White Sox touched by greatness during Ali's visit

White Sox touched by greatness during Ali's visit
March 8, 2011, 7:40 pm
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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.