February 2008

Notes & Observations From Day 2

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Same Old

It doesn’t take long in spring training to fall into the rythym of camp, especially before games start.  Today was a little different in that we were able to get out onto the fields because the weather has gotten much, much better (high 60s, sunny).  Pitchers threw from mounds again with Mike MacDougal catching Ozzie Guillen’s eye.

"One guy who really impressed me was MacDougal," the manager said.  "I talked to him and told him if he can get the ball over the plate and make guys swing and miss, he’ll get people out.  He told me he felt healthy and was ready to go.  I really like how he threw the ball today."

He wished MacDougal could face himself.  It might be an education.

"Hitters don’t want to face him," Guillen said, noting he’d had a few thousand plate appearances himself as a hitter.  "This kid has some filthy stuff."

MacDougal is just one piece of a re-constructed bullpen that includes Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink.

"I think games will dictate how we use them," Guillen said of acquisitions.  "To me, the bullpen is very important, especially in the American League.  A lot of games are decided by the bullpen.  Think of how many runs were scored against us in the seventh and eighth innings last year.

"I found out how bad a manager I was (in 2007).  There were a lot of tough decisions and I made a lot of bad ones," he said, talking specifically of the bullpen.  "I’m a better manager now.  It’s easy when everything goes right.  You learn things when you fail and things don’t go right."

In Camp

Pablo Ozuna and Josh Fields joined the position players in camp early.  Ozuna, with his ever present smile, looked good when I saw him in the hallway.

"A lot of players want to be here," Guillen said.  "They’re hungry and ready to go.  No one wants to go through what we did last year again."

Guillen said he talked to Fields and Crede about their situations and having to deal with questions all spring.

"I told them to go out there and perform.  Make KW and myself make the decision," Guillen said.  "At this point in spring training, we don’t know Joe’s situation.  We have to wait for Joe, so right now, Josh Fields is my third baseman.  We’ll wait and see what happens when the games start."

Golfing For A Cause

Tomorrow is our annual Dbacks/White Sox Charity Golf Outing in conjunction with the Accenture Match Play Championship in The Gallery Golf Course just north of Tucson.

Ken Williams, Harold Baines, Mark Salas, Bobby Jenks, Javier Vazquez, Toby Hall, Nick Masset, Charlie Haeger (a scratch golfer) and Gavin Floyd will take part.

For devoted readers, you’ll remember this outing led to the notorious Jumping Cholla incident last year that left a cactus stuck in Mike Gellinger’s eye.  Battling through the blood and the pain, he gamely finished the round.

We’ll see what Monday’s outing brings.  But like I said at the time, it’s always a bad thing when the EMT walks up and says, in effect, "Holy Cow."

Camp Day 1

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cold and Wet in Tucson

No one wants to hear about it, but record rains, hail and even snow buffeted Tucson overnight.  It was 39 degrees this morning as I drove down from the foothills to camp.  I arrived at 6:45 am, hoping to work out before the day started, and there already were two dozen cars in the lot.

Medical physicals led off the day, with our media room converted to a mini MASH triage.  Guys received shots and gave blood before moving on to the ortho station.  My turn will be on Thursday when Herm Schneider’s doctors do their best to find something else wrong with me.

Media

The Chicago media turned out in force, with all the local television stations attending the first day of camp. 

When the clubhouse opened at 8:30 am, Joe Crede — who came in early looking fit after spending the last month working out in Phoenix in preparation for spring training — was first in line to discuss how he felt and his contract status with the club.

With Joe’s comments in hand, the Chicago media approached KW.

"I talked to Joe this morning," said KW, who also connected with Crede for a longer conversation later in the day.  "I told him that at this stage, it’s best to just let him go out and get healthy."

Williams was asked about the Sox interest in an extension with Crede last summer.

"We called just to see if they were open to the idea," Williams recalled, saying the conversation with Crede’s representatives came while the team was in Detroit and after Crede had been sidelined with the back injury.  "I was told point-blank that he was going to try free agency."

So what are his feelings as camp opens …

"I can’t say right now what the makeup of the club will be," Williams said, jokingly saying he would love to be able to play two third basemen.  "This is a good situation.  They (Joe and Josh Fields) just need to come in here and compete.  I’m in no rush on this."

Ozzie’s Speech

Ozzie Guillen delivered his annual closed door speech in the clubhouse prior to the 11 am workout.  He laughed that he would record it sometime to play for his wife.  I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea.

The speeches are classic, and I’ve often thought how great it would be for others to hear them, but then again …

Ozzie’s promise to be more of himself was a topic for discussion, with one interpretation having that mean he would be more outspoken and controversial (I’m not sure how you can be more outspoken, but anyway …).

Ozzie basically repeated his plan to be himself in 2008, and if that meant he offended his players at times (and perhaps others), so be it.  He needed to be true to himself.

"He’s a little different," Williams admitted, "but it’s good that he’s a little different."

Williams said he and Ozzie had talked about his approach.

"For me, he’s talking more about the clubhouse and on the bench, having energy and keeping his foot on the pedal," Williams said.

"You try and grow in these jobs, but ultimately, you need to decide who you are.  You don’t want to change this guy at his core.  That’s the man that I hired.  At the same time, we are very much in the public eye and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that."

After spending the morning talking about Crede and Guillen, Williams left the media room, saying, "I think we have a good team … by the way."

Northern

Guillen and Williams sported Northern Illinois University baseball caps during the day’s workout in memory of the victims and survivors of this week’s on-campus shooting and murders.

"It’s our way of showing support and understanding," said Williams, who mentioned his niece and several friends attended NIU. 

"The lines between right and wrong are getting blurred," he stressed, talking about the violence in our society, even in video games targeted at youth.

"Four of my five kids have been to or are in college, and I just can’t imagine getting that phone call."

Guillen also expressed his support for the NIU community, talking about how something like this on a college campus makes everyone and everything seem less secure.

And of course, Ozzie added his own twist as only Ozzie can …

"I have two kids in college … at least I think they’re in college, I pay the bills," he said, "and I can’t even think about something like this happening."

Our prayers continue to be with the NIU community …

Dawn on a new Season

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tucson Weather

Arrived in Tucson last night and awoke this morning to news that Tucson was under a Winter Storm Warning.

"Yeah, right," I thought.  "I live in Chicago."

Well, it’s rained much of the day with talk of 12 inches of snow in the mountains.  Vistoso Golf Course closed and snow was falling in Oro Valley.

Sounds like it’s time for spring training.

Ozzie In The House

Manager Ozzie Guillen flew in today and spent some time in his office pontificating about the latest world events, serving as cultural critic (seems all he does is watch reality television during the offseason), opening winter mail (he opened our team Holiday Card while he sat and talked) and meeting with the early-arriving Chicago media.

"I talked to guys at SoxFest," Guillen said.  "They seem to be enthusiastic and ready to go.  I can be ready.  My coaches can be ready.  But the players, they’re the ones who matter.  They’re the ones who count."

Players

Many of the pitchers and catchers arrived early before tomorrow’s first scheduled workout, including Jose Contreras, Toby Hall and AJ.

Charlie Haeger and Andrew Sisco were in my office after lunch looking for a tee time.

I pointed out that it is snowing, but they were undeterred.  We ended up finding a time at del Lago golf course in Vail.  Good luck playing a round in the snow.

Sisco played for Mexicali this winter.  He lived in the United States and would drive over the border to play games.  Crossing the border meant long lines and traffic.

"It was so bad that I spent Christmas Eve in a hotel in Mexico rather than try to cross back into the United States," he said.

Preparations

Many of the clubhouse staff and training staff have been in Tucson since last week and early this week getting the clubhouse ready for our arrival.  Lots of time and effort go into setting up lockers, stocking equipment and setting up shop.

Thoughts

The thoughts and prayers of our entire organization go out to the students, faculty and families of Northern Illinois University.  Such a tragedy and such a waste. 

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