White Sox

Ex-teammates glad White Sox set to retire Mark Buehrle's number

Ex-teammates glad White Sox set to retire Mark Buehrle's number

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — He didn't like seeing Mark Buerhle go in the first place, but Paul Konerko is glad his former teammate is coming back.

The legendary White Sox slugger said Monday night he's very happy for Buehrle that the club has opted to retire his No. 56 on June 24. Were the decision up to either player, Buehrle never would have signed a four-year deal with Miami after the 2011 season. The left-hander wanted to remain with the White Sox, but was allowed to leave for a $58 million deal. Never one to question moves by the front office, Konerko said at a charity event Monday night that the choice to allow Buehrle to leave still doesn't sit well with him. 

"Any time I ever saw him in a different uniform, it just didn't look right," Konerko said. "I've said it before that I felt like my time with the White Sox, there's a lot of moves they can make, up top they have to make moves to see the big picture and as a player you get paid to play the game, not to question their moves.

"But the one with Mark not being there throughout his career, considering what he did when he went out after he played with us, that one I'll always not be OK with that."

Konerko and several other former teammates praised Buehrle on Monday before they participated in former All-Star reliever Jesse Crain's Swing into Spring golfing event to benefit Autism Now and Arizona RBI Baseball. Jim Thome, who played with Buehrle from 2007-09, loved playing alongside his fellow left-hander.

"He's kind of the epitome of what a true teammate is," Thome said. "He really is. He's a guy that I know if you ask a ton of his teammates, guys that know him, there's no way he will ever change. It's a credit to his mom and dad, his family and the fact that he's just as real as it gets."

Gordon Beckham said Buehrle was just as popular with his teammates as he was with the White Sox fanbase. One of the main reasons why Buehrle was beloved by his peers is because of the way he handled himself in good times and in bad.

"Usually the guys that don't take themselves so seriously are the guys that are usually liked by their teammates," Beckham said. "He was that guy. He never wanted to talk about himself. He wanted to talk about deer hunting or talk about something else besides himself.

"All he wanted to do is go out there and put his innings up and help the team win and past that, he didn't take things too hard and he didn't take them too soft. Stayed even keeled. Baseball is a game of failure he managed that really well."

Konerko, who had his number retired in 2015, would have loved if he and Buehrle had finished their careers together. The first baseman arrived a season ahead of Buehrle and they played together from 2000-11. Though Buehrle was willing to stay, the White Sox opted to extend John Danks, who was six years younger than the veteran workhouse. 

Buehrle initially signed with Miami and was traded the next offseason to Toronto. That set up a series of awkward showdowns between himself and Konerko. While there was an attempt to make them fun, Konerko never enjoyed facing his old friend.

"I think if it was up to Mark, he would have finished his whole career playing with just the White Sox," Konerko said. "He would have stayed. He wanted to stay. I'm glad that he was there long enough. He deserves (the number retired). You look at the numbers — we all know Mark is a great guy and teammate — but if you look at the numbers, he deserves it."

Michael Kopech absent from White Sox camp, adding another unknown to 2020

Michael Kopech absent from White Sox camp, adding another unknown to 2020

On the first day of "Summer Camp" workouts at Guaranteed Rate Field, there was one important absentee.

Michael Kopech has not yet reported to the second round of spring training ahead of the abbreviated, 60-game 2020 season, and the team has no timetable on when he'll rejoin the club.

General manager Rick Hahn said Friday that Kopech, who missed the entirety of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, is dealing with a personal matter. Recognizing that speculation could immediately turn to COVID-19, Hahn assured that the 24-year-old flamethrower is healthy.

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"It's obviously never ideal when any individual is dealing with off-field matters," Hahn said. "It's easy, I suppose, at times, to lose sight of the fact that you're dealing with human beings here. People have lives, people have families. People have all the same assortment of items to attend to that each and every other individual has. And this is obviously a very unique time we're all living through.

"It's not ideal, but fundamentally, we're looking to put all our players in the best position they can be to perform and maximize their abilities on the field, and if there's anything standing in the way of that, we're going to provide them with whatever support and resources they need to help address those matters. ... We fully support Michael and are going to provide him with whatever time and resources he needs and look forward to seeing him in the future."

Kopech missing more time is certainly unfortunate, especially when considering the long layoff he had following the surgery at the end of the 2018 season. He spent all of 2019 in recovery mode and participated in spring training earlier this year, throwing one inning of Cactus League action — and a pretty spectacular one at that — before baseball was abruptly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under normal circumstances, Kopech was expected to begin the season in the minor leagues, building arm strength with so much time between competitive games. When the season was squeezed down to 60 games in two months, it appeared Kopech, three more months removed from the surgery, could have been utilized as a full-season option for the White Sox. Other pitchers, such as Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, could also be part of expanded pitching depth for the White Sox that they wouldn't have had if the season started in March, as scheduled.

But with no idea how long Kopech will be away from the team, those plans could again be forced to change.

RELATED: White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

It's already a huge question what shape starting pitchers will be in after a halted spring, a three-month layoff and only three weeks' worth of ramping up before the regular season begins. Pitchers might be only capable of throwing three or four innings per start as opposed to their usual six or seven as they take time to get back into in-season mode. Who knows how Kopech, individually, has kept himself in shape during the layoff, or how large a benefit "Summer Camp" will provide for pitchers.

While the White Sox continue to have options with guys like Rodon, Dunning and Jimmy Lambert to go along with their starting rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Gio Gonzalez, Kopech was expected to play a role of some significance either as a member of the rotation, a "piggybacking" starter out of the bullpen or even, potentially, as a late-inning option.

Any of that can still happen, but Kopech's beginning-of-camp absence adds another unknown into a season already full of them.


White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an emergency travel order Thursday that requires travelers visiting Chicago from states experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases to quarantine for two weeks.

By the end of the month, a certain group of travelers — Major League Baseball teams — are scheduled to visit Chicago to play games against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Likewise, the White Sox will be traveling to play road games in other states, as well, from which they will eventually return.

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But the White Sox say they aren't expecting the new order to impact their upcoming 2020 season.

"Based on our current understanding, we do not expect this to impact our operations as presently planned," a White Sox spokesperson told NBC Sports Chicago on Thursday.

Currently, no states that are home to Central Division teams from either the AL or NL are impacted by Mayor Lightfoot's order. But as has become extremely apparent, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can change things quickly, and there's no knowing which states might be impacted come Opening Day or at any point during the two-month baseball season.

At the moment, the mayor's order, which goes into effect Monday, applies to visitors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Landing on that list involves a specific metric. Per the city's website, "a state will be designated if it has a case rate greater than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population, per day, over a 7-day rolling average."

Major League Baseball is imposing a geographic schedule to minimize travel for teams during the shortened, 60-game season. Teams will only play their division rivals and teams from the same geographic division in the other league. The White Sox will play their four AL Central rivals and the five teams from the NL Central.

As of the mayor's order being issued Thursday, the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were not part of the travel order. But every one of those states except Missouri, as well as Illinois, is currently experiencing a week-to-week increase in the number of new cases. The number of new cases is also rising in Iowa, where the White Sox are still on schedule to play in the Field of Dreams game on Aug. 13.

The city has the ability to grant exemptions, though, and Major League Baseball's extensive health and safety measures could come into play. According to the city's website, "the Commissioner of Health may additionally grant an exemption based upon an organization’s or business’ testing and other control policies or in extraordinary circumstances, which warrant an exception from mandatory quarantine."

So the city has the power to let the MLB season, as it pertains to teams traveling in and out of Chicago, to operate as planned. It can allow the Cleveland Indians come to town, or allow the White Sox to return from a trip to Detroit, even if other travelers from Ohio or Michigan, for example, are mandated to quarantine for two weeks.

As mentioned, the evolving status of the pandemic and the response to it, not just in Chicago but across the country, can change everything in a hurry. Major League Baseball faces its own internal hurdles when it comes to safely getting the season off the ground and completing it.

But as the White Sox understand it, there might not be reason to believe Mayor Lightfoot would be throwing a separate wrench into the difficult task of playing the 2020 baseball season.