February 2009

Grand Opening

Camelback Ranch plays host to its first official contest Sunday afternoon, appropriately between the Dodgers and White Sox, with the first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m. CT.

Jordin Sparks, a Glendale native and American Idol winner, will sing the National Anthem, punctuatd by a fly-over by four F-16s from neighboring Luke Air Force Base. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and managers Joe Torre and Ozzie Guillen will participate in ceremonial first pitches.

Count Guillen as one of the many who is most excited to break in the new ballpark.

The only thing I can say is I was first at three different fields,” Guillen said. “I was the first at new Comiskey Park, the first at Sarasota and now this one. It either means you are getting old or you have been around the same organization a long time.

I think it’s going to be great. With the Dodgers, 50 years since the last World Series (in 1959, between the two teams). I feel proud to be part of that. I’m always pleased when baseball gets better and better.

“You can see baseball moving forward when you build a new facility like this one for Spring Training,” Guillen said. “Hopefully, I’ll be around long enough to enjoy this complex a little while. And hopefully, I no manage long enough to move somewhere else. It’s going to be a special day for the White Sox organization and we have to enjoy it as much as we can.

Mark Buehrle gets the start for the White Sox, before he heads home to Missouri for the birth of his second child and first daughter.

 

 

Bullpen woes?

Octavio Dotel allowed two runs on three hits over one inning of work during Saturday’s 13-0 loss to the Cubs. But Ozzie Guillen believes Dotel’s effort was a marked step forward from his first Cactus League outing, when he gave up three runs to the Angels in one inning and wasn’t throwing with much velocity.

“After that first day, anything would be better,” said Guillen of Dotel. “But I don’t worry about Dotel now. Four more outings the same way, then I’ll be concerned.”

Dotel’s velocity was consistently in the 91 to 92 mph range on Saturday.

Adam Russell also struggled against the Cubs, allowing six earned runs on five hits during the Cubs’ nine-run seventh. In fairness to Russell, Brent Lillibridge was charged with an error on Luis Rivas’ possibly double-play grounder that would have considerably lessened the damage.

“He couldn’t get back to work after that error,” said Guillen of Russell. “He made some mistaks over the plate.”

Overall, Guillen was pleased that everyone got their work in and the team is getting better “little by little,” despite the final score.

Information overload

Even with three stories either already posted or soon to be posted on the White Sox site from today’s action, there was still a great deal of information that didn’t make the cut. Remember, the White Sox played a B Game against the Dodgers, while I was representing here in Tucson.

So, here’s a few more bits and pieces to go over, just hours before the first Cubs-White Sox clash of 2009. By the way, I predict 120 wins for both teams with the way Spring Training has started.

–I said this in my early Friday blog post, but Gordon Beckham is a baseball player. I don’t care if it’s Cactus League games, American Legion or the seventh game of the World Series. You just know upon seeing someone with that special ability. His play at shortstop to end the sixth inning on Tony Clark’s grounder, well.. I’ll let Paul Konerko describe it.

“That’s a big league play. If he makes that play, he can play in the big leagues for 15 years,” Konerko said. “Everyone on the bench thought it was a hit, and he comes in and makes it like it was nothing.”

Here’s my first prediction of 2009, aside from the 240-combined wins for the Cubs and White Sox and Michigan hoops winning the NCAA title. Beckham will play in the Majors before September callups. I just have a feeling.

–The early spring endurance award goes to Brian Anderson, who played all nine innings the last two games. He had two hits and scored two runs against Arizona and his defense is as good as ever in the outfield. Jerry Owens played all the way through on Wednesday in Tempe and then again on Friday. He laid down another nice bunt to start Friday’s game but was thrown out at first.

There’s little chance of an outfield featuring Owens, Anderson and DeWayne Wise playing out from left to right, as it did on Friday. But they certainly would track down a great deal of baseballs defensively. If nothing else, Ozzie Guillen got a chance to see all of the center field contenders in action, side-by-side, with Wise adding two hits and two runs scored.

–The back-up catcher battle could be an interesting one. Corky Miller had three hits Thursday at Hi Corbett Field and Chris Stewart had two hits, including a home run, on Friday. These two also are considered the best catch-and-throw candidates.

–Ben Broussard’s home run to open the 7th landed in the parking lot well beyond the right field fence. The blast was estimated at 483 feet by myself and ESPN’s Bruce Levine.

–Back in Glendale, Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks each fanned two in one scoreless inning of relief apiece, or so I was informed by Pat O’Connell. A healthy Linebrink also incorporated three split-finger fastballs into his Friday workload.

“That’s something I definitely want to do this year,” Linebrink told reporters. “I think I fell more into the fastball/changeup last year, whereas this year if I can be really consistent with that third pitch, it opens up a new dimension.

“I’ve always thrown it, but consistency’s always been an issue with that pitch. So we’re going to work on it, too. It’s tough in Arizona because it’s so dry that it’s hard to get a feel for that pitch, but we’ll keep throwing it and keep making it a part of the repertoire.”

–The White Sox apparently loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning against Jason Schmidt and the Dodgers, but the Dodgers asked to stop the frame because of pitch count. Too bad that move doesn’t work during the regular season.

–Aaron Poreda’s 2009 Cactus League debut came in front of an interesting array of spectators.

I recognized that (White Sox general manager) Kenny (Williams) was watching and a lot of the coaches were there," Poreda told reporters. "There's fans, Joe Torre is over there on the Dodger side.

"And actually, the starting pitcher for them was Jason Schmidt, who I grew up watching the Giants as a big fan of his. I have his jersey and autograph. I was thinking, 'It's weird we were competing against each other.' But it was a great experience.''

--So, that about covers it. It's time to say good bye to Tucson and make the 2 1/2 hour drive back. Talk to you from Mesa, and as always, Go Blue!

 

 

Tucson Tales, Day 1

I actually arrived in Tucson on Wednesday night and had a great dinner at McMahon’s with my friend Sarah, probably the most upbeat person I know. I had the salmon, she had the swordfish–both outstanding meals. Actually, I’ve never had a bad meal in all my year’s of going to McMahon’s, so if you are in Tucson, stop by and tell them Scott Merkin sent you. It probably won’t do you any good, but I always wanted to have that kind of pull.

On Thursday night, I dinned at Risky Business, one of my favorite sports bars in Tucson. I was the rebel at the restaurant on this night, as every one of the 25 or so televisions was on the Arizona game. The hostess was nice enough to put one of the TVs on Michigan-Purdue.

Great win for the Wolverines! They should be in the NCAA Tournament, but if they end the season with a win at Minnesota, assuming a loss at Wisconsin, they have to qualify.

During my 6 1/2 years in Tucson (split one Spring Training between covering the Cubs and White Sox while working for another organization), I always enjoyed the city. Still do, but I have to admit I’ve grown accustomed to the Glendale area.

But that’s not why you called. Here are a few brief observations from the victory over Colorado, which probably got overlooked in the bulk of the coverage:

–Gordon Beckham walked in his first at-bat in the 7th and showed a little attitude with a bat flip after the walk. Attitude, as in confidence, not in a bad way. He then proceeded to swipe second base, one of three White Sox stolen bases on the day. I know it’s one game, but this kid has the feel of a ballplayer.

–Speaking of ballplayers, keep an eye on Brandon Allen. The 23-year-old had 29 home runs and 17 stolen bases combined last year and had one hit, one run scored and a stolen base on Thursday. He moves very well for his 6-foot-2, 235-pound size. Ozzie Guillen also has taken notice of Allen.

“I love the way he swings the bat,” sad Guillen of Allen. “He’s a name I’ve talked about with (general manager) Kenny (Williams).”

–Jack Egbert, D.J. Carrasco and Lance Broadway all hurled two scoreless innings apiece, while Jhonny Nunez closed out the victory with the look of a closer.

–Corky Miller had three hits and also had the longest distance for a 2009 Spring Traning bat toss, with it landing in the stands behind the White Sox dugout. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, and Miller traded another bat for the one the fan caught.

More updates to come later, after the game against Arizona is complete. Hope I remember how to get Tucson Electrc Park.

By the way, I just noticed the time of this blog entry as 11:11:11. Weird, right? Maybe I should view 11 as my lucky number for the rest of Spring Training.

 

You pick the Oscars

After sitting through Sunday night’s show, I started thinking how the more popular, thoroughly entertaining movies rarely get honored. So, I came up with my Top 5 movies that have been overlooked by the Academy Awards, and welcome your commentary and your personal choices. In no particular order, they are

1) Halloween: For my money, the best horror film ever made.

2) The Warriors: Great tale of teen angst, and who among us didn’t find the Baseball Furies a little bit entertaining.

3) Can’t Buy Me Love: Ok, the acting wasn’t exactly cinematic brilliance, but just about everyone can relate to the trouble kids go through in high school in trying to find where they belong and dealing with cliques. Big fan of Amanda Peterson, who played Cindy Mancini in this movie.

4) Anchorman: Can’t think of a movie that made me laugh so hard from start to finish. During the one time I briefly met Christina Applegate after her show in New York, I told her about how much I enjoyed this movie. She looked at me like, ‘Great, now my career is complete.’

5) The Fugitive: Harrison Ford’s best movie and just well put together overall. Extra points for it taking place in Chicago.

I’ll try to throw in a non-baseball related topic every now and then just to keep you all honest. And by the way, thanks again for the great response to the blog so far–both here and on Facebook. Talk to you from Tucson.

 

Live from Tempe

The 2009 Cactus League competition is officially underway for the White Sox and here are some highlights from the first two innings of Wednesday’s game in Tempe, Ariz.

–Jerry Owens opened the game with a perfectly-placed drag bunt single fielded by first baseman Kendry Morales. You couldn’t ask for better execution.

 In the second inning, though, Owens popped out to third baseman Brandon Wood with the bases loaded and one out. As manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out before the game, the leadoff hitter is only guaranteed to lead off once after the National Anthem. After that moment, he also has to be able to hit in the clutch and drive in some runs.

–Josh Fields showed speed absent from the past two years when he beat out an infield grounder to shortstop Hainley Statia with one out in the second. Fields also made a slick play on Mike Napoli’s grounder leading off the second.

–Clayton Richard threw strikes and kept the ball down. We haven’t talked to him yet, but judging by the goals he told me about yesterday for his first start, I’m guessing the southpaw will be pleased with this opening effort.

–Chris Getz twice moved well to his left to handle ground balls. Jermaine Dye and Owens made nice running catches in the outfield, both running into the wall after the fact.

Another side note: The field where the White Sox took batting practice Wednesday morning is about 10 miles away from Diablo Stadium. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. It just seemed that way in the 80-degree heat.

 

 

Roster Roulette

So, Wednesday officially begins the Cactus League ledger for the White Sox, which means I will be in Las Vegas for the Cubs-White Sox games in one week. I’m actually going to buy a small suitcase as soon as I finish blogging.

For those not concerned with my travel plans or my future purchases at Target, which pretty much covers everyone, the contest between the Angels and White Sox also marks the start of numerous interesting position battles to be waged by the South Siders. Instead of going through the primary roster openings, let’s look at the roster as a whole.

If you assume Ozzie Guillen takes 12 pitchers, coupled with nine position player starters, then you are left with four open spots. One goes to a back-up catcher and one goes to a back-up infielder, probably Wilson Betemit, leaving Guillen with two roster openings. And then this equation becomes a myriad questions.

–Who is starting in center field? If it’s Brian Anderson, then do both Jerry Owens and DeWayne Wise make the roster or does Guillen take a second utility infielder and risk losing Owens or Wise?

–Who wins the job at second base? If it’s Chris Getz, then does Brent Lillibridge have an advantage for one of those two remaining roster spots because of his infield versatility, speed to burn AND his ability to play center? Remember, Wise, Owens, Betemit and Jayson Nix all are out of options.

–Will Guillen actually break camp with 11 pitchers, meaning only 20 roster spots are committed?

–Is there any chance Dayan Viciedo breaks camp with the White Sox?

–Can both Jose Contreras or Bartolo Colon be ready, health-wise, by the time the fourth and fifth starter’s slot comes up during the first week of the 2009 regular season? While there might be a target date for these veterans to pitch during Spring Training, Contreras just told me the other day as to how there isn’t a “Jose Contreras Comeback Day” set. When he’s ready and White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider and the rest of the team’s upper management agrees, Contreras will be out there.

Many questions to be answered, approximately 45 days to come to a decision. Tell me how you think this roster roulette shakes out.

Anderson in play

Ozzie Guillen gave Brian Anderson a strong vote of confidence on Tuesday afternoon, but also issued a challenge to the team’s best defensive outfielder. First, your basic roster assurance for Anderson.

“He’s my man. Yes. I hope he can be a starting center fielder,” Guillen said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, if it’s going to be a platoon situation. But I think Brian grew up a little bit as a man and as a baseball player, a lot better. And the job he did for us last year was outstanding. He took his role very well.”

 

Now, the challenge

 

“I wish Brian Anderson can come out and be the player people thought he could be,” Guillen said. “That would make it easy for me. Oh God, yes. Every time we make the decision to give Brian the  job since he couldn’t do it, I got three Spring Trainings with a headache on who’s going to be my center fielder.

 

“If Brian Anderson was doing the job he’s supposed to do, I wouldn’t be sitting here, looking for the guy who’s supposed to play center field. He’s going to make it easier for everyone. But this kid, he doesn’t have to be on this club but he should. He’s good enough to do that.”

 

Anderson has developed and matured with each Spring Training, and the late-inning, part-time role he played last year was undervalued. But in talking with him, as recently as this afternoon, he seems as focused as he’s ever been for the start of a season.

 

I’ve said this since 2007, and this is not meant as any sort of shot at Jerry Owens or DeWayne Wise, but I believe Anderson can hit .250 or .260 with 20 to 25 home runs if given a regular to semi-regular chance to play again. This 2009 season could be that chance.

 

 

Things I learned … Recently

–Apparently, I need to go see Slumdog Millionaire.

–I still think Mickey Rourke should have won Best Actor for The Wrestler. Then again, that was the only movie I saw out of the nominations.

–Michigan won’t be going to the NCAA Tournament unless the Wolverines win their next three games or win the Big 10 Tournament. What happened to Manny Harris, is what I want to know?

–Taking a nap from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. is not conducive for falling asleep later that night. I tried this trick out on Saturday. It won’t happen again.

–There are FAR too many pseudo-reality shows on VH-1. Keep Rock of Love and dump the rest.

–I’m looking forward to Cactus League games actually beginning. Trips to Tucson on Las Vegas on the horizon in the next week.

More later. It’s 85 in Glendale today, by the way.

 

Beckham, meet Baines

Welcome to the big leagues, Gordon Beckham.

The White Sox top pick from the 2008 First-Year Player draft was the subject of his first team prank on Monday, following a Sunday batting practice session when he reportedly asked A.J. Pierzynski “Who is Harold Baines?”

Joey Cora, the White Sox bench coach, was the evil mastermind of this put on, live from Glendale, beginning with what he called a game of “Who am I?” after making the morning announcements before team stretch.

“Maybe a couple of you guys know exactly who this person is. He’s a special person,” Cora said. “This person is ranked 18th in games playd, all-time, in Major League Baseball.

“No. 26, ALL-TIME, in Major League Baseball, in at-bats,” said Cora, emphasizing all-time for effect. “No. 28, ALL-TIME in Major League baseball, with 1,628 RBIs.

“Total bases, 33rd ALL-TIME in Major League Baseball. Forty-first in hits, ALL-TIME, with 2,886 hits. Fiftieth, ALL-TIME, in extra-base hits, with 921.

“It’s unbelievable,” Cora added. “This guy should be in the Hall of Fame.”

At that point, general manager Ken Williams chimed in.

“He was clutch, too, wasn’t he?” Williams said.

And, then Cora produced the exclamation point for the joke.

“By the way, a lot of you guys who have played at Cellular Field, whoever hasn’t played there, there’s a statue in right field of this guy,” Cora said.

Cora held up a black and white copy of a photo of Baines standing next to his statue and asked, “I wonder who it is? Let’s take a crack at it.”

Somewhere around half-way through the set up, Beckham saw the joke coming his way and didn’t flinch when answering, “Harold Baines.”

Baines and Beckham shook hands, and Baines signed the picture for the phenom. But the prank was not complete without Jermaine Dye encouraging Beckham to explain how this situation originally began.

“I knew who Harold Baines was,” Beckham said.

“Maybe you didn’t,” Pierzynski and Brian Anderson responded.

“A.J. asked why I was No. 80, and I said, ‘I don’t know. What number do you think they should have given me?’” Beckham said. “A.J. goes, ‘I thought they were going to un-retire Harold’s number for you. And I said, ‘Who’s Harold?’”

Clearly, Beckham won’t ask that question again.

“Now, I know,” Beckham said with a smile.

Beckham might want to share that information with a fan at Camelback Ranch, who greeted Baines on his way to the practice fields Monday by announcing, “Good morning, Jermaine.”

 

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