Hes but 35 years old and his daughter is three, but that hasnt stopped Matt Thorntons manager nor his young teammates from calling him Grandpa.
With several veteran relievers currently injured or recently released, Thornton is the senior statesmen in a White Sox bullpen loaded with rookies. His seven-plus years of service time dwarfs the 51 days combined owned by the White Sox five rookie relievers when the season began. While the moniker is part playful, its also a sign of respect the rookies have for their elder. So despite the absurdity of it all, Thornton not only indulges manager Robin Ventura and the rookies, he has actually begun to embrace his nickname.
Im the only one with any kind of time out there, Thornton said with a laugh. (Being a grandpa) is a long, long, long ways away for me. (Ventura) is just picking on me and having fun. I guess him and Kenny Williams were joking around about it.
A rookie himself, Ventura is asked almost daily about the makeup of the teams bullpen and how they will fare in a pennant race.
Closer Addison Reed is 23. Hector Santiago is 24. Nate Jones and Leyson Septimo are 26 and Brian Omogrosso is 27. Septimo made his major league debut on Friday and Omogrosso is still waiting for his chance.
And then theres Thornton, who made his major league debut on June 27, 2004 and has 510 big league appearances to his credit. This season, Thornton is 2-5 with a 3.24 ERA in 38 games.
Besides the grandpa out there, its a pretty young group, Ventura said. But theres energy that comes with that. Theres excitement and a lot of good things that come with it. Some people view it as a negative. Im looking more at the positives.
One positive influence Thornton has is the example he sets for his teammates. Both Thornton and pitching coach Don Cooper said the left-hander isnt one for being a vocal presence. And thats not what Cooper wants from Thornton, nor what Thornton wants. Cooper just wants a good performance.
Its much more important to get the job done on the field and to lead the way that way and he has done a great job for us all the years he has been with us, Cooper said. The work on the field is what really matters (in the pennant race) and thats where Id like him to lead the way.
Still, Thornton picks his spots to offer advice. When Santiago was removed from the closers role earlier this season, Thornton didnt take long to make sure he was OK.
He came up to me, hes like Youre giving up home runs. When I first came up I was walking the bases loaded and trying to pitch out of it and giving up home runs. Right now youre on a better path than I was going and look where Im at, Im seven years in the big leagues, Santiago said. Hes great to pick his mind. He picks you up for sure.
Were 23 and 24 and then weve got Grandpa Thornton, Reed said. Its pretty funny. Hes out there kind of holding us down. We dont need that guy in here trying to pumping us up with words. Everybody goes out there and plays and thats enough to fuel everybody else.
Thornton is definitely okay with the ribbing. He knows his teammates are inexperienced, but he likes the signs he sees. He loves Reeds demeanor during a tight situation and after a bad game. Hes impressed by how Santiago handled a rough period early in his career. He likes how Jones has overcome some of the control issues that dogged him in the minors and attacks the strike zone.
Most of all, Thornton likes the work ethic his teammates display and how they believe in their abilities.
We have a great group of kids out there. They go about things the right way. They continue to work hard, to continue to improve their craft. (The nickname) is okay, Thornton said with a laugh. Theyre all doing good. They all do things right. They just need to keep going out there and attack the strike zone. Thats all I tell those guys is Just go after it.