Cubs

Visit to Texas reminds White Sox of Hickey's death

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Visit to Texas reminds White Sox of Hickey's death

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Paul Konerko couldnt help but stumble as he searched for the proper words to describe former White Sox instructor Kevin Hickey, who passed away on May 16.

The White Sox have made a point of keeping the memory of Hickey, the teams pregame instructor since 2004 and a former Sox pitcher, alive this season.

Whether they have paraded his No. 99 uniform to the dugout or repeat his famous phrases in their daily conversations, Hickey very much remains a part of the club.

But Konerko admitted on Sunday this weekend in Texas has been more difficult than most as the White Sox returned to the hotel where Hickey was found unconscious before the teams April 5 workout.
Hickey, who was 56, was later transferred from Dallas to a Chicago hospital, but never awoke from the coma before he perished.

This is where it happened, Konerko said. It seems like just yesterday it happened. But it still, I think for everybody, doesnt seem real. Its still -- it just doesnt seem like that happened. Its obviously tough and still is tough and sometimes things just dont make sense.

Hickey -- a South Side native who pitched for the White Sox from 1981-82 and later for the Baltimore Orioles from 1989-91 -- was a fixture in the clubhouse, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.

Pierzynski, who spoke at Hickeys May 22 funeral, described him as an awesome guy. He said it has been difficult not to notice his absence, a task made even more difficult during this series.

Its been weird all year not having him around: not hearing him or seeing him or having him throw to me, Pierzynski said. Its just a different feeling and to come back to where it happened. It was weird to be in the hotel and be in the same clubhouse where we all found out. Its one of those things you try not to think about, but it always pops in your mind. I know Hicks with us every day and hell be with us for a long time and its one of those things youve got to fight through.

Manager Robin Ventura got a reminder of how fresh the scenario still is this weekend when he drove by the hospital where Hickey was first admitted. Ventura hadnt even officially begun his first season as manager before the clubhouse was shocked by the news Hickey had been hospitalized.

That was really the first thing to deal with, Ventura said. Hes not forgotten. Guys still have his jersey up and you hear in conversations throughout the locker room with his sayings.

Konerko said he vividly remembers how players and coaches initially believed Hickey would recover. He remembers the positive attitude that persisted in the clubhouse. But as Hickeys coma continued, players eventually realized he would never recover.

I think every day, everybody was positive that there would be a new development, that hed snap out of it, Konerko said. As it got closer to the end, everybody knew the severity. But at the beginning, especially here, we just thought it was something that would pass and get worked out. Life goes on, but theres not a day that goes by in here where his name doesnt come up somehow, some way or someone says something.

"Hick has a lot of famous quotes that are said a lot in this clubhouse. Sometimes youre saying them and you dont know youre saying it. He definitely left his mark on everyone in here, thats for sure.

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

MESA, Ariz. — Ben Zobrist has long been known for his versatility on the field. But it might take a new kind of versatility to get through what’s facing him for the 2018 season, being versatile when it comes to simply being on the field.

Zobrist was among several notable Cubs hitters who had a rough go of things at the plate in the follow-up campaign to 2016’s World Series run. He dealt with injuries, including a particularly bothersome one to his wrist, and finished with a career-worst .232/.318/.375 slash line.

And so, with younger guys like Javy Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. forcing their way into Joe Maddon’s lineup, it’s a perfectly valid question to ask: Has the 36-year-old Zobrist — just 15 months removed from being named the World Series MVP — been relegated to part-time status for this championship-contending club?

Obviously that remains to be seen. Joe Maddon has a way of mixing and matching players so often that it makes it seem like this team has at least 12 different “starting” position players. But Zobrist, ever the picture of versatility, seems ready for whatever is coming his way.

“I’m prepared for that, if that’s what it comes to. I told him, whatever they need me to do,” Zobrist said Sunday, asked if he’d be OK with being in a platoon situation. “You’ll see me at some different positions. As far as at-bats, though, I’ve got to be healthy. That was the biggest thing last year that kept me from getting at-bats and being productive. So if I can be healthy, I think I can play the way that I’m capable of, and the discussion then at that point will be, ‘How much can you play before we push you too far?’

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times. But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the National League and the way Joe Maddon manages.”

It’s no secret, of course, that when Zobrist is on, he’s the kind of player you want in the lineup as much as possible. It was just two seasons ago that he posted a .386 on-base percentage, banged out 31 doubles, smacked 18 home runs and was a starter for the team that won the World Series.

But he also admitted that last year’s injury fights were extremely tough: “Last year was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had as a player.” Zobrist said that while he’s feeling good and ready to go in 2018, with his recent physical ailments and his advancing age, he’s in a different stage in his career.

“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever. I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130,” he said. “And I think that would be a good thing to shoot for, if I was healthy, is playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about postseason, too, when you add the games on top of that, and well, you need to play for the team in the postseason, you’ve got to be ready for that, too.

“From my standpoint, from their standpoint, it’s about managing, managing my performance and my physical body and making sure I can do all that at the highest level, keep it at the highest level I can.”

Maddon’s managerial style means that Zobrist, even if he’s not technically a part of the everyday starting eight, will still get the opportunity to hit on a regular basis, get a chance to play on a regular basis. Baez figures to be locked in as the team’s No. 1 second baseman, but he’ll need days off. Maddon mentioned Sunday that Zobrist, along with Happ, have been practicing at first base in an effort to be able to spell Anthony Rizzo. It’s the crowded outfield where Zobrist could potentially see the most time. He’ll be a piece of that tricky daily puzzle along with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and the aforementioned Almora and Happ.

Unsurprisingly, in the end that versatility, combined with how Zobrist has recovered physically and whether he can get back to how he’s produced in the past, will determine how much he will play, according to the guy writing out the lineups.

“I think he’s going to dictate that to us based on how he feels,” Maddon said. “Listen, you’re always better off when Ben Zobrist is in your lineup. He’s a little bit older than he had been, obviously, like we all are. I’ve got to be mindful of that, but he’s in great shape. Let’s just see what it looks like. Go out there and play, and we’ll try to figure it out as the season begins to unwind because who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn back the clock a little bit, he looks that good. I want to keep an open mind.

“I want to make sure that he understands we’re going to need him to play a variety of different positions. He’s ready to do it, he’s eager, he’s really ready. He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it and now he’s really been refreshed. So I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist right now.”

Two years ago, Zobrist played a big enough role to go to the All-Star Game and get named the MVP of the World Series. In the present, that role might be much, much smaller. But Zobrist said he’s OK with anything, admitting it’s about the number of rings on the fingers and not the number of days in the starting lineup.

“I’m 36 as a player, so I’m just trying to win championships at this point. It’s not really about what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual,” Zobrist said. “Everybody wants to have great seasons, but I’ve told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ Just going to prepare to fill the spots that need to be filled and be a great complement to what’s going on.”

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.