January 2014

SoxFest Day 3

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Next Stop: Glendale, AZ and Spring Training

The annual three-day celebration of White Sox Baseball concluded today at the Palmer House HIlton with a flurry of activity. Lively seminars covering a variety of subjects, long lines of autograph and photo seekers and the opportunity to buy memorabilia and merchandise were once again the order of the day in the land of Sox fans.

The Captain

This is the last SoxFest Paul Konerko will participate in as an active player and the fans certainly took advantage of it. It seems like everybody in downtown Chicago was in line today to get PK’s autograph.

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Mystery Solved

Add Private Eye to the many talents of my colleague Christine O’Reilly. Christine, whose day job with the Sox is Senior Director of Community Relations and Executive Director of Chicago White Sox Charities, passed along a note that appeared in yesterday’s post about the Nebraska family who got in line at 2:00 a.m. Saturday to make sure they got Bobby Jenks’ autograph.

Thanks to more sleuth work by Christine, here’s the scoop. For the record, it’s the Churchich family from Omaha: Dad Nick, son Joey and daughter Jessica. So how did the Churchiches become Sox fans? Joey saw a film about Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Sox and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sunday Seminars

Prized Prospects

What we learned today from top prospects Marcus Semien, Erik Johnson, Micah Johnson and Josh Phegley.

Semien:

Favorite TV show: SportsCenter
Favorite pigout food: Mexican
Favorite athlete growing up: Michael Jordan
Favorite music and artist: Hip-hop and R&B, Drake
Impressions of Chicago: “The city is nice and clean and the people are great.”
Goal: “Being part of his club. It’s an awesome place to play. They treat you great here, like a king. You always want to finish the season in the big leagues and make your family proud.”
On SoxFest: “This is really awesome for me. I really appreciate the respect that everybody has shown me. A lot of people have come up to me like I was here the whole year. Makes me feel great.”

Erik Johnson:

Favorite TV shows: Comedies
Favorite pigout food: Omelets, pancakes and waffles
Favorite athletes growing up: Pitchers like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens
Favorite music and artist: Country, George Strait
Goal: “Build and learn from each start. Playing in the big leagues, playing the game you love, has been my goal since childhood. It’s a dream come true.”
On SoxFest: “This is my first one. When you sit at autograph tables, the interaction with the fans is intriguing. I can talk to you as an old friend and somebody I can relate to. This was a tremendous opportunity for all of us and I’ve had a great time.”

Micah Johnson:

Favorite TV show: X Factor
Favorite pigout food: Oreos
Impressions of Chicago: “It’s easy to get a taxi. I’m from Indianapolis and it’s hard to get one there.”
Favorite music: Rap, hip-hop and classical to relax
On playing baseball: “Great work hours, you’re outside all day, it’s really fun. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Secret admission: In the context of how catching is hard to find, “I’d be a catcher, if it meant making it to the big leagues.”
Philosophy: “Focus on yourself. Do your work every day. You can only do what you can do.”
On SoxFest: “I’ve never been part of something like this before. Can’t imagine if I get up here to the White Sox. I hope I can keep my batting average high so I can keep coming to these seminars.”

Phegley:

Favorite TV show: Breaking Bad
Favorite pigout food: Pizza
Favorite music: Rock, guitar solo
Impressions of Chicago: Great restaurants all over town
Favorite actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
Goal: “I want to win the catcher’s job and play a bit in October. The thought of being a better hitter is on my mind every day of my life.”
Philosophy: “You want to play at the highest level. To say you faced the best is what we play for. Calling yourself a big leaguer, nobody can take that away from you. It’s special.”
On SoxFest: “To show up at SoxFest and see all the support, it makes me more excited and proud to be a White Sox. We appreciate all the support.

Sluggers Roundtable

Words of Wisdom from Bo Jackson, Harold Baines and Jim Thome.

Bo:

On his role model: “I looked up to my Mom, who raised 10 kids all by herself. My hero, the person I admired, was my Mom.

On his success against knuckleball pitchers: “(Legendary Negro League player and manager) Buck O’Neil told me that when you’re facing knuckleballers, use the heaviest bat that you can.” Bo actually had his most hits off of knuckleballer Charlie Hough.

On his confidence: “One thing an athlete can’t do is doubt himself. I never got to the point where where I felt I couldn’t do something. It may take me a while, but I’ll get it done.”

On one of his philosophies: “(Don’t) allow everything negative on the field that happens to you affect the rest of the day. Just say, I’ll get him next time.”

On how he acquired the skill to famously run up the side of the outfield fence, a secret he learned in high school: “There was a place in our school called the ‘smoking pit’ where certain kids hung out. It was outdoors in the center of the school and had three walls with one way in and out. Sometimes when we did something we shouldn’t have, the principal would chase us down the halls. We’d split up so the principal had to chase one of us and I’d go out to the ‘smoking pit.’ The principal would think he had me but when he got out there, I’d be gone.”

Bo used his athleticism to scale the wall, scamper across the school’s roof and then down the front of the school. So compared to an angry principal chasing an 18-year-old into the ‘smoking pit,’ running up the side of a major league outfield fence was a piece of cake for the world’s greatest athlete.

Harold:

His reaction after host Chuck Garfien read a long list of players, including many Hall of Famers, who had less home runs than Harold: “OK,” he said, in his typical quiet demeanor.

On why he accepted failure: “If I failed, I wouldn’t have to talk to you guys (the media).”

On the 2014 season: “We need to play better fundamental baseball. That was the big difference in the last two years. We have to get back to that.”

The pitcher he most liked to face: “Whoever wanted to give me two hits, that’s the pitcher I liked to face.”

Jim:

On his hitting philosophy: “My goal was to hit .300, make contact and have good at bats. If you have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, making contact will help you do that.”

On the 2008 blackout game, which sent the Sox to the 2008 playoffs: “That was one of the most memorable in my career. The game was well-pitched, there were a lot of good plays, I hit the home run to win the game. I have a picture of the crowd in my home. It looks so cool.”

On 2014: “It’s going to be an exciting spring. We have a lot of good, young players.”

A View from the Dugout

Thoughts and observations from manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and new hitting coach Todd Steverson.

Robin:

On the hiring of Steverson: “Very early there were a few things that stuck out to me that he was on the right track personally, with his beliefs and his delivery. He fits great with where we’re going with the guys we have.”

On putting together the roster in spring training: “The thing about spring training is that (the players) will let you know. The players will show you if they belong at the end.”

Coop:

On John Danks: “My goal is to get 200 innings out of John. He’s an important piece and hopefully he’ll get back to where he was before the injury.”

On newly-acquired Felipe Paulino, a candidate for the starting rotation: “He has a big arm. It’s up to us to try to put a package together, with the arm strength he’s got, to help him win.”

Todd:

On slugger Jose Abreu: “He has a nice routine. My first impression is that he’s a large human being with a lot of pop in his bat. We didn’t sign him to steal bases. He needs to get acclimated to the major leagues and that’s where spring training comes in.”

On his professional career: “I was injured at the end of my career and starting coaching at 26 and I’ve been doing it for 16 years–first in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization and then with Oakland. I played with great players and coaches and learned from them–Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, George Kissell and Mitchell Page. You teach because you want to learn. I try to explain the why.”

From the Draft to the Big Leagues

Sox VP Buddy Bell on Micker Zapata, the highly-touted teenage outfielder signed out of the Dominican Republic: “He’s 17 now and he’s got incredible talent, a great arm, can run and he’s 6’4″ or 6’5″. We’re looking forward to (his development). One thing you have to be careful about, you have to be patient. He hasn’t grown up to play in games. They’ve been bred to showcase. We have some time with him, but we’re expecting big things.”

Amateur Scouting Director Doug Laumann on the decision to draft a high school or college player:
“It’s an organizational philosophy whether you want to get a guy to fit into a core of players a little quicker. The year we took Chris Sale, the Astros took a great high school prospect, who will probably pitch a long time in the big leagues. Two years later, I saw him in person at Class A. That night, Sale was pitching in the big league All-Star Game. Again, it’s the philosophy of the organization as to which way you go.”

Laumann on the uncertainty of the MLB draft as opposed to the NFL and NBA: “It shows you the gap between the level (baseball) players are playing now and playing in the major leagues. The competition level in college baseball and football is much closer to the level of the pros in those sports. There are so many things to learn in baseball, that’s why it’s so inexact. So many variables enter into it.”

Big League Laughs

Comedy Central has nothing on this seminar, the last one at SoxFest 2014. Comedian Pat McGann, fresh off of an appearance on David Letterman, was the host and provided the laughs with Sox players Gordon Beckham, Nate Jones and Adam Eaton and former Sox player and broadcaster Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek.

Perhaps the funniest back and forth was between Gordon and Adam. Gordon got on Adam for his love of rap and R&B music (“Konerko will never let you come out swinging with a rap song”) and being star-struck with the celebrities at Dodger games. When Adam was asked who he’d stand in line for to get an autograph, Gordon answered for him: “Lady Gaga.” Nate’s choices were Frank Thomas and Bo Jackson and Beckham was adamant in naming Derek Jeter.

Other tidbits of note: Nate said the funniest guys on the Sox are Adam Dunn, Chris Sale and Gordon with his impressions, especially of former teammate Jake Peavy…Eaton’s favorite player growing up was Kenny Lofton and he has patterned himself after Lofton’s style…Beckham said he doesn’t argue with umpires because “I’m a choir boy, I don’t argue”…Gordon also related a conversation he had with Prince Fielder at first base last year. Beckham said that Prince commented that there weren’t a lot of people in the stands to which Gordon replied that the rain may have subdued them. “Subdued, great word, man.” “I was thinking, alright,” Gordon admitted. “I made Prince smile and laugh.”

Wimpy had several funny lines. Among them:

“I was traded for a player to be named later, who turned out to be me.”

“I once told an umpire that if he had one more eye, he’d be a cyclops.”

“An umpire once told me that he needed to get his mask. I said, ‘With your face, you don’t need a mask.’ He kicked me out of the game.”

“I came up to bat late in the game once against the Yankees. (Catcher) Thurman Munson looked at me and said, ‘What, are you guys giving up?’

On a serious note, Beckham weighed in on Robin as the Sox skipper:

Robin is one of the classiest, best human beings on earth. The way he goes about his game is inspirational for me and guys like Adam and Nate. We see what he’s done. He’s the same way every day. There were times he got on us last year, but he knows how to get a player to play hard for him. People respect him when he walks in a room. You want to play and win for this guy.”

Photo of the Day

Spring Training is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale on February 15.

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SoxFest Day 2

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January 25, 2014

Talk About Dedication

You can’t make this up. Every year a family of Sox fans from Nebraska–a Dad, daughter and son–fly in for SoxFest. This year, however, they went above and beyond. They got in line at 2:00 a.m. this morning to make sure they were among the first to get Bobby Jenks’ autograph. Here’s Bobby during today’s autograph session, which began at 9:00 a.m.

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A Must-See For Sox Fans

The SoxSocial Lounge is a “must” destination while at SoxFest. Even GM Rick Hahn got into spirit by playing a game of Heads Up with a Sox fan.

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Something For Everybody at SoxFest

Here’s a mini-tour of the Exhibitor Hall/Gift Shop/Garage Sale:

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Count Hawk In

It’s been many years now since Hawk Harrelson anointed Frank Thomas with the nickname, The Big Hurt, after witnessing Frank’s prodigious talents on a daily basis. You could say that Hawk will be coming full circle with his connection with the new Hall of Fame electee this Summer when Harrelson will likely be part of the Sox traveling party to Cooperstown to witness Hurt’s induction first-hand.

“I tried to be there for Cal Ripken, George Brett and Robin Yount, guys I really respected,” Hawk said at SoxFest. ‘But I think I’m going to make it this time.”

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SoxFest Notes of Note

During this morning’s seminar featuring Rick and Robin, a fan asked about newly acquired third baseman Matt Davidson. Robin gave an answer that pleased the packed ballroom: “Joe Crede is a good comparison. That’s exciting. (You’re impressed) by (Matt’s) sheer size and how the ball comes off his bat.”

The Cuban Connection seminar featured Sox icon Minnie Minoso and current Sox stars Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo and Jose Abreu. The fans showed their love for Minnie with a lengthy standing ovation and some heartfelt comments. Alexei made a point of thanking Minoso for paving the way for Cuban players to play in the major leagues…One fan certainly did his homework and wished Jose a Happy Birthday (this Wednesday). Abreu, who said he has high expectations and wants to be thought of as a player who leaves everything on the field to help his team win, was asked if he had a nickname. He said he’s known in Cuba as Pito. What about dealing with cold weather, Jose was asked. He said this is the third time he’s been to Chicago and it’s very different this time–referring to the frigid temperatures. “I’ll have to talk to my teammates to get mentally prepared for the cold,” he added.

Sox VP Buddy Bell, Director of Amateur Scouting Doug Laumann and Director of Player Development Nick Capra had some interesting insights in today’s From the Draft to the Big Leagues seminar…Laumann on the Sox having the third pick in this June’s amateur draft: “There’s a certain degree of pressure and a challenge to get an impact type of player. It allows us to narrow the field to five or six potential candidates. It’s a very important pick for us. We’d like to think we’ll get it right. We’ve already talked to four of six potential candidates already. Our philosophy is to take the most impactful player available”…Bell on Sox prospect Micah Johnson: He’s a real interesting kid–a very good baseball mind and a real catalyst. He has the best range of any second baseman I’ve ever seen, but he can play just about anywhere but shortstop. He’s a very good player”…Capra acknowledged that outfield prospect Trayce Thompson may have taken a step back offensively last season, but still has the potential to be a superstar because he does so many things.

Laurence Holmes sat down with with Matt Lindstrom, Adam Eaton and Erik Johnson in the Movies, Music and More! seminar. Hilarity ensued. Among the tidbits we learned: The two main things Eaton takes on the road are his wife and his iPad, his favorite movies are Tommy Boy and Happy Gilmore and the player in history he’d most like to room with is Yogi Berra–”or just spend 10 minutes with him”…Matt Lindstrom loves to play Zombies Xbox 360, Forrest Gump is his favorite movie and his celebrity crush is Kate Beckinsale because she looks like his wife…Movie-wise, Erik Johnson is partial to Indiana Jones and Star Wars and is a huge San Francisco 49ers fan. And according to Lindstrom, Chris Sale is by far the best video game player on the Sox and excels in everything he does. Perhaps the funniest line of the seminar came when Eaton was asked about his celebrity crush. He answered, “Paul Konerko.”

Two of the greatest lefthanded pitchers in Sox history, Billy Pierce and Gary Peters, were the focus of the final seminar of Day 2. Billy talked about getting his first glove and ball as a prize for getting his tonsils out and the day he met Babe Ruth and had him sign a baseball that he still holds dear…Peters recalled having lunch with his father before making a start against the Yankees on a Saturday. He asked his dad, an avid Yankee fan, who he would be rooting for. After hesitating a moment, the elder Peters said he’d root for his son, but the Yankees on Sunday.

Tomorrow’s Schedule: 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Autographs and photos will continue on the final day of SoxFest. Here are the scheduled seminars: Prized Prospects (10:00-11:00 a.m.) with Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley and Micah Johnson; A Sluggers Roundtable (11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) with Adam Dunn, Bo Jackson, Jim Thome and Harold Baines; A View from the Dugout (12:00-1:00 p.m.) with Robin Ventura, Don Cooper and Todd Steverson; From the Draft to the Big Leagues (1:00-2:00 p.m.) with Nick Capra, Buddy Bell, Doug Laumann and Dan Fabian; and Big League Laughs (2:00-3:00 p.m.) with Pat McGann, Adam Eaton, Nate Jones, Gordon Beckham and Tom Paciorek.

Photo of the Day

Bo Jackson’s in the house.

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SoxFest Day 1

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January 24, 2014

It was all White Sox all the time at the first day of SoxFest 2014 at the Palmer House Hilton. From the packed opening ceremony and the introduction of players past and present to the throng of reporters at the media reception to the long lines for autographs and photos to the SoxSocial Lounge, it was a celebration of high hopes and expectations.

A Who’s Who

The long line of intros at the opening ceremony included a virtual encyclopedia of White Sox. In order, Sox public address announcer Gene Honda introduced them. Radio announcers Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson; TV’s Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone; former GM Roland Hemond; Sox HR champ Bill Melton; ’83 A.L. Rookie of the Year Ron KIttle; Sox legend and current coach Harold Baines; All-Star Carlos May; Sox icon Minnie Minoso; former player and broadcaster Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek; one-time pitching ace Gary Peters; 2005 World Series hero Bobby Jenks; new hitting coach Todd Steverson; pitching coach Don Cooper (greeted with a long Coooooop); skipper Robin Ventura; Club President Kenny Williams, GM Rick Hahn and current day players Micah Johnson, Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, Dayan Viciedo, Adam Dunn, Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez, Jose Abreu, Avi Garcia, Gordon Beckham and last but certrainly not least, Paul Konerko and newly minted Hall Of Famer Frank Thomas, who both received standing ovations.

A New Deal

When Rick Hahn and Robin stepped up to opposite podiums on the stage at the media reception to talk about Ventura’s newly signed multi-year contract to remain the Sox skipper, Rick kiddingly said, “Welcome to the Hahn-Ventura” debates. It may have looked like a debate format, but it was far from it. Both were delighted that the relationship between GM and Manager will continue.

“We have announced a multi-year extension with Robin and we’re very happy with this turn of events,” Hahn said. “Robin, Kenny (Williams), Jerry (Reinsdorf) and I had numerous conversations about where we want to get to as an organization. In all those conversations, Robin was enthusiastic about where we were headed. We’re thrilled to have his leadership. We saw in 2012 and 13 two extremes. Through each of those extremes, Robin was unwavering, dealing with both the highs and lows.”

Robin added: “We’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of communication. Nothing really changed where I want to be, what I want to do. I just wanted Rick to have the ability to go through a season with us working together.”

Hahn also addressed the ’14 season. “We are not going to write off any season, but we also have to be realistic coming off 99 losses. What we envision is a young core, coalescing and growing together. We enter 2014 wanting to win the whole thing, but we also want to see progress, steps forward.”

Robin summed up 2013 and looked ahead to 2014: “I don’t like to lose. We were focused on the right things, but the wins just weren’t there. Are people going to pick us to win this year, probably not. Does that mean we can’t win, no.”

Paulie

PK also met the media.

He was asked about his new role. “It’ll be primarily in against lefty pitching, but I’m preparing to be ready for anything. There’s nothing you can ask me that I’m above. I can go a week without playing, or play three days in a row. When I’m not in there, I’ll help guys. Every team has older guys in this role, it’s just that I’m staying here as opposed to changing teams. I could have gone somewhere else, but it wasn’t what I was after. If I can help the team go in the right direction this year and they succeed down the road, I’ll feel good about that.”

Avi is Ready to Go

Avisail Garcia, who joined the Sox in the Jake Peavy trade last summer, is one of the new core of exciting players with a wealth of potential.

“It’s good to be part of the White Sox,” Garcia said today, saying that he needs to work on his consistency both at bat and in the field. “I feel great, I’ve been working hard. I can’t wait for Opening Day. I’m excited about all of our talent. We’re going to get a lot of chances to win a lot of games.”

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Adam Eaton Time

The Sox are also looking forward to the high energy of centerfielder Adam Eaton, who came to Chicago from the Diamondbacks in the trade that sent Hector Santiago to the Angels.

He shared some thoughts with reporters:

“My goal is to have a good year. Day 1, bring it. That’s something you should do every single day. Trying to win every pitch every single day.”

“I’m 5’8″, everybody in Chicago is taller than I am. I feel like little kids graviate to me because I’m on the same level. I want to be the blue collar player that they say, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?”

The Hall of Famer

In one of the most entertaining seminars of the night, Hawk and Wimpy interviewed the Sox’s newest Baseball Hall of Famer, The Big Hurt, who was greeted with a loud standing ovation.

Here’s a sampling from the seminar, which also included questions from the fans:

Frank:

“It was a big dream for me to be in the Hall of Fame. I was nervous about the voting and honored to get in on the first ballot. I’m so glad I’m going in as a Chicago White Sox player and make you guys proud.”

Toughest pitcher he faced: “Jeff Nelson.”

Advice he got from Hall of Famer and former teammate Carlton Fisk, when Thomas first reached the major leagues: “Rookies should be seen and not heard. Go out and perform, don’t run your mouth.”

Pitcher he had his way with: “Mike Mussina, for some reason I saw everything come out of his glove.”

Most influential managers: “Gene Lamont and Ozzie Guillen.”

Hawk:

“Was there ever a doubt?” Harrelson asked the crowd about Frank’s election to the Hall of Fame.

“Watching Frank for 16 years in a White Sox uniform was one of my biggest thrills. For a period of time there he was the greatest righthanded hitter I every saw. He busted his butt, I never saw him dog it. And played hurt.”

“The ascent of the White Sox came with Frank. From 1990 to 1998, the Sox had the most wins in the majors.”

“Frank was the best breaking ball hitter I ever saw.”

“Frank could play in any era, any time.”

Tom:

“I had the honor of watching Frank every day. Watching him play was one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had in baseball.”

The Cuban Connection

New Sox slugger Jose Abreu (right) poses with fellow countrymen Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo.
Abreu made it perfectly clear that he can’t wait to play in the major leagues.
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Tomorrow’s Schedule, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Autographs, Photos and a variety of seminars: Recharged and Remade: Your 2014 White Sox with Hawk Harrelson, Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura; El Beisbol, Con Orgullo: The Cuban Connection with Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo; From the Draft to the Big Leagues with Buddy Bell, Nick Capra and Doug Laumann; Movies, Music and More with Laurence Holmes, Adam Dunn, Adam Eaton and Matt Lindstrom; and Sox Southpaw Stories with Billy Pierce and Gary Peters.

Big Hurt to the Hall

Thursday, January 9, 2014

It was an exciting day in White Sox history yesterday as Frank Thomas was elected into the Hall of Fame. After the announcement, he stopped by U.S. Cellular Field to make his rounds and hold a press conference. Below are some of the pictures from the day.

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All photos Copyright 2014 Ron Vesely/Chicago White Sox

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