March 2010

My All-Time White Sox Memories

Since my ceremonial first pitch debut on Monday is still top of mind and the White Sox had their only off-day of the spring yesterday, I thought I would fill this space with my 10 all-time Sox memories. While I listed my favorite first (how could I not?) it was too difficult to rank the entire list.

 
*  THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON — The 2005 run to the title was simply the best, except for that August and September bump in the road. From the great start that led to a 15-game lead in August to the 11-1 record in the postseason, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The fact that I was able to share the excitement with my Dad (we attended Game 1 of the Series together) and fellow Sox friends, made it unforgettable.
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*  LUCKY NUMBER 11 – I was 11-years-old and lucky enough to be able to attend Game 1 of the 1959 World Series between the Sox and the Dodgers. After 40 years without appearing in the Fall Classic, the Sox made it count this day by overwhelming LA 11-0 with Early Wynn getting the victory and Ted Kluszewski slamming two home runs. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there as the NL champs won the Series four games to two.
*  THE WHITE HOUSE — I could have included this with the first entry, but the fact it was so special I had to list it separately. Through the generosity of friend and Sox fan Kevin Sullivan, I was able to join the White Sox when they were honored by President Bush at the White House in February of 2006. When Sully, then the head of communications in the Department of Education, called for my birthdate and social security number, it was the beginning of a priceless experience.
*  MY CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH — This is the moment that gave me the idea to create the list. My first reaction to the invitation was “no,” but how could I live with myself if I didn’t take advantage of what is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Thanks to Jeff Overton and Paul Jensen of Camelback Ranch for asking me to do it. And I’m glad Sox communications czar Scott Reifert was there to give me the business about bouncing it into the glove of Sox minor league catcher Donny Lucy.
*  THE CLUBHOUSE VISIT — It’s not every day that a youngster, just shy of being a teenager, gets the chance to visit his favorite team’s clubhouse. So, when my uncle was able to somehow arrange for me to enter the Sox inner domain, it was an out-of-body experience. I was able to meet my heroes–Nellie Fox and Wynn among team–but the best part involved Sox utility infielder Sammy Esposito. Esposito, a Chicago high school baseball and basketball standout, was also a part-time assistant basketball coach under the legendary John Baratto at East Chicago (IN) Washington High School in my then-hometown. When Esposito found out I was from East Chicago, he took me around the clubhouse introducing me as one of his guys. I’ve always wanted to get it touch with Esposito, who was the longtime baseball coach at North Carolina State, to tell him how much that meant to me. 
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*  FATHER AND SON — My Dad, Seymour Berke, is a loyal Sox fan who passed the passion on to me. Some of the most memorable times in my childhood occurred when I took a bus after school, met him at work and we drove to Comiskey Park. It served as the foundation for a life of rooting for the South Siders. When the Sox won in 2005, my dad said something very profound: “All those years, all those games, we finally did it.”
*  FANTASY CAMP — During the last season at old Comiskey Park, ex-Cub catcher Randy Hundley organized a three-day weekend fantasy camp at the venerable ballpark. How could I resist? Wanting to share it with somebody, I enlisted college friend Mike Griffin, who was immediately ready and willing. From the first day, where I stroked an opposite field single off of the “Iron Mike,” to facing former major leaguers Bart Johnson and Bill “Soup” Campbell to catching a fly ball off of the bat of ex-Sox ace Gary Peters, it was a thrill to be there.
*  WHITE SOX BOYS CAMP — As a collegian, I spent two summers as a counselor at the Chicago White Sox Boys Camp in Brothertown, Wisconsin. It was there that I met a number of White Sox scouts and front office personnel. One of those who spent some time at the camp was former Sox outfielder John Mostil. Mostil patrolled centerfield for the Sox in the years right after the Black Sox scandal. He was a .301 hitter, who during his career made Babe Ruth‘s all-time All-Star team. He is also known as the only major league centerfielder to catch a foul ball. Before his death in 1970 I was honored to spend an afternoon at his Whiting, IN, home watching and talking baseball.
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*  No. 8 – As childhood heroes Fox, Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio and Billy Pierce ended their careers (although Minoso didn’t really end it for quite a while), a new Sox favorite emerged during my high school years–Pete Ward. A third baseman myself, I was drawn to Ward after he had two outstanding years and named The Sporting News Rookie Player of the Year. I even wore No. 8 and made it my lucky number because that’s the number he wore. To make a long story short, through a set of unusual circumstances, Pete and I have become friends and every time he visits New York we get together. To become close to one of your childhood heroes is pretty special.
*  EARLY WYNN’S MASTERPIECE — The most memorable Sox regular season game I ever attended happened on May 1, 1959, early in the AL championship season. It was a nail-biter against the Red Sox that turned into a pitcher’s duel between Chicago’s Wynn and Boston’s Tom Brewer. Through seven and a half innings, the game was scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Wynn aided his own cause by smashing a dramatic solo homer for the only run of the game. He retired the Red Sox in the top of the ninth for the win and a one-hitter, surrendering only a first inning single to Pete Runnels, combined with 14 strikeouts. Months later, after winning 22 games, Wynn was honored with the Cy Young Award.
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Sometimes in Baseball, Down is Up and Up is Down

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GLENDALE, AZ–Former major league catcher and broadcaster Joe Garagiola once wrote a book called Baseball is a Funny Game. Indeed. Very often what you expect to be your strength is your weakness and vice versa.
This notion can certainly be applied to the White Sox DH situation. Many have been skeptical about the current rotation of Andruw Jones (pictured above), Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel with others like Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko getting some playing time there to get a breather during the course of the long season. Many thought the Sox should have signed Jim Thome or made a bigger push for Johnny Damon before he signed with the Tigers.
Granted, we’re still in the middle of spring training, but the Sox DH scenario is looking awfully good. Following Jones’s 2 for 3 day yesterday where he doubled, stole a base and smacked a three-run homer in the 5-1 win over the Dodgers, the former Braves All-Star is now hitting .400 with seven RBI, three stolen bases, a .500 on base mark and .750 slugging percentage. Equally as significant, he’s in great physical shape. Kotsay, an Ozzie favorite, is batting .391 with a .500 on base percentage, five RBI and a trio of thefts.
Sox notes of note: While the DH situation may be a pleasant surprise, if yesterday is any indication, the Sox strength–pitching–will certainly continue to be so. Jake Peavy led the staff, giving up one run and one hit with six strikeouts in five innings to get the victory. Matt Thornton, Tony Pena, Scott Linebrink and Carlos Torres each pitched one scoreless inning…The South Siders have made more roster moves. First baseman Dayan Viciedo, outfielder Stefan Gartrell and pitcher Jeff Marquez were optioned to Charlotte while pitcher Daniel Cabrera and outfielder Jason Botts were released…There was a lot of White Sox talk at my dinner last night with former Sox and Arizona Cardinals PR guru Paul Jensen, who now promotes Camelback Ranch, and longtime Sox and Bulls TV producer Jim Angio…Sox enjoy their only off-day of the spring today with the Cubs looming at Camelback on Friday. The game is a sellout.

A Fun Win, the Roster Narrows Down and Another Day in Paradise

GLENDALE, AZ–After witnessing a tie on Sunday against the Reds and a blowout loss against the Royals last night, it was fun to be part of yesterday’s 6-1 Sox win over the Rockies at Camelback Ranch.

Juan Pierre was 3 for 5 with an RBI, Mark Kotsay 3 for 4 with an RBI and Alex Rios clouted a stand-up triple, driving in two first inning runs. The struggling Mark Teahen singled and laid down a nice sacrifice bunt.
On the pitching side, Freddy Garcia gave up a run and five hits in three frames. Dan Hudson and Randy Williams pitched two perfect innings each. Sergio Santos had some control issues in the eighth, but was rescued by Greg Aquino who got the last out of the inning and pitched a flawless ninth.
Speaking of Hudson, Santos and Aquino, it appears that they are the last men standing for the seventh and final spot in the pen as Jhonny Nunez and Freddy Dolsi were both optioned to Charlotte. Others on the chopping block were pitchers Lucas Harrell, Brian Omogrosso, Clevelan Santeliz (optioned to Charlotte), Brian Hynick (outrighted to Charlotte after an injury-plagued spring) and Santo Luis (Birmingham). The lone non-pitcher cut was catcher Cole Armstrong, who was assigned to minor league camp. The Sox are left with 44 players in the major league camp–20 pitchers, four catchers, 11 infielders and nine outfielders.
Sox notes of note: Nothing serious, but both Rios (left quad) and Carlos Quentin (left shoulder after being hit by a pitch for the second time) were taken out of yesterday’s game for precautionary reasons…Jared Mitchell‘s surgery was a success, but he’s definitely out for the season…Spent a great day at the ballpark yesterday with a group of friends, including Jeff and Lee Weiss who are fellow natives of Northwest Indiana. The only negative was that their sister, Lynn Garson, was in Florida and couldn’t join us. She’s at the top of the list when it comes to fans of the Pale Hose.
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   Jake Peavy, who will be on the mound against the Dodgers in today’s St.
   Patty’s matinee, and Alex Rios, one of yesterday’s hitting stars. 

A Bucket List Moment

photo.jpgGLENDALE, AZ–Having spent most of my career in communications, I’m much more comfortable behind the scenes than being the center of attention. But Monday night, thanks to my friends at the White Sox and Camelback Ranch, I was asked to leave my comfort zone and throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Sox-Royals game.
Whether I was chosen because I’m a lifelong White Sox fan or the fact I’ve traveled to Sox spring training on and off for 40 years or it was dumb luck, it was a terrific moment. Luckily for me I wasn’t informed days ahead of time. I was told minutes before so I didn’t have much time to worry about my form. Fortunate, too, that I was wearing my Art of the Pale Hose cap and my Sox jacket.
As it turned out, it was one of those surreal moments in life. I got my instructions (pictured above), was introduced, walked to the mound (actually right in front of it), did a little windup and threw the ball to Sox catching prospect Donny Lucy. I made sure I didn’t heave it over his head, but instead reached Lucy’s glove on one bounce. Oh, well. Then we ran toward each other like I’ve seen thousands of times over the years, Donny signed the ball and it was on to the national anthem and game time.
I’m still searching for more clear photos of the event, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter. It’s in my memory bank with so many other Sox moments I’ve experienced. And I have to admit it was sort of nice to be out front for a change.

First Day in Arizona: In This Case, “Kissing Your Sister” Wasn’t So Bad

GOODYEAR, AZ–My wife Bonnie and I landed in Phoenix yesterday, checked into the hotel and rushed over to catch the first pitch of Sox-Reds in beautiful “no clouds in the sky” weather. 

Through eight innings, the Sox found themselves down 5-1 as the Reds got to John Danks and J.J. Putz, who had both been perfect entering the game. Up until then, Gordon Beckham doing his Robbie Alomar impression on a play at second, an RBI single by Alexei Ramirez and strong performances on the mound by Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink highlighted the action for Sox fans. 
In the top of the ninth the fireworks began. The Good Guys scored four runs to tie the game, including an Alejandro De Aza triple to drive in a run, and it ended 5-5–not such a bad fate under the circumstances.
Sox things to think about: De Aza’s 2 for 2 day against Cincinnati, including a double, triple and an RBI, gives him a .500 batting average for the spring. Whatever the outcome, he’s certainly making the case for a spot on the 25-man roster…Ozzie is on record now as saying he’s disappointed with both Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge, candidates for a backup spot. What makes it interesting is that the skipper is lauding the hustling C.J. Retherford, who just may be in the picture to go north at the end of the month…Ozzie has also been singing the praises of Jordan Danks. 
It’s Mark Buehrle vs. Zack Greinke tonight at Camelback Ranch as the Sox face the Royals, who are loaded with former Sox–Scott Podsednik, Chris Getz, Josh Fields and Brian Anderson. Wonder how many of them will be in Glendale.
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        C.J. Retherford: A Birmingham Baron in 2009, a White Sox backup in 2010?


Sox Drop Two Today, Help (?) is On the Way Tomorrow

It was “Bad News Saturday” for the Good Guys. First, one White Sox split squad dropped a 7-2 decision to the Brewers at Camelback Ranch. Then, the other South Siders blew a two-run eighth inning lead and lost to the Cubs, 8-7, in Las Vegas.

Enough of that. I’m on my way to Arizona tomorrow to hopefully bring some luck and grab a few wins. So, for the next week I’ll be blogging from Glendale. Talk soon.

Ozzie on Mitchell: “Very, Very Bad, It’s a Shame…”

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Something pretty awful happened in what was expected to be a routine spring training game yesterday between the White Sox and Angels in Tempe. After entering the contest as a defensive replacement in the sixth, top prospect Jared Mitchell made a spectacular catch off the bat of Juan Rivera for the first out. The bad news is that Mitchell crashed into the wall, tore a tendon inside his left ankle, will have surgery next week and is most likely out for the season. 
Ozzie put it perfectly. This is really a shame, especially considering how much speed is part of Mitchell’s game. The 2010 season was going to be Jared’s first full year and, after an eye-opening spring, was certainly headed in the right direction on his quest to play in Chicago.
Back to the games: The Sox did defeat the Angels, 10-7…Jake Peavy pitched three scoreless innings, Gordon Beckham was 3 for 4, a homer and two RBIs and Alex Rios went 2 for 3, a homer and two RBIs. Beckham is now hitting .364 this spring, Rios is at .357…Sox lost to the Cubs, 6-5, in yesterday’s other game in Las Vegas…Alejandro De Aza was 2 for 4 with two RBI. He now sports a .471 Cactus League batting average.

The Baseball Hairstons: A Story That Needs to be Told

52614237.jpgI recently saw the above picture of one-time White Sox pinch-hitter extraordinaire Jerry Hairston (now a Sox minor league hitting instructor) in a Chicago Tribune photo gallery. It reminded me of something that should get much more attention than it does.

You see, the HairstonsSam, John, Jerry, Scott and Jerry Jr.–are one of a trio of three-generation major league families along with the much more publicized Bells (Gus, Buddy, David and Mike) and Boones (Ray, Bob, Bret and Aaron). The Hairstons, however, are the biggest family with five players.

Here’s the Hairston rundown:

* Sam: Started in the Negro Leagues. He was the first American black White Sox player when he was a backup catcher and pinch-hitter during the 1951 season and spent more than a half-century as a player, scout and coach. The father of Jerry and John and grandfather to Jerry Jr. and Scott, he passed away in 1997 at the age  of 77.

* John: Played a handful of games for the 1969 Cubs as a catcher, outfielder and pinch-hitter.

* Jerry Sr.: Enjoyed 14 seasons in the big leagues in the 70s and 80s as an outfielder, first baseman and pinch-hitter, all with the White Sox except for part of the 1977 season when he was with Pittsburgh. He also stands as the Sox all-time leader in pinch hits with 87.

* Jerry Jr.: Now in his 13th big league season, Jerry has played with the Orioles, Cubs, Rangers, Reds and last year won a World Series ring with the Yankees. He has played a variety of positions and will do so this year with the Padres.

* Scott: An outfielder-second baseman who reached the majors in 2004 with the Diamondbacks. He went from the D-backs to the Padres to the A’s and will be rejoining the Padres in 2010 where he will be teammates with his brother.

EJ2NK4le.jpg             Jerry Jr., Jerry Sr. and Scott (above), John’s uniform number with the
             Cubs–because no photo of him was readily available–and patriarch Sam
             (below).
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The Interesting Case of Alejandro De Aza

When the White Sox picked up outfielder Alejandro De Aza off of waivers from the Florida Marlins last October, it was pretty much greeted with a ho hum attitude. I had heard of De Aza, but knew very little and wondered how he would fit in with the 2010 Sox.

So who is Alejandro De Aza?

A native of the Dominican Republic, he will be 26 in April. He bats and throws lefthanded, is six feet tall, 175 pounds with great speed and the ability to play outstanding defense. He was originally signed by the Dodgers, but picked up by the Marlins in the 2004 Rule 5 draft. He actually earned the starting centerfield job for Florida in 2007 and started the season on fire. In nine games he went 20-33 (.606), but went on the disabled list with a hairline fracture of an ankle. He didn’t appear in the big leagues in 2008 and in ’09 he batted .250 with a .385 on base percentage for the Marlins in 22 games.

So far this spring De Aza has made the Sox brass look good. He’s played in six games, going 5 for 11 (.455) with two RBI and a .538 on base mark. Yesterday, in the South Siders’ 9-5 win over the A’s, De Aza went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored while playing both left and center.

The Sox outfield picture is a crowded one with Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin, Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay plus Jordan Danks and even Jared Mitchell (who was just sent to the minor league camp) in the wings. As a result, it is very unlikely De Aza will make the major league club out of spring training. But if he continues doing what he’s doing,  I can certainly see him fitting in nicely with Ozzie‘s “new look” White Sox some time this season. 

Sox Will Benefit From Nathan’s Absence, But Be Careful What You Wish For

mp_main_wide_JoeNathan452.jpgI have made no secret in the past that I hate Twins closer Joe Nathan–in a baseball sense of course. I have dreaded seeing him every time he’s taken the mound against the White Sox and have cringed watching his victorious fist pump, pictured above. As Ozzie commented to the Sun-Times, “…Nathan is so good against us…I don’t remember in the six or seven years with this ballclub that we had a good day against him, except once.”

As much as I hate Nathan (remember, baseball-wise), I would never wish for him to endure serious injury. Although it’s a fact that the torn ligament in his pitching elbow, which looks like it will necessitate season-ending Tommy John surgery, is certainly a blow to the Twins–and a big benefit to our chances in the AL Central.

While it’s a major setback for Minnesota, we know the franchise well enough not to get too giddy about this. It’s a terrific organization and they do have options, primarily former Sox Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch plus Pat Neshek, who is coming back from elbow surgery. So we shouldn’t be foolish and write them off.

Whatever happens it’ll be good not to have Nathan to worry about, I just wish it weren’t under these circumstances.
 

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