White Sox

Sox Drawer: Kenny Williams uncut

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Sox Drawer: Kenny Williams uncut

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Posted: 10:58 a.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

When I sat down with Kenny Williams for an interview last week, it was a conversation entirely about the White Sox until the very end, my last question, when I asked the White Sox GM about St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and whether he was on the verge of signing the biggest contract in MLB history.

It clearly struck a nerve with Williams, who called the idea of a player making 30 million asinine, and said if it meant shutting down the game to bring sanity to sport, he was all for it.

Suddenly, everything we discussed before that about the White Sox got pushed aside in favor of a story that was about to go viral. Even the media savvy Williams knew what he had in store. After the interview he asked, When is this story going to air?

Tonight, I said.

OK, just wanted to know," he said. "I need to be prepared for the phone calls Im going to get.

See it for yourself: Watch Kenny Williams' comments about Albert Pujols

As for the rest of the interview, Williams touched on a whole bunch of other topics: re-signing Mark Buehrle, a possible John Danks extension, the offseason Carlos QuentinGavin Floyd trade rumors, the health of Jake Peavy, plus would Williams ever hire A.J. Pierzynski to be his manager?

I know, scary thought. But this is the White Sox we're talking about. Anything is possible.

Chuck Garfien: In the offseason you had two choices: go with young guys or as you put it, be "all in." What was the turning point when you said were going for it?
Kenny Williams: The absolute turning point was when Jerry Reinsdorf looked at me and said "OK, let's do it. Let's go for it." I didn't argue. I didn't debate with him. Actually, I take that back. We had so many discussions and it was a lot of back and forth on both of our ends and trying to play off one another's thoughts. I listened to him, he listened to me and then we waited. Thought some more. Debated some more, and then I tried to chart the path, the actual path we would take if we were to go young. If we would move this particular player for this young guy or that young guy.

I made some phone calls just to put feelers out there. I think we were confusing some teams, because we were asking about their young players while at the same time asking about veterans. At the same time we explored the free-agent market. If it was difficult to chart our progress this offseason, it's for good reason.
Garfien: Is this why things leaked out, like Carlos Quentin might be moved, Gavin Floyd might be moved?

Watch as Chuck Garfien discovers a different side of Carlos Quentin

Williams: I didn't shop any of those guys, but once we began potentially moving veteran guys ... yes, we were asked about it and then the floodgates of rumors start to open -- and they're already open in regards to us because we're so active -- but this was a little beyond the norm.
Garfien: When Jerry gave you the go ahead to do it, was there some surprise there because you weren't expecting him to go in that much?
Williams: Well, when I went back a couple of times after we decided to go, yeah. And there's still a lot of reservation, a lot of hesitation, because generally the way we go about our business is we set the budget number and that's what we adhere to. In this particular case, we're not kinda out on limb, we're way out on the limb in terms of "A" the team plays well enough to warrant fan support, and "B" that fan support comes early and often, because the bills need to be paid.

So certainly if we'll be able to at least maintain this payroll, and even add to it if the need arises, yeah we're taking some chances.
Garfien: So best-case scenario is you win the World Series. Worst-case scenario is it's a rough season. The fans don't show up. So what then?
Williams: I don't know. I don't know. We are in uncharted territory for how we've operated, so we'll have to take a look at that when the time comes.

Garfien: The Twins have been your chief rival recently, and hearing the players talk about them, they talk about them with a lot of respect.
Williams: They should (laughing).
Garfien: Are they giving them too much respect, at least publicly?
Williams: I think we've given them enough. I just assume now make them earn it again. We've got a good club out there and some guys who know how to play the game right. We're going to do a lot of things better this year than we have in the past, namely catch the baseball. I think the balance in our lineup is such that we can match up against anybody, particularly our pitching staff, so I think we should make people prove it to us that they're better than us, and leave it at that. The Twins know we respect them. That's enough.
Garfien: Mark Buehrle told us that he's not going to retire after this season. Are you surprised by that, and do you believe him?
Williams: Mark Buehrle tells you guys a lot of things. He tells me a lot of things too. Just pitch. If I comment on it, it takes on more life and he's got to answer more questions about something that has nothing to do with the 2011 season, so I just assume keep it in the present. You pitch your ass off, and at the end of the season we'll all see where we stand.
Garfien: How about John Danks? Could there be an extension with him in the future? Have talks begun there?

Williams: It was no secret last year when we approached him at the same time we did Gavin. Gavin felt it was best for his family to go ahead and sign the deal. John felt it was best for his family and career that he didn't. I respect that. We respect that. And if there is something that they see that is now workable, I would say bring it to our attention. Aside from that, again, pitch in 2011, take us to the World Series, we'll all figure out where we're at.
Garfien: Take us into the physical of Jake Peavy. You're standing there. Describe the scene for us.
Williams: I started to lift up his arm myself and check out his arm myself, but then I didn't know how he'd take that, if he'd think that was funny because he had a pretty serious look on his face. Yeah, I'm standing there because I wanted to hear first-hand what the doctor said about his range of motion. I wanted to see the look in his eye as he articulated how he was feeling. The player tells you how he feels. You can put timetables on injuries, on the rehab, but the player's body will tell you exactly how he's feeling. You cannot proceed unless you know as a physician, or as a trainer, or as a general manager, you cannot proceed unless you know what he's thinking.

And he has to be honest, and one of my jobs sitting at that table was telling him be honest with them. Be honest with us, be honest with them, because last year he tried to gut it out and I think that ended up hurting him even when we were trying to be conservative. So I'm mindful of that. But I'm also mindful of respecting him, the player, and the doctors. So just a little bit of a balance there.

Straight from the workhorse's mouth: Watch Chuck Garfien go one-on-one with Jake Peavy

Garfien: You seem to have come out of that, at least the perception on my end, is that you're feeling more optimistic about him coming back, maybe even sooner. I know you guys are being cautious with him, but is it true that after seeing the look in his eyes you feel better about his situation?
Williams: Well, he kind of set me up to feel better about it, because the occasional text message that I got from him in the offseason would suggest that yes, he was well ahead of schedule, so it wasn't a big surprise. I knew he was going to work his tail off. The surprise was upon physical examination was that the doctors felt so positive about it and agreed with his assessment that he is in fact ahead of schedule but at the same time cautioned you to expect a little blip here and there.

With that in mind, we have to take a look at the overall situation and determine if Jake is 100 percent ready to go, then he goes. But if he's not, then those two starts that he could get in April, then maybe that extra four weeks will do him and us more benefit over the long haul than having a guy who's not quite ready, and prolonging that healing process.

Garfien: I know you're not a doctor, but what did the doctor say about his lat? What specifically is going on there?

Williams: At the risk of sounding like Dave Wannstedt, he's got a lat. They used a lot of big words that I have no idea what they mean. He's got a lat, and it's doing well.

Garfien: That's a great Dave Wannstedt reference. I didn't know you could pull that out.

There seems to be a big drop off between a healthy Jake Peavy and what else you have in camp that can maybe go in and be that fifth starter. How much does that concern you?
Williams: Well, there's a big drop off between a healthy Jake Peavy and anybody in baseball just about. So that's no big surprise. I don't want to put too great of expectations on somebody so early in camp because I expect people to falter early in camp. And if the expectations are such that they're great and then they falter which I expect every single guy out there to do, especially when they go from one inning to two, two innings to three. It happens every year. I just assume lay back in the cut and at the end of spring training it'll all come together and we'll have our guy. And we'll make sure the matchup is such that it gives us the best chance to win those few games they'll have to pitch.

Garfien: Could A.J. Pierzynski be a manager?

Williams: Of a baseball team?

Garfien: Yes.

Williams: You know, A.J. is a very smart guy. Anybody who can react as quickly as he reacts on the bases and behind home plate, I think he probably has the capabilities to do pretty much whatever he wants to do in this game. We'd have to have a conversation about some of the other things that need to take place.
Garfien: I think if it was the right situation, like with Ozzie, he could maybe do it. I don't even know if he wants to be a manager, but in the right situation ... a team that needs motivation?

Williams: I agree. I will say this: if he ever does, it won't be boring. It will be entertaining.

Garfien: Would you hire him?

Williams: In the right situation, yeah I would. I hired Ozzie. Come on.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

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.