Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Your Bristol White Sox
So it’s Monday. Ibis and Ozzie Guillen and I are in Bristol Va./Tenn. (the town literally straddles the state line). The Guillens are in town to check on their son, Oney, while I am there as part traveling secretary, part media rep and part interested observer of our Rookie Ball team.
We all flew down to Bristol Sunday night as Jerry Reinsdorf loaned his plane to the Guillens. Ozzie talked to me a month or so ago about arranging the trip. He really wanted to use the off day to see his middle son play. Ibis was much more concerned with making sure her son’s living conditions were good, that he was eating well, that the house actually was stocked with food for the kids — several players are living together in a place near the ballpark. Think of your mom on her first visit to you in college.
"Seeing Oney play is a real thrill for us and for my wife," Guillen said. "We’re very proud of him."
So while Ibis cleaned and shopped for the kids, Ozzie headed over the ballpark, Boyce Cox Field, early in the afternoon. I found him at the batting cage beyond the left field wall, working with the hitters, Jerry Hairston (our hitting coach at Bristol) and Nick Capra, our roving hitting instructor.
It was typical Ozzie, non-stop chatter, laughter and instruction for the kids.
Around 3:30 pm, Bobby Thigpen (our Bristol manager), the coaches and Ozzie pulled the team together, and Guillen provided a pep talk to the young professional players.
"I told them to appreciate the support they receive from the people in Bristol, respect this country, respect themselves and respect the game," Guillen said afterward. "And I told them to remember that someone is always watching. You always have a chance to impress someone."
Then the rains came. Thunderstorms and heavy downpours filled the afternoon, washed out batting practice and threatened the evening game. With the rain falling, Guillen sat in the home clubhouse entertaining everyone with story after story.
"Someday in my career," Ozzie said. "I would love to take a year and coach these kids in the minor leagues. It would be a lot of fun."
The weather holds off and the ballgame begins. After starting the summer off slowly, Bristol has been playing well as of late and entered the game on a four-game winning streak.
Behind very solid starting pitcher Po-Yu Lin (2 ER/5.2 IP, 6 SO), hitting by Sergio Morales (3-4, 3 RBI) and relief pitching by closer Wilmer Rojas (2 IP, 3 SO), the Sox won, 6-4. A key play in the game came in the eighth inning when Oney Guillen started an inning-ending 4-6-3 doubleplay with the tying runs on base. The play came just pitches after his dad whistled for him to move two steps to his right, closer to second base. Give an assist to Ozzie.
"Oney’s a smart player," his dad said. "He grew up in the game and watched it for years at the major-league level. He’s been able to help the Latin kids here in Bristol, he communicates well and he’s made them more comfortable in a new country. He has great enthusiasm and hunger for baseball. I’m proud of him because he has chosen to be here. It’s hard work, a hard road. It’s not easy, but it’s what he has chosen to pursue. My kids know I’ll support them whatever they chose to do in life, and Oney chose this. He’s living minor league baseball."
Boyce Cox Field, newly renamed after the March death of the longtime Bristol Sox GM, sits just behind a high school football field in a slight hollow. It’s a nice, quaint facility, and fans sit in the seats, on bleachers or even bring their lawn chairs to sit on the hillsides overlooking the field. It is a perfect setting for Rookie Ball games. In between innings, one promotion was brought to you by Hamburger Helper. Signs for Chick-fil-A and Southern Biscuit Flour grace the outfield wall. The evening reminded me of how great a night of minor league baseball can be.
The experience brought back memories of Ozzie Guillen’s time in the Padres minor league system as he worked his way to the major leagues.
"It’s a flashback for me," Ozzie said, after watching the game with his wife from the first row of seats over the Bristol dugout. "Comparing now to when I was playing, the facilities are better and you have more support."
Guillen confessed that as he advanced in the San Diego organization, he was often the only Latino player on the team.
"I remember my first year in pro ball. I was homesick. I missed my parents. I missed my country. Back then, you didn’t have cell phones or the internet. I didn’t see my mom for seven months. I remember when the season ended, I was counting days to get back to Venezuela."
Times have changed. After the game, we hopped onto the plane and flew to New York, catching up with the rest of the major league White Sox at around 2 am.
I can’t say enough about the hospitality of Bristol GM Mahlon Luttrell and the rest of the staff in Bristol. Mahlon bragged that the hot dogs were the best around, and he was absolutely correct. Best in the Appalachian League.
Is 3 pm CT today. Stay tuned if we are involved in any moves.
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