At times like these, the last thing you’d want to think about is the current state of the team. So how about checking in with one of the greatest players in the history of the Franchise? Particularly the team’s newest Special Advisor to Player Development, Robin Ventura.
I got a chance to interview Robin as he’s touring the country as an advisory member of the Capital One Cup, an award being given out to the top collegiate program in the nation along with $200,000 in scholarship. He’s also in Omaha, calling the College World Series on ESPN coming up this weekend, a tournament he’s earned more than a little recognition from. So thanks to that, and Zack and Christine at Taylor Strategy for allowing me to interview unequivocally my favorite professional athlete of all-time.
Robin Ventura played from 1989-98 for the Sox, during which time he won five gold gloves, made an all-star appearance while deserving a few more, hit 171 home runs (10 grand slams), and accumulated 42.5 fWAR, which is probably going to outstrip more than a few major league teams this season.
He played hurt (a lot), defended ferociously, and launched big hits (.275/.374/.444 in high-leverage situations). He cared, and he had ways of letting us know.
In other words, I was extremely nervous.
James Fegan: Well first off, congratulations on your new position.
Robin Ventura: Thank you.
JF: First of all, take some time to discuss your new position with the Sox. Describe the role you’ll be serving with Buddy Bell
RV: I am his Special Advisor. So, basically he sends me out into the minor leagues to different affiliates and I’ll be able to coach and kinda observe, and basically just report back to him. He tells me when to go and where, and I’ll be able to go and help at the minor league level, which is fun and exciting all at the same time.
JF: How long have you wanted to work in scouting and player development? Is it something that came up recently, or have you been trying to get into it for a while?
RV: There’s been a couple different times where they’ve asked if I was interested in different things, and it’s never really been the time. But now my kids are getting older, and I have a little more free time to be able to do that–get out on the road and check things out, but I still don’t have the time to do the 6-month full-time coaching it takes to be full-time at the minor league or major league level. It’s still great that I get to stay in the organization, and do something for a team that I’m fond of.
JF: What brought you back to the organization?
RV: I think it’s the people. Jerry is a great owner and a friend, and Buddy…I have a lot of respect for all the people that are within that organization. It’s a lot of the same people that were there when I was playing there. For me it’s just a comfortable situation; it’s a lot of people that I have a lot of respect for. It was a pretty easy decision once we figured out what the role would be.
JF: So there’s not any bitterness at all that you didn’t finish your career there?
RV: No. After I left to go to the Mets I said that I was treated great as a player there [The Sox]. Sometimes in baseball it’s just a business decision, and they have to do what they think is right for their team. One of [their business decision] was moving in another direction and bringing in Joe Crede.
JF: You said that you haven’t had the time to work a full schedule in the past, would you be interested in coaching anytime in the future?
RV: Probably not for a while, but I think this is still what I want to do. There is a need to have the flexibility to still spend time at home with my family and still be able to coach and do different things with the White Sox. I’m not committed yet to a full-time position.
JF: You obviously been spending a lot of time with the college game recently, what are some of the benefits of going through that system as a prospect, beyond the obvious one of holding out for a bigger contract?
RV: It’s different. You look at the college game; it’s very similar to high school and youth sports in that there’s a lot of teamwork, a lot of people pulling for your team to win. I think in the minor leagues, a lot of guys get caught up into what they’re doing–their own numbers and things like that. In college there’s still a team concept that’s admirable and fun to watch. It’s a thing that college sports creates, and that’s a fun thing to be a part of.
JF: Now if I could switch gears, how much of the White Sox have you been watching this season?
RV: I haven’t seen a ton of it. I saw early on, I know they kind of scuffled for a while, but they just need to make it to the All-Star break being within reach. A lot of stuff happens once you start back up after the All-Star break. Hopefully they can just right the ship enough to stay close.
JF: Adam Dunn in particular is really struggling, and I was thinking that you’ve been a big-time free agent in a new city for a contender, and had one of the best seasons, if not the best, of your career. Was there a lot of work into finding comfort zone, or did you just get lucky, what goes into that?
RV: I think that he wants to prove that he’s worth what he signed for, and there’s different pressures that go along with that. He’s still a good player and there’s a long way to go. I fully expect Adam to have a great second half, I really do. I expect him to figure it out, and be a big presence in that lineup
JF: Additionally, Brent Morel is also in a situation you’ve been in where he’s a rookie on a contending team. How do you deal with the expectations involved with that, and how do you feel you were handled in your time?
RV: When you’re on a team that’s contending, you have to be playing your part; that’s why they have him there. They have certain pieces; Gordon at 2nd and Brent at 3rd, and their kids who are just going to get better and better as the years go by. He has all the tools–very strong, very good defensively, and he’ll learn different things as the year goes along.
JF: I’d like to hear particularly what are your thoughts on his defense. He seems to be very patient; you can catch him waiting back for the right bounce a lot, and trusting his arm to bail him out.
RV: Yeah, a guy like him who has a strong arm has the ability to do that. He has the ability to get a better hop. I didn’t have as strong of an arm, so I always had to come in and get the in-between hops. But for guys that are stronger like that they can hang back and it seems like they’re being patient but they’re also being patient for the right hop.
JF: Frank Thomas always refers to the 1994 team as kind of this lost opportunity, where he really thought they were going to go places. Do you think about that year at all, or what are your thoughts on the potential that team had?
RV: Well, I think we had a good team. You do have a sense of missed opportunity, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. I’m not going to stay up at night thinking about it, but we had a good team and we would have had a good shot at making it to the World Series and a chance to win it. But, you know, it will never happen.
JF: Can you tell me more about your work with the Capital One Cup?
RV: Yeah, I’m actually at the College World Series. I’ve been doing this thing with Capital One all year long. It’s been a rewarding programs points throughout the season based on their on-field performances in 13 different sports. They are giving out a $200,000 scholarship to the program that finishes first to be used for post-graduate opportunities for student-athletes.
JF: How much announcing have you been doing? I know you’ve come around and done a few Sox games in a pinch.
RV: Yeah, basically just the College World Series. Every once in a while if something comes up with the Sox then I’ll do a game here or there, but mostly just the College World Series.
JF: So you don’t really see that becoming a bigger part of your life down the road?
RV: No, I enjoy this. I think it’s a fun event, so I’m pretty happy just doing this.
Thanks again to Robin for taking the time out for the interview. Once I stop thinking about all the other questions I should have asked, I’ll focus on what a thrill it was do this.