White Sox

Fifteen years later, White Sox manager Robin Ventura recalls 9/11 events

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Fifteen years later, White Sox manager Robin Ventura recalls 9/11 events

It’s been 15 years since the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City.

For manager Robin Ventura, it’s still hard to think about.

“I think every time I start thinking about it it’s tough,” Ventura said. “Bagpipes are a whole different deal. You get emotional every time you hear them because that’s pretty much all we heard through September through the end of the year and that’s really the thought that comes up thinking about the first game back in New York. When the bagpipes came through center field, it was a tough moment for everybody.”

Ventura, who was with the New York Mets at the time, was in Pittsburgh during the events. The Mets were scheduled to open a three-game series against the Pirates.

Ventura recalls waking up for a Players Association meeting that morning.

“I remember getting up and having some coffee and then you just see what’s unfolding on TV and you can’t believe it,” Ventura said. “You just can’t believe what your eyes are seeing. The next day we had a bus back and we got to Shea. Shea was used as a staging area for all the supplies going in to Manhattan. It was right there in front of us. It was amazing just the cooperation and the teamwork of everybody and all the firefighters coming from all over to help out. Just incredible. It still just gets to you, it really does.”

Baseball was put on hold for the next few days.

Play resumed six days later, where the Mets completed their three-game series with the Pirates in Pittsburgh and then traveled back home.

The Mets held the first sporting event in New York since the attacks on Sept. 21 at Shea Stadium against the Atlanta Braves.

"It was tough because even when we were working out, before we went to Pittsburgh to start playing again, you just have firefighters…they had cots and things where guys are sleeping on shifts," Ventura said. "For us working out, these guys started going out and doing stuff on the field…taking batting practice taking ground balls. It wasn’t really about us anymore working out again, it was just whatever these guys wanted to do you let him do. Bobby Valentine did a great job of just organizing guys to pack boxes and do whatever you could."

When the White Sox returned to action, they hosted the New York Yankees at Comiskey Park.

After an emotional week, sports helped bring a little bit of normalcy back to the country.

“When we played our game at Shea, you didn’t know if you should smile, crack a joke or do any of that. And it was still tough to do that,” Ventura said. “There’s a lot of families that were there that had lost somebody. Kids had lost their dads. You didn’t necessarily know what to do.

“I think at that time at least sports let people cheer and distract them somewhat from the pain that was going on at the time. Nobody really knew how powerful that would be. I know everyone’s probably seen the home run (Mike) Piazza hit. It’s hard to just say how important that was but it really was. It was just kind of the defining moment of people could cheer people could hug each other and laugh and root for their team again.”

The White Sox see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel

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USA TODAY

The White Sox see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel

LAS VEGAS — Things are undoubtedly changing for the White Sox.

These aren't last year's Winter Meetings, where general manager Rick Hahn preached patience and was just a month away from declaring 2018 the toughest part of the team's rebuilding process. These are a different kind of Winter Meetings, where the White Sox are reportedly in on Bryce Harper, in on Manny Machado and cranking up the aggressiveness on the heels of a 100-loss season.

Make no mistake, though, despite all these rumors tying them to baseball's best players, the rebuild is still in full swing. But it's because of the progress they've seen in that rebuilding process that the White Sox feel so confident in being aggressive this winter. Hahn is confident his sales pitch to the Harpers and Machados of the baseball world — of course, he won't mention their names, specifically, in his chats with reporters — is a winning one: Join this team and within a few years, all that minor league talent will grow up around you and this will be a perennial championship contender.

It's not a reaction to 2018's ugly win-loss record. This isn't desperation. This was all part of the plan, to lure top free agents to the South Side with the promise of future success. As Hahn said last month at the GM Meetings, no one should be surprised to hear the White Sox linked to these elite players. The reason? The team is seeing the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel.

To Hahn, that means that the wave of prospects he envisions washing up at Guaranteed Rate Field is getting closer. Eloy Jimenez figures to be with the major league team a few weeks into the 2019 season. Dylan Cease could be on the same path Michael Kopech was in 2018 and possibly arrive even earlier in the calendar than Kopech did. The catching tandem of the future could be knocking on the door at Triple-A Charlotte, and the bulk of talent that made Class A Winston-Salem so intriguing in 2018 could have the same effect at Double-A Birmingham in 2019.

Progress. It might not be the first thought in White Sox fans' heads as their favorite team keeps getting linked to Harper and Machado. But without that progress in the minor league system, there might not be as much aggressiveness. In other words, it's a heck of a lot easier to sell a future that you're able to see coming.

"Talking about the light at the end of the tunnel means that we're starting to see some guys get to the Double-A level and above that are going to help us in the not so distant future," Hahn explained Monday night. "Obviously we've promoted guys from Double-A before, so once they're there, they're established.

"You're starting to see a team where not only next year will you have obviously (Yoan) Moncada, (Tim Anderson) and (Reynaldo Lopez) and a full year of (Carlos) Rodon — knock on wood — but you're going to see, in all probability, Eloy Jimenez at some point and Dylan Cease. And then you're going to have at Triple-A (Zack) Collins and (Seby) Zavala. And you're going to have at Double-A a prospect-laden Birmingham team, any of number of whom could factor in, conceivably, at some point in the 2019 season. Might not. We're not going to rush this thing. We're going to let them, give them all the time they need where they're to the point where they're ready to succeed in Chicago. But they're in shouting distance.

"It's starting to get a little bit closer. We're not going to move it artificially. That's the way we can mess this thing up, to start rushing some guys or start making some shortsighted commitments that compromise our flexibility in the future, but it's getting closer."

Perhaps it's easy to play devil's advocate and point out the host of injuries to White Sox minor leaguers in 2018 and the effect all that health uncertainty could have on the timeline of this whole enterprise. Kopech will miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Dane Dunning has his own elbow injury to deal with. Luis Robert is healthy now but was robbed of much of a year of development time with thumb injuries. Jake Burger didn't play a lick in 2018 because of a pair of Achilles tears. Alec Hansen was the organization's No. 2 pitching prospect at this time last year before a lost season in 2018 due to a forearm injury and a demotion to Class A not long after his return to the mound.

But those always-entertaining 2020 lineup projections are still full of guys now making their way into the upper levels of the system. They're maybe months, a year or just a tad more away from cracking the big leagues.

And so the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel is not Harper or Machado, though adding a 26-year-old superstar who fits in with the long-term plan certainly gets the White Sox closer to that point. The light is those rebuilding plans finally starting to come to fruition, the ascent of all that talent acquired when Hahn's front office traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana. And because of that, there's a future worth selling to the best players in the game.

It also means there's a future with or without Harper and Machado, a fact that shouldn't be lost on anyone should the White Sox not win either free-agent sweepstakes.

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As buzz of White Sox and Bryce Harper continues at Winter Meetings, they reportedly prefer him to Manny Machado

As buzz of White Sox and Bryce Harper continues at Winter Meetings, they reportedly prefer him to Manny Machado

LAS VEGAS — South Side baseball fans have been dreaming about Bryce Harper signing up with the White Sox ever since they were first reported as interested a month ago back at the GM Meetings.

Now it's the Winter Meetings, baseball's annual frenzy of offseason activity, here in Harper's hometown, no less, and the noise surrounding that possibility keeps getting louder.

One thought was floated on the first night of these meetings that the Harper sweepstakes might already be down to a final three teams, the White Sox being one of them alongside the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. Representatives from the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals spent Monday telling reporters they likely weren't going to sign Harper. The Washington Nationals' owner already said he doesn't think Harper will be back in the nation's capital. And the big-spending Cubs are financially tied up to the point where they might not be a possibility for Harper, either.

That all adds up to the White Sox being in one heck of a unique position to land one of the best players in baseball and the biggest fish on this winter's free-agent market.

One of the game's biggest national names chimed in Tuesday morning. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal authored a column explaining the White Sox situation and their pursuits of Harper and fellow mega free agent Manny Machado. For those who have followed every scrap of information regarding the White Sox and Harper over the last month or so, this served better as an explainer than a news-breaker. But Rosenthal did mention that the White Sox appear to prefer signing Harper to Machado. He also mentioned that the Crosstown-rival Cubs are "not engaged in a pursuit of Harper," perhaps more emphatically taking them off the table as possible competition.

Certainly both 26-year-old superstars would fit in with the White Sox long-term plans, but there definitely exist questions about Machado's fit that don't exist about Harper's. First, Harper could easily slide into the team's hole in right field, whereas Machado has stated his desire to play shortstop, one of the few positions where the White Sox have a long-term piece on their major league roster. Second, Machado's now-infamous comments about his distaste for hustling contrasted sharply with manager Rick Renteria's "don't quit" culture and his persistent benching of anyone who he felt didn't hustle during the 2018 season.

It's a mystery whether either of those things impact the White Sox thinking on which star they prefer. But Machado's incredible production with the bat and with the glove makes him an attractive long-term option, regardless.

Rosenthal's piece focused on team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who famously handed out baseball's then-biggest-ever contract in 1996 to sign Albert Belle. Harper is expected to receive the new biggest contract in baseball history this winter. Rosenthal included this line, as well:

"Reinsdorf privately has expressed doubt his team will actually win the bidding for Harper or Machado, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking. But even with the White Sox at least a year away from contention, he is not stopping his front office from engaging in the pursuit of the two stars, and the possibility of a marriage with Harper seemingly is growing more realistic."

The competition might not be as big as once imagined, but it should still remain fierce. The Phillies have vowed to spend "stupid" this offseason in their pursuit of building a contender. The Dodgers are always a threat to cough up large sums. And the potentially lurking Cubs, as Rosenthal mentioned, have a trio of $100 million players on their roster right now, so they're obviously not shy about spending big.

But the White Sox have almost no long-term financial commitments to speak of, their financial flexibility achieved as part of their ongoing rebuilding effort. Team vice president Ken Williams said Monday that they have shifted into a more aggressive mode this winter, not a surprise to hear aloud after months of their reported activity involving any number of available players.

General manager Rick Hahn has been saying for months that the team will look to take advantage of opportunities that make sense for the long-term future of the club, and it's hard to argue any move would make more long-term sense than adding Harper (or Machado) to lead a group of talented youngsters, many of whom have yet to reach the major leagues, into perennial contention mode.

"It’s very important for us to remain very diligent where we are in this," Hahn said Monday night. "We’re entering Year 3 of a rebuild, and although I think there’s some potential skepticism that it might be a year too soon, perhaps be pushing it, we’re very mindful of that. And we also want to balance the fact there is some unique opportunities out there in the market, and we wouldn’t be doing our job — even if it is perhaps a year too early — not doing our job if we didn’t fully vet those opportunities.

"It doesn’t mean we’re going to just look for any way to make some sort of splash. It has to fit with the long-term vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. Traditionally, the third year of a rebuild isn’t always the time where you push those chips in, so to speak, but when unique opportunities present themselves you have to respond."

The challenge would seem to be convincing Harper or Machado (who has a different set of reported suitors, though the White Sox are reported to be very much in the mix there, too) to join a team whose plans for the future are just that, plans, as opposed to teams like the Yankees or Dodgers or even the Phillies, to a degree, that can point to win-now rosters and recent examples of success at the major league level. Hahn thinks he has the right selling points with his carefully assembled collection of minor league talent and the bright future this rebuilding effort has created.

"Someone asked me last week when we did a conference call, 'How do you sell a team that lost 100 games last year?' And really, the conversations we're having aren't about our past, they're about the future," Hahn said. "And everyone who's involved in the game and follows the game closely knows where we're headed and what we've tried to accomplish over the last couple years and what we're going to continue to build for in the future. And in terms of the prospect of being something special for an extended period of time in the future in Chicago, that has appeal to people. That's more important to them than where we were last year in the second year of a rebuild."

And so the buzz continues to increase in volume when it comes to the possibility of Harper landing on the South Side. The White Sox seem willing and able to spend and aggressive in pursuing this one-of-a-kind opportunity. But until a deal is done — with the White Sox or one of their competitors — the race is still on.

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