White Sox touched by greatness during Ali's visit

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White Sox touched by greatness during Ali's visit

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
1:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. The Chicago White Sox were touched by greatness before their game against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday, as Muhammad Ali visited with the team in a closed-door workshop intended to educate and inspire.

Alis wife, Lonnie, began the session telling the players she was a lifelong baseball fan. I live and breathe the game, she said. I know what it takes for you to get here.

Lonnie Ali connected the six core values her husband has lived byrespect, confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, spiritualityvalues that guide the work of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville and Alis Athletes for Hope foundation.

Main speaker Ivan Blumberg, CEO of Athletes for Hope, handled the heavy lifting of the session, with Ali sitting, flanked by Lonnie, sister-in-law Marilyn, and family friend and White Sox GM Ken Williams.

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The meat of the session was marked by a large amount of player participation, but was led off in shocking fashion, as chatterbug third-base coach Jeff Cox was rendered speechless by a question about hope. Later, manager Ozzie Guillen dogged Omar Vizquel for his admission that coaches are one of the types of people who give him hope (Ozzie to Omar: You dont have to lie just because Im here!).

Among the White Sox players and staff engaged in the lively debate during a session primarily focused on an athletes obligation toward service were Kevin Hickey, Will Ohman, Edwin Jackson, Lastings Milledge, Guillen, Paul Konerko, Jake Peavy, Vizquel, Sergio Santos, Brent Lillibridge, Stefan Gartrell, and Williams.

The session was indeed tailor-made for debate, whether it was Milledge and Juan Pierre trying to school Alex Rios about Alis status as The Greatest, to a number of athletes in service debates spilling out after the workshop. A.J. Pierzynski and Konerko continued debating how an athletes fame impacts service (Konerko, in support of the bigger name-bigger impact faction: Hey, Im a numbers guy, what can I say?) and later it was Pierzynski, Ohman, and Peavy discussing the topic as well.

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The whole thing was cool, Pierzynski said. Blumberg gave very valid points about a lot of things, basically getting out there and doing anything you can do to help, whether its time or money. Its the message the White Sox believe in very strongly.

I try to do everything I can to help people. Its just something everyone should try to do, no matter what you, how you live, or what your means are. You can always try to help other people.

Konerko shared Pierzynskis sentiments. The Captain also agreed that while both players had met Ali before, it was always awe-inspiring to be in the presence of The Greatest.

That was pretty cool, Konerko said. Hes one of the most recognized people on the planet. Were public figures and people know us, but Ali is a whole other ball of wax. Its like meeting a President.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

How Rick Renteria has tried to help White Sox players combat travel fatigue

How Rick Renteria has tried to help White Sox players combat travel fatigue

They’re finally at home and Rick Renteria has implored White Sox players to relax a little.

Take a nap. Go see a movie. Run some errands.

Basically, the White Sox manager has ordered his players to do anything but arrive early to Guaranteed Rate Field the past two games. For the third time already on the 10-game homestand, White Sox players were instructed to check into the clubhouse later than normal. Renteria is attempting to help his players catch up after a trying schedule that began with 44 road dates in the team’s first 71 games.

Though it won’t be a routine practice, Renteria is aware his players have to be feeling some of the effects of a scheduled that has had them mostly away from Chicago before this week and wanted to correct it.

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“We have been traveling a lot,” Renteria said. “The reality is the body's fatigued, you're getting up early, you're packing every three days. I just thought (Tuesday) would be an appropriate time to give them a little breath. And then after the victory last night, going in they were talking a little bit about maybe doing it again today. Honestly, they're the ones that are playing the game. It's not something I'll probably do every single day, that would be impossible. We still have to get our work in. But I thought it kind of fit the moment and we allowed them to do it again (Wednesday).”

Though he’s unaccustomed to the practice, Todd Frazier doesn’t mind it. White Sox players have been allowed to arrive at the park on consecutive days at 5 p.m. for the 7:10 p.m. starts.

Even so, many players were already in the building by the time media access to the clubhouse began at 4:30 p.m. Frazier said players simply have to be a little more efficient in preparing for the game.

“It’s good,” Frazier said. “You get to spend more time with the family. If you can get a nap in there, that helps too. Getting to the ballpark, you feel like you have more time than you really have, but you work in the cage, get warmed up and away you go. It’s like high school. You get to the field an hour before the game, get a quick stretch, talked to the guys about what did you do last night, how’s what’s her name doing, hang around and then we go to work.”

White Sox catcher Kevan Smith has a ball after drawing first career walk

White Sox catcher Kevan Smith has a ball after drawing first career walk

Rookie Kevan Smith wanted his first career walk in the worst possible way on Tuesday night.

The White Sox catcher was so intent upon ending a lengthy walk drought to start his career that he determined to lean in against one of the hardest throwers in the league.

Ahead 3-0 in the count with one out in the ninth inning against New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, Smith inched closer to the plate. The four-pitch walk Smith drew in career plate appearance No. 130 not only ended the second longest walk-less streak to start a career since 1990, it also jumpstarted a game-winning White Sox rally. Smith was afforded plenty of time to enjoy the moment, too, as manager Rick Renteria immediately pulled him for a pinch runner.

“Oh yeah (I knew),” Smith said. “One hundred percent. I got way on the plate and was like, ‘You’re either going to hit me or walk me’ because I’m not letting this one slide. I’ve been to a few 3-0 counts, but finally got the first one out of the way. Everybody was laughing at me.

“It was a celebratory thing. I got to come off the field on my first one.”

Smith’s moment was worthy of a celebration.

Whereas Tim Anderson’s base on balls-free stretch to start his career got a ton of notoriety in 2016, Smith’s received almost none despite the fact that he soared past Anderson. A highly touted rookie known for his aggressive approach at the plate, people kept close tabs on Anderson’s stretch when he went 85 plate appearances without a walk to start his career. But Smith eclipsed that mark with a strikeout in his lone trip to the plate on June 9. It wasn’t until 44 plate appearances later that Smith could walk the walk.

Since 1990, only Jeff Francouer had gone longer among all major leaguers when he didn’t draw a free pass until his 131 plate appearance in 2005. Smith tied the Yankees’ Oscar Azocar (who walked in his 130th trip in 1990) when he ended the seventh inning with a strikeout against New York starting pitcher Luis Severino.

Other notable White Sox players with lengthy walk-less streaks to start their careers include: Jeff Abbott (84, 1997-98), Dayan Viciedo (83, 2010) and Josh Phegley (83, 2013).

“Dang,” Anderson said with a smile. “Nobody made a big deal about his though.”

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Similar to Anderson, Smith has always been fairly aggressive at the plate. His career walk-rate in the minor leagues is 8.7 percent (195 in 2,229 plate appearances). But that aggression hasn’t prevented Smith from finding offensive success during his third stint in the majors. After going 5-for-42 to start his career, Smith has heated up, hitting .313/.322/.422 with six doubles, one home run and eight RBIs in his last 87 plate appearances.

“The more at-bats he gets up here it's natural to start getting a little more comfortable,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He's certainly showing that he's able to do a few things at the plate. He's handling at-bats more a little more calmly.”

The calmer demeanor has helped Smith stick to an approach in which he has confidence. In seven minor league seasons, Smith carried a .285/.361/.449 slash line. He believes staying with what works will be the key to whether or not he can continue to perform.

“I think what makes guys successful up here is they stick to their approach,” Smith said. “I always use (Joe) Mauer as an example. He stays so true to his approach and looks for what he wants to hit that it’s almost frustrating as a catcher and a pitcher. But there’s a reason he’s been around for so long and I’m envious of what he does in the box. I’m just going to keep trying to get as comfortable as I can and strive for that approach each game and each at-bat.”