GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Keppinger’s mind is only on baseball for the first time in a long time.
Even though his surgically repaired shoulder isn’t as strong as he’d like just yet, everything away from the diamond is now in place for the White Sox infielder after two years of what he described as family issues.
Keppinger, who has two children, prefers not to go into detail about what those problems have entailed. But Keppinger — who had a .253/.283/.317 line with four home runs and 40 RBIs last season — said Friday he’s happy to only be worried about baseball this spring.
“That’s kind of hard to mix the two, family with your job, with work,” Keppinger said. “With not having to worry about that and getting that taken care of and out of the way, I can set my focus straight to baseball and not have any of that on my mind when I’m trying to go out and do my work. Trying to pick up a slider breaking at 90-something miles an hour, that’s definitely a lot easier. That’s good for the mental aspect of the game.”
Keppinger admits his mind was in two places at the beginning of his first season with the White Sox in 2013.
While he wanted to make a strong first impression with his new team, he also faced distractions that had him constantly checking his phone. Keppinger left the team for a week last spring to travel back to his family in Georgia and said he nearly retired in 2012 for the same reasons. It was only at the behest of friends, family and advisors that Keppinger, who is in the second year of a three-year, $12-million deal, decided to continue playing.
“It’s one of those unknowns,” Keppinger said. “You don’t what’s going to happen. You don’t know what’s going down. So every day it’s thinking this could happen or that could happen and the next day it changes and you don’t know until it finally gets over and done. For the last couple of years I’ve been pretty much going through these issues. I did contemplate walking away. I was going to. It was really hard because I wouldn’t have gone into it expecting that. The way it was playing out, I actually said that’s what I was going to do. … That was every day, it was on my mind.”
With his family troubles now resolved, baseball is once again Keppinger’s top priority. For now that means getting a shoulder he had surgery on in September strengthened properly.
Though he’d prefer to be at 100 percent strength right now, Keppinger can deal with that process now that it’s his only worry.
“It’s way better,” he said.