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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