White Sox

Baltimore unrest puts things in perspective for White Sox

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Baltimore unrest puts things in perspective for White Sox

BALTIMORE -- The pending issues the White Sox faced when they arrived in Charm City three days ago seem trivial now after several days of rioting and canceled baseball games.

Rather than worry about what’s to come of the five-game suspensions doled out to Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija, the White Sox -- who are set to play the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon in front of an empty stadium -- have been thrust into the middle of chaos as citizens continue to vent their anger over the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, who died a week after he was taken into custody by the Baltimore Police Department.

Instead of thinking about when Carlos Rodon might make his first start or if Alexei Ramirez is in need of a day off, the White Sox have watched the horrifying images form Monday’s riots that resulted in more than 200 arrests, 159 vehicles and structures burned, 20 police officers injured and the deployment of 500 National Guard troops, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“For anyone who’s around or watching it on TV or seeing it outside your window, it helps put in perspective a lot of things,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said shortly after Tuesday’s game was cancelled and plans for Wednesday’s contest were unveiled. “You realize the more pressing and serious issues than what you’re going to do with your rotation or how you’re dealing with suspensions.”

Aside from an afternoon workout, the White Sox have spent most of their time tucked away in the team hotel, awaiting word on whether or not the series would resume. With a need for law enforcement resources elsewhere, the Orioles and Major League Baseball announced the teams would play Wednesday’s game at 2:05 p.m. behind closed doors. The decision is another reminder of the past week’s events in a town will be thrust into a weeklong citywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting on Tuesday night.

“You don’t normally see this anywhere you go,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said after he watched a number of National Guard vehicles roll into town. “When you’re there, it’s different. You’re seeing these vehicles you normally don’t see rolling through a city, it can get scary.”

[WATCH: Rick Hahn, Sox doing whatever it takes to get games played]

Even though the curfew and decision not to play has left the team holed up in its hotel, White Sox players and management agreed with the decision to cancel the first two games of the series.

“You can’t help but feel terrible for what’s going on, and at the same time feeling helpless,” White Sox reliever Zach Duke said. “It’s a different feeling and it’s not a good one.

“With so much terrible activity going on in the city, it’s hard going out there trying to entertain and take attention away from it.”

Not that the team would be entirely comfortable doing so, either. Hours before Monday’s riots began, law enforcement officials bulked up security around Oriole Park at Camden Yards and collected all the garbage cans in the area in anticipation of an event like Saturday’s when fans attending an Orioles-Boston Red Sox game were required to stay in the facility for an inning for safety reasons.

Several helicopters could be seen hovering over downtown during batting practice on Monday. There were also reports of looting taking place within a half mile of Camden Yards.

“To be in the thick of it, at a hotel a half mile or so away, we were taking BP and we could smell burning, whatever was burning nearby,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “A little surreal. We were happy to stay in the hotel (Monday) and (Tuesday).”

Monday’s contest was canceled 50 minutes before the scheduled first pitch. Players received a police escort back to their hotel and were told to stay put. Many watched the events unfolding from their rooms.

“When you look out the window and see this is really happening right here, it's a little scary,” catcher Tyler Flowers said.

Outfielder Avisail Garcia likened the situation to what he witnessed in Venezuela in early 2014. Those protests ravaged the country and reportedly led to more than 3,000 arrests and 43 deaths, according to Reuters.

“Hopefully everything will get better,” Garcia said. “Hopefully nobody will die because that’s a situation that we have in Venezuela. It’s bad and hopefully everything gets better.

“That’s nothing good about it and hopefully everything will get better and people stay safe.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Once the situation calms down, the White Sox -- who head to Minneapolis for four games after Wednesday’s contest concludes -- will resume worrying about the aspects of the season most important to them.

But for now, baseball is of distant importance.

“It gives you that sense of perspective, which is good,” Hahn said. “And hopefully once we start playing ballgames again we can provide the important role that baseball plays in terms of providing entertainment and distraction and people a little bit of escape from these rough couple of days we’ve had around us here.”

Magic, buzz and something crazy: It's time for the White Sox to win

Magic, buzz and something crazy: It's time for the White Sox to win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox are rebuilt.

No, the rebuild isn’t officially over. You’ll have to wait for after the parade for that. And it’s true that there are plenty of question marks on this roster.

But for the first time in a long time, the White Sox are preparing for a season with expectations. Big ones. The manager set them early, saying he’d be disappointed if his squad didn’t reach the postseason. There hasn’t been October baseball on the South Side in more than a decade. But that’s not stopping anyone in silver and black from realizing that things are different now.

“It’s definitely a little different,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “It’s more relaxed and we know what we want. We know what we want this spring training versus last spring training. We kind of knew what we wanted, but now we know what we want and we see it. We just have to put the work in and go get it.

“I get a winning vibe, all positive and winning vibes. Everybody knows what we are here to do. We are here to win a championship, and we are here to take it all.”

Everyone at Camelback Ranch is talking about expectations. And whether they’ve voiced their intent to just play better baseball, make the playoffs or win the World Series, there’s one common conclusion: It’s time to win.

The losing has not been fun during the last three rebuilding seasons. The White Sox lost a combined 284 games in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with contending often taking a backseat to development.

But a host of breakout campaigns from young, core players in 2019 laid the groundwork for Rick Hahn’s front office to make a slew of veteran additions this winter, inlcuding All-Stars like Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonzalez.

It all adds up to realistic postseason expectations on the South Side and a feeling that those losing days are firmly in the rearview mirror.

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”

Abreu would certainly love to experience that. He hasn’t been part of a winning team in his major league career and has spent six sub-.500 seasons on the South Side. But his love for the organization kept him in a White Sox uniform as he briefly hit free agency this winter. He’ll be wearing those colors for at least another three years thanks to a new deal. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if he never wears another.

But you don’t have to have sweltered through the dog days to express your excitement for 2020. Something had to lure all those free agents this winter. Grandal, Keuchel, Encarnacion and Gonzalez all liked what they saw. Now they’re a big part of why there is such electricity running through White Sox camp.

“It seems like they want to do magic this year and for years to come now,” he said. “I look at it now as, let's keep competing as much as we can and see it from there. The buzz is in the locker room. We are excited. We do want to play, and I think this is the year we're going to push for it.

“They went out and got some guys that wanted to make something happen this year, and I think we have the team to do it. If you’re someone in Chicago watching the White Sox, this is a team to watch, and we’re excited to see that we can put it together.”

It truly seems like Hahn’s front office went out and got everything that was missing from this roster, which featured as impressive a collection of young talent as you’ll find but lacked experience; especially winning experience. Even 33-year-old team leader Abreu has never played in the postseason.

Enter the newcomers. Grandal and Encarnacion have appeared in each of the last five postseasons. Keuchel’s been to the playoffs in four of the last five years. Gonzalez played in three of the last four postseasons. New reliever Steve Cishek went to the National League Wild Card game with the Cubs in 2018.

They have no plans of stopping those postseason streaks.

“Once you get a little taste of the playoffs, that's why you play, is to get that feeling,” Keuchel said. “As much as you want to replicate it in the regular season, for guys who have no playoff experience, I think the regular season is that feeling. But there's another feeling to it that pushes you and wants you to be a better player.

“I told Rick Hahn this, I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years (during his contract with the White Sox) to be any different.”

A lot of things will have to go right for the White Sox to make a rapid ascent to the top of the baseball mountain. And there are question marks. What will the team get from Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez a year after some ugly results? Will Michael Kopech be the pitcher who was promised prior to his Tommy John surgery? What will Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal do in their first tastes of the major leagues? Will Anderson and Yoan Moncada stay productive if their good luck diminishes? Will Nomar Mazara unlock the potential the White Sox see in their new right fielder?

It all has to work out for the White Sox to compete for the division title and a World Series championship. But isn’t that the case with every team?

This is the time of year when hope springs eternal. Viewing the upcoming season through rose-colored glasses is a February tradition on par with Presidents Day mattress sales.

But the White Sox have good reason to be excited and good reason to be talking playoffs. The light at the end of the tunnel that Hahn has been talking about for so long isn’t just visible; it’s bathing these young White Sox.

Of course, they have to prove they can do it. But all this talk? Don’t roll your eyes. It’s not at all crazy.

The White Sox are saving the crazy for the field.

“We have a chance to do something crazy,” Anderson said. “That’s what everybody is talking about, right? So why not own up to it and set the bar high, go to the playoffs and win the championship. That’s the goal, right?

“We didn’t come here to work for nothing. We come here to win championships and make it to the playoffs. That’s no secret. Everybody knows we are here to win championships.”

It’s time to get nuts.

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Zack Collins won't be surprised if he starts the season in Triple-A

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USA TODAY

Zack Collins won't be surprised if he starts the season in Triple-A

GLENDALE, Ariz. — After getting a taste of the majors last season, Zack Collins is here in spring training wondering when he’ll make it back.

Looking at the two All-Star catchers next to him in the clubhouse in Yasmani Grandal and James McCann, Collins says he won’t be surprised if he’s the odd man out when the White Sox break camp at the end of March.

"To have my first full season in the major leagues as a once-a-week player, pinch hitter is probably not the best thing for me," Collins said, "and it’s also tough to go back down to Triple-A, obviously, and to bring to reality that maybe that’s the best thing for me. At the same time, things happen, trades happen, injuries happen. I don’t wish anything on anybody. You just got to keep working hard and prove that I should be in the big leagues and continue to go."

With teams able to carry an additional player starting this season, some clubs will use the 26th spot for a third catcher, which on the surface could benefit someone like Collins. But he doesn’t see it that way.

"A lot of people think the 26th man is going to help me out. I’m not really sure about that, because you have a first baseman (Jose Abreu) who signed an extension, a new DH who came in, a veteran guy (Edwin Encarnacion), and then two veteran catchers," Collins said. "I don’t know if I’m going to go up to the big leagues to play once a week or something like that. Obviously, that’s a big question right now. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see. I guess we’ll have to wait and see."

Right after the White Sox signed Grandal, you might have assumed that the 2016 first-round pick, pegged as the White Sox catcher of the future, would have been upset about the team locking up the veteran catcher with a four-year deal.

Quite the opposite.

"The first thing I did was text (Grandal) and congratulate him," Collins said about his fellow University of Miami alum. "Seeing a guy coming from Cuba, moving here, going to the same college as me and the success that he‘s had is always great. Nothing but the best for him. I’m learning a ton from him. It’s only going to be good for me."

Collins has also developed a connection with McCann, who despite losing his No. 1 job to Grandal, is helping the younger Collins grow into his role as a major league catcher.

"A huge thing for me is relationships with pitchers. Being a younger guy, having a veteran staff is kind of tough and telling guys what to do. One piece of advice that McCann gave me was that when I’m behind the plate, I’m a leader no matter how old I am. That’s what I need to learn for myself and continue to grow,” Collins explained.

What will that growth look like for Collins in 2020 — and where will that be? Time will tell.

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