"Appreciate the Game" is a pretty lame slogan, admittedly.
It also has to be. The unvarnished bravado of "All In" doesn't go down as easily when its placed alongside with multiple instances of pressing and cascading failure, and an off-season spent cooling heels and waiting for a new window.
So they opted for the banal and mundane, "Hey you like baseball, don't you?"-type of refrain, and apparently the players appreciate it. Or Matt Thornton does.
"There’s nothing better than playing above the standards of what the media thinks we’re going to do," Thornton said. "You’re under the radar, and everyone thinks we’re going to go out and stink the place up. But we got a lot of guys with a lot of pride around here, and a lot of good veterans and play the game the right way.”
"Silencing the haters" is a pretty frequently cited motivation factor for athletes. It's to the degree that it seems no one ever reads a season preview, sees the team they play for listed as something other than #1 and thinks "Well, they're doing the best they can to weigh the probabilities. Can't fault them for that". Apparently there's "nothing better" than achievements brought on by spite, even though the players sounded comfortable enough in the opposite role last season.
Thornton is on the surface trumpeting the wonders of playing without pressure. For a guy accused of choking away his shot at the closer role, on a team with Adam Dunn--the target of many lazy "he can only play well for crap teams" arguments and certainly flopped in his first chance disprove, Alex Rios (for whom questions about his makeup cross national borders), and Gordan Beckham--a confessed press-aholic, this could be an accidental case in point. I tend to lean away from the tired narratives out of instinct, but the realities of the issues of the latter two players on the list make it just a bit harder to dismiss the possibility that something is up with the others as well.
But even if Thornton's words indicated a preference for lower stakes, that would still be an oversimplification of the situation. Any statement on 2012 right now is a reaction to 2011, which pretty much every player on this roster experienced to some degree. The only players who didn't, are either low-level reserves, or spare bullpen arms that we weren't like to hear from anyway. Thus it's likely every player statement on the approach to this season is coming with the hindsight of 2011's mixture of high expectations, high tension and chilly clubhouse relations.
It stands to reason that everyone is entering this season with a newfound appreciation for a good working atmosphere, even if there's too much true talent decline for it to really matter. If embracing a lower bar to clear provides for a more functional state of affairs, it'll be worth it to reject the old status quo, even if it hints of larger problems.
After all, it's Spring Training, so it's probably better to put this on the shelf and return to later anyway.
Comparisons to the 2011 Diamondbacks are kind of eeeehhhhhhhh
Since that wasn't a fully-formed thought, here's an attack on another one of its kind. There's been a lot of allusions to the 2011 Diamonbacks worst-to-first ride as an example for the 2012 White Sox to follow and derive hope from. The initial impression is that this comparison wasn't really based on much more than that they both teams had bad previous years and underwhelming predictions for their future.
Running down the rosters, and the primary difference that jumps is age. 30 year-old Ryan Roberts was the oldest regular position on that D'backs squad player up until Stephen Drew''s ankle did something gross and Willie Bloomquist got forced in. Between Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, Miguel Montero, the Arizona boasted a slate of youngsters who had gotten enough of a taste to have established a basic talent level (which lowered the projections for them), while still being young enough to breakout when healthy. They also threw money at their biggest problem from 2010 (the bullpen), and had a stud prospect in Paul Goldschmidt to plug in mid-year when the offense needed a boost. They weren't counting on past-their-prime veterans to turn around the forces of decline.
The White Sox have their own cadre of young breakout candidates, but Beckham is no Upton, and Viciedo, Morel, and Sale are a lot earlier on in their development. I would credit the Sox with a stronger rotation, and a cooler super-sub player (Lillibridge), though.
The Diamondbacks also got insanely healthy and productive years from the top 2 of their rotation, had a flash in the pan named Josh Collmenter, and pretty much went without a fifth starter all year without it blowing up on them. Having elite defense also helped, but they rode the luck dragon, and rode it hard. The White Sox will certainly succeed if they can do the same, but that wouldn't make them kindred spirits, just another team that wandered into a crazy run that no one could see coming.
That's always been possible though. If it wasn't, then the Sox would really have problems.
Filed under: Starting Pitching
Tags: Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, arizona diamondbacks, baseball, Brent Morel, Chris Sale, Dayan Viciedo, gerardo parra, Gordon Beckham, josh collmenter, justin upton, Matt Thornton, miguel montero, paul goldschmidt, Robin Ventura, ryan roberts, spring training, stephen drew, White Sox, willie bloomquist