White Sox

Five ejected in White Sox, Royals brawl in seventh inning

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Five ejected in White Sox, Royals brawl in seventh inning

A testy start to the 2015 season resulted in a bench-clearing brawl between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.

Both benches emptied at the end of the seventh inning after Yordano Ventura fielded Adam Eaton’s comebacker, took several steps off the mound, stared at the White Sox leadoff hitter and shouted an obscenity at him before he threw to first for the out.

Eaton then quickly turned to confront the pitcher, sparking the chaos. Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Lorenzo Cain were ejected for Kansas City, but it didn’t stop the Royals from winning 3-2 in 13 innings. White Sox starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija got tossed as well.

“I think everyone knows,” Sale said. “I’m not going to sit here and put my foot in my mouth or spill the beans. The proof is in what you guys saw and that was about it.

“Yeah, we’re competitive, we’re athletes, we’re guys. You put us in the heat of the moment and we do some crazy things sometimes. That’s about it.

“It was a big mess.”

[MORE: Adam Eaton on KC: "I respect the hell out of that team"]

The drama started long before Thursday and was rooted in a season-opening series in which six batters were hit and Royals starter Danny Duffy threw behind the head of White Sox slugger Adam LaRoche.

Both Ventura and Sale each hit a batter Thursday to reignite those tensions. Ventura hit Jose Abreu in the elbow to start the fourth inning and Sale drilled Mike Moustakas in the shoulder in the fifth with a 0-2 changeup. Before the pitch even reached the plate, Sale reacted as if he lost control of the pitch and was upset with himself. After the game, Royals manager Ned Yost said he was surprised when umpires warned both benches after Sale hit Moustakas because he didn’t believe there was intent.

“There’s been some heated games to open the season,” catcher Tyler Flowers said.

But none could match the intensity of Thursday’s affair and Eaton said the incident kept him warm for the rest of a contest in which the wind chill was at 32 degrees by the late innings.

With two outs in the seventh and an 0-1 count, Ventura appeared to quick pitch Eaton, who may have said something -- though it’s hard to tell from television replays. Eaton, who made a one-minute statement afterward in which he said he respects the Royals and believes the incident is over, said he didn’t say anything until after he neared first base.

“When he came at me with the two-step that he did, and then he said something, I was a little thrown back by it,” Eaton said. “And then I had some words for him.

“(The quick pitch) is part of the game. I wouldn't say I was irritated by it. I put a pretty good swing on the ball and if it gets past him it's probably a hit. He made a great play and when make a great play sometimes you get a little excited and that's kind of what happened.”

[MORE: After brawl, White Sox fall to Royals in 13 innings]

Ventura, who also hit Brett Lawrie during a series of incidents with the Oakland A’s last weekend, was quickly ushered away from the crowd and into foul territory by teammates. Cain, who has already been hit four times, including twice by the White Sox, was in the middle of the brouhaha as was Samardzija, who appeared to twice pursue Kansas City players. In one instance, Samardzija -- who hit Cain on Opening Day after he surrendered homer to Moustakas -- charged into a crowd of players, resulting in him running over Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele. Samardzija, who was not available for comment after the game, appeared to attempt to fight Cain, who also had to be restrained several times.

Sale, who was done after 99 pitches anyway, didn’t know he had been ejected until close to an inning later. During the scrum, he was face to face with Yost in a heated discussion. Somewhere in the middle was Volquez, who threw several punches in the direction of Flowers that didn’t appear to land.

“When anybody starts staring everybody reacts to it,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think for us, once you get out there, when somebody starts saying something, guys are emotional. I couldn’t even tell you what happened. There was people everywhere.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.