White Sox make first pitch of new era
This year's SoxFest is about the team selling a new look to fans
CHICAGO -- When they weren't tiptoeing around trying not to anger Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox were performing one of their new key roles as this weekend's fan convention opened Friday.
Forget slogans. This season is going to require a real, live, interactive marketing campaign almost as much as solid pitching and a potent offense.
And as they're finding out, talking a good game, at least in January, is a whole lot easier.
"I think it's going to be nice with expectations not being what it has been in the past," said Jake Peavy. "We can certainly sneak up on people and there's enough people in this room, I promise you, to compete. If I get healthy and do what I've done in the past; if Adam Dunn comes back and does what he's done and Alex [Rios] . . . We know what Gordon [Beckham] is capable of, we saw Brent Morel late in the season. We have the pieces here to play with anybody in baseball."
Of course Peavy also said "Ozzie knows I love him," so take it for what it's worth. But they do realize that selling us on the idea that they won't fade into oblivion come June 1 will be in lock-step with selling themselves.
"This is an interesting year because yes, we have injected youth into our equation, but they're pretty good," said general manager Kenny Williams, who had to be loving the relative warmth and comfort of the media horde as the fan horde awaited him later Friday night. "We can come out of this thing competing and get some momentum on our side and surprise some people."
One guy who wasn't breaking a sweat peddling the company line, however, was Paul Konerko. He has seen too much. His answers to tough questions took on more of a soul-searching quality.
You have to love Konerko, who digs in on Opening Day and doesn't look up until September, thus avoiding wasted breath and unnecessary angst over slumps that are generally erased anyway. He knows exactly what this team is up against and wasn't afraid to confront it Friday.
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"I've been with this organization a long time, I've won a World Series here, I'm not chasing that," he said. "I'd love to win another one, but I know I have that one in my pocket.
"I think everyone is in agreement that we needed to make changes and go in a different direction, so if that new direction means having younger guys on the field, a new manager, whatever that might be and the organization will be better for it, so be it. Who knows? They might win a World Series three or four years from now. I might not be around to see it but I'm part of the process now and I'm fine with that. You never know how it's going to go this next year but I'm up for whatever."
With two years left on his contract, however, you wonder if his mindset can endure "the process," or if a trade might look better than it ever has after a year that lives down to expectations.
"Would I want to go somewhere else?" Konerko asked. "There's only about five teams in baseball where you'd say OK, if you went to that team, you're almost guaranteed to go to the playoffs and I'm pretty sure they've already got first basemen. So the rest of them are in the same boat where there are no guarantees. ...
"Last year at this time, everybody was saying, 'It's a good thing you didn't sign with the Diamondbacks because they suck,' and here they are in the playoffs. So it's just funny how that kind of stuff works out and teams can flip-flop their fate and [change] what people think about them in a year."
Of course, there is no harm in hoping that's what happens with the Sox. But when the hopes involve half the team finding talents they've lost and the other half discovering those they've never had (at least on this level), it is difficult to be very convincing.
Throw in the fact that the Detroit Tigers appeared this week to widen the gap between them and everyone else in the division, and it's even harder.
"We played with that Detroit Tiger team all year," Peavy said. "It wasn't like they ran away from us. That team has obviously gotten better with Prince Fielder but they lost a big piece in Victor Martinez. We can play with anybody in baseball and that's with the losses we've had and with the gains other people have. It's just a matter of showing up and doing it."
Once again, Konerko translated the selling into something you could actually buy, that if his teammates play up to their capabilities, at least they can hope to be competitive.
"It's OK to say the Tigers are a great team," he said. "It's OK to say Cleveland is pretty good and they have one of the better pitching staffs you'll see. I'm not conceding anything. I'm not saying if that's team's better than us, then we're going to lose. All I'm saying is there's a right way to [play the game] and if we go out and do it for six months and we don't finish on top, I can live with that. I hope everyone else can."
He reflected back on 1999, his first season with the Sox, when a young team in a form of rebuilding did not make the playoffs but considered it a positive campaign and made it to the postseason the following year.
"I just think you also have to have a grip on expectations," Konerko said. "I think this team will play better if we play with that looseness as if to say you know, no one is expecting anything. Just go out, do it right, do what Robin [Ventura, the Sox's new manager] wants us to do and if we don't finish in first place at the end of the year, let it be because a team beat us and not because we gave them an inning or an out or a win anywhere along the way.
"If we can do that, I think we're all fine with that. And you know what, if that happens, the team will be that much more dangerous the following year."
Much too long for a team slogan, but at least it's honest.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.