White Sox

Ten years after: Qualls revisits site of Konerko's grand slam

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Ten years after: Qualls revisits site of Konerko's grand slam

About 90 minutes before first pitch on Monday, manager Robin Ventura was sitting in the White Sox dugout when he noticed something quite interesting going on in the left-field seats.

“Hey, that’s Chad Qualls checking out the Paul Konerko seat.”

In terms of baseball history, this was like Bill Buckner going back to first base at old Shea Stadium or Steve Bartman returning to Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Wrigley Field.

Ten years have passed since Qualls surrendered that legendary grand slam to Konerko in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, and here for the very first time, the Houston Astros reliever actually walked into the seats to visit his own personal baseball cemetery. The one remaining blue seat in left field serves as his World Series tombstone.

“I came into the game to relief pitch, and I remember the first pitch I threw was to Konerko and he ended up hitting it over the fence,” Qualls recalled in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. “I remember those dumb candy cane things spinning around out there, and I was telling myself, ‘Man did that really just happen right now in the World Series?’”

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox select Vandy RHP Carson Fulmer with eighth pick]

Most athletes would be haunted by a moment like that, but not Qualls. It was only his second season in the majors, but he somehow found a way to take that brain cell that stored the grand slam and treat it like it wasn’t a big deal. A decade later and still in the big leagues, it has served Qualls well.

“It’s a part of baseball. It happens,” he said. “Ten years later I’m still here and playing, having fun. There’s always a hero and a goat out there, and you know what? Being a relief pitcher, getting thrown in those situations, it happens. It’s something you can’t dwell on. That’s sports in general.”

When the 36-year-old decides to retire, I have the perfect occupation for him: sports psychologist.

“Being a good competitor and being a better athlete is just having that short-term memory loss for any sport. Just go out there and do better the next time,” Qualls continued. “Obviously, some situations suck a lot more than others. I’ve had a lot more positive experiences than negative experiences, so I look at it that way.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Steverson optimistic in spite of 'gut-wrenching' inconsistency]

And whenever Qualls returns to U.S. Cellular Field, he can’t help but look where he helped make White Sox history.

“Everytime I come to the stadium I always look in that area, and I’ll be like, ‘I know that’s where that ball went.’ And once I saw the blue seat out there I was like, ‘That’s pretty much where it is.’”

What sparked his first trip to the Konerko seat was something teammate Pat Neshek said while they were warming up on the field.

“Neshek didn’t believe me so I told him, ‘I’ll go over there and show you. There’s probably a plaque on there and everything.”

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get a Paul Konerko jersey right here]

Qualls is correct, there is a plaque screwed into the seat, but after nine Chicago winters, it’s been chipped and damaged to the point where it’s barely legible. All that’s left to read is “Oct” and “2005.”

After checking out the seat for a couple minutes, Qualls left his 2005 graveyard and returned to the field.

But I did have to ask Qualls one question:

Did he think about sitting in it?

“No chance. No chance. I don’t even want to touch it.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.