself during a very good first season with the White Sox. Much of Kopech’s newfound knowledge is related to the direction of his throwing motion and how he needs to be more consistent with it. The suggestion came courtesy of Bautista, who’s in his ninth season as a White Sox coach.

Kopech, who next pitches for the Barons on Friday night, has found the necessary amount of consistency since he and Bautista made the switch in early July. Since then Kopech, 21, has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in 41 innings.

“He really trusts Jose’s information,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “They did some mechanical stuff fixing his direction. He just took off from there once they corrected that direction and make him understand, strike one, how important it really is. He had one good game where he got into the seventh inning and he came out and he says, ‘That’s the longest outing I’ve had.’ And it was like right after he had corrected the direction and he just took off from there. He’s done great. He’s a great kid. He works hard. Fantastic teammate.”

Kopech is pleased with the insight he has gained from Bautista.

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself this year,” the right-hander said. “Just that I’m more successful as a starter when I’m able to repeatedly stay in one motion.”

Bautista’s fix came on the heels of a six-start run where Kopech posted a 7.46 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. The club used a nine-day window between starts from July 5-13 to work on his direction. Kopech had only one appearance, a scoreless inning in the Futures Game.

“I may be a guy that goes toward the plate and spins off,” Kopech said. “But I can’t be a guy that goes toward the plate and stays toward the plate and the next pitch goes toward the plate and then spins off. I just have to follow in that some pattern no matter what I’m doing. It’s about consistency and I’ve learned my most consistent patterns as a pitcher. That’s put me in a good position.”

Rather, it’s put Kopech in an elite position.

The No. 12 prospect in baseball has perhaps begun to outperform the lofty expectations that have been in place since he arrived last December from Boston in the Chris Sale trade.

Opposing hitters have a .414 OPS against him over the last month. He has completed at least six innings in each of his last six starts and has gone seven frames or more four times.

“He’s going deeper into games,” player development director Chris Getz. “A lot of it has to do with that fastball command and really its staying within his delivery and going after hitters early with that fastball, trusting it, because he’s got good action on the fastball, not just the upper-90s straight fastball. He’s got natural two-seam action to his ball.”

Undoubtedly, throwing more strikes has played a big role in Kopech’s dominance. In his first 16 starts, Kopech threw strikes 61 percent of the time en route to a respectable 4.02 ERA. He’s increased that figure to 67 percent in his last six games.

Ultimately, Kopech credits Bautista for getting him back in the right direction.

“Getting a little bit of success with one mechanical adjustment kind of made the mental adjustments easier,” Kopech said. “It made me feel a little bit more comfortable with myself.

“I stayed in line. I stopped spinning off so much. The solution to that was getting out there and throwing more strikes. One thing became another and after that I started feeling a lot more comfortable with myself.

“A lot of it has to do with Jose and him being in my ear and telling me when I’m coming off and when I’m doing certain things.

“It’s the best I’ve been all year, the most consistent I’ve been all year. I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”