SoxFest is such a gushing wellspring of optimism and good feelings that it's difficult to pick on what alleged comeback-story-in-the-making to focus on. Everyone is excited for a new start, which is good, because otherwise that would mean that some player or coach is dreading the beginning of the season. Every mention of the coming slate of work and games would heighten their terror, and with each new morning they'd realize they were a day closer to their ultimate nightmare, culminating with them bursting into frantic and desperate tears at the first pitch of the season.
We don't want that.
But since every player and coach league-wide is excited, and many of these people will wind up having quite poor years--hell, Willie Bloomquist is probably convinced he's going to kick-ass in 2012--it would be worth it to try to see who of the many Sox players and coaches had anything tangible to go along with their sunshine and rainbows this weekend.
Robin Ventura got cheers for making the following outlandish statement:
“But I am going to be honest if a guy needs to get a few days off, or if he needs the whole season off, he’ll get the whole season off.”
Of course, that needs to tempered, and Robin Ventura tempers like Mark Twain turns a phrase.
“It’s my belief that I’m not going to treat everybody the same, but I’m going to treat everybody fairly. Paul Konerko is going to be treated differently than rookie who was just called up."
Ventura simultaneously played to fan worries that he would be content to sit calmly in his captain's chair while the ship burned, while still acknowledging that the principle of allowing a long leash to established veterans exists. It's a wonder what his options even are this season if Dunn and Rios are really done being effective players, but at least he knows the mandate is there.
It's not that I'm out to eviscerate every shred of optimism concerning Dunn or Rios, it's just that when you hear stuff like this:
"We made two pretty good moves this off-season," said Dunn, who last season struck out a franchise record 177 times, batted .159 and failed to hit 38 home runs for the first time since 2003.
"That was hopefully getting me and Alex (Rios) back. That's the way I'm looking at it.
...it sounds so much like this:
Dunn remained confident about a better second half.
‘‘I am,’’ Dunn said, ‘‘because I feel like me and Alex, we’ve been as bad as you could possibly be, and if we’re doing half of what we normally do, we’re not even talking about this. . . . We’re putting it all on us in the second half, basically."
And still, not to say that Dunn and Rios can't recover, but their optimism isn't based on anything beyond the natural hope of a new year, so their plight belongs in this category.
Jim Margalus took a deep look into Morel's late-season surge, and concluded that the two outlying factors that could be pointed to were an increase in his patience at the plate, and Brent looking for balls he could pull with authority more.
Sure enough, the man himself gave some confirmation:
"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his April-August approach. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."
A wild conspiracy theorist would suggest that once Morel got beyond that small-ball, hit-behind-the-runner, handle-the-bat crap, he actually started resembling a major league hitter. More likely it was a slow process of adjusting to the league, and focusing a bit more on driving the ball than hanging on for dear life. I still prefer the former, though.
New bench coach and former big league catcher Mark Parent thinks he can fix A.J. Pierzynski's troubles with holding runners, and why wouldn't he be? He could throw it a lil' bit during his day.
"A.J. (Pierzynski) has struggled behind the plate with the running game," Parent said. "We're going to try to do things to help out, either with his mechanics, his release, his release times, throwing over (to first), having pickoff (plays)."
Not to say that this won't help, but I might question the quality of the clay that the artist intends to use. A.J. Pierzynski's woes garnered a lot of attention last season, but he's never been good throwing at runners, certainly not as a White Sox. His 20% caught-stealing rate last season was among his worst, but perhaps no one noticed when he only threw out 18% of baserunners in 2008 because the team was busy winning a division.
Pierzynski can get something out of a greater onus being put on the running game, but if Alexei Ramirez wasn't too busy fielding a bouncer thrown to the 3rd base side, he'd tell you that A.J. has a 22.2% caught-stealing rate with the Sox for a reason. He's also 35, perhaps this is the time to be thankful for what A.J.'s able to maintain, not pulling for a resurgence.
In the midst of Gordon Beckham - Things are Going to be Different - Chapter IV, Beckham shifted the talk away from just "needing more confidence" and got to some more tangible issues.
"I was too mechanical," said Beckham, who used film of his 2009 season as a reference for success. "I'm back to where I'm just going to get (my hands) loaded on time and be smooth and easy and punish something. That's always what I used to do: 'I'm going to hit this ball as hard as I can.' I got away from that because I wanted to get a hit. I didn't want to drive the ball. I wanted to find some grass. That's where I was.
"People are going to chase (bad pitches) when you don't feel good at the plate. Last year, I looked back at my swing, and I'm trying to load (my hands) and hit at the same time. You can't do that. You have to be ready to hit, on time. And I wasn't on time. That was causing me to make bad decisions."
Not that anyone was under the assumption that he was oblivious to it previously, but it's still good to see Beckham address his issues with catching up to fastballs directly. It's so much easier to believe them when they talk specifics and sound astute about their craft than repeat the safe cliches.
Mark Parent seems like an enjoyably gruff dude who's really going to take ownership of this new role as the White Sox bench coach. This includes being the tough-talking foil to Robin Ventura's perennial-classiness, and taking issue with the victim status the White Sox have earned the past few seasons in terms of HBP's.
"You hit our guy, we'll hit your guy," said new bench coach Mark Parent, whose reply was met with scattered applause.
I enjoy the scattered applause, as if not all the fans really knew how to interpret such a sentiment.
Not only were Parent's words tempered by Ventura to read as less of an actual policy, let alone a mandate, but it's hard to really say how much effect he can have. Not getting pre-warned by every ump in the league who's wary of Ozzie Guillen's ill-deserved reputation as a hot head could allow the Sox to be more aggressive, but this is ultimately something that comes down to the player. As Sean Tracey proved, and Chris Sale confirmed, headhunters are born, not made.
Despite disagreeing with him on everything apparently, I enjoy Mark Parent's candor.
Not getting into this "hope" thing, in general.
Joe Cowley giddily reported that he got Paul Konerko to say something other than "World Series or Bust!!!!!11" in the middle of SoxFest.
‘‘Truth be told, there was that little glimmer at the end of ’08 where we got hot, the Twins got kind of cold and . . . we found ourselves in the playoffs. But the honest truth is since ’05, we’ve kind of slowly but surely just kind of given back everything we earned steadily. We’re kind of at this spot now where it’s like, ‘Here we are, back at square one again.’ ’’
Pulling the veil of positivism off of a promotional event blatantly geared toward boosting ticket sales doesn't mean Joe will be sharing drinks with Woodward and Bernstein tonight, but it's a more frank take on the team than most anyone else got. That's something.
As Tom Fornelli explained, what that something is, is just that Konerko gave the State of the Sox that we all kind of knew already. This team is a rehash of the version that fell on its face last season, and while they have a puncher's chance, healthy portions of skepticism is recommended until further notice.