White Sox

The Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight story you haven't heard

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The Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight story you haven't heard

This story was originally published on CSNChicago.com on March 2, 2012. Today marks the 22-year anniversary of the Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan fight.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Aug. 4, 1993, might have been just one day on the calendar, but for Robin Ventura, it's a date he wont be able to escape for the rest of his life.

It was on this fateful evening that a 26-year-old Ventura charged the mound in Arlington, Texas against 46-year-old Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, who proceeded to hammer Ventura with an embarrassing array of noogie shots to his head. Even if Ventura had gone on to hit the game-winning home run in a World Series, he might not have been able to top the visuals of this chaotic and surreal melee, easily one of the greatest in baseball history.

"I think there might have been 500,000 people in the stadium when that happened, because everyone says they were at that game," Ventura said about the play that has been replayed so many times, it probably belongs in the Hall of Fame along with Nolan Ryan himself.

That summer, the U.S. Junior Olympic baseball team spent two weeks training in Tyler, Texas. It was a squad comprised of players either going into their senior years in high school or recent draftees who had just graduated.

The day of the game, the team made the two-hour bus ride to Arlington to watch the Rangers play the White Sox. They arrived early to watch batting practice. Afterwards, they were led into the tunnel near the visiting clubhouse where they were introduced to the one and only Robin Ventura.

"We all had our USA garb on, and lo and behold Robin comes out because he was an ex-USA baseball player," remembers a certain player on that team. "He gave us a little pep talk and said hello."

This young ballplayer hoped to follow in Ventura's footsteps. He didnt just want to make it to the major leagues, he wanted to excel at the sport and play the game right. Ventura was a perfect example of this type of ballplayer; a model citizen who probably drank milk and called his mother every day — or at least that was the image of Ventura at the time.

Well, that was until the game started.

It was just a brief meeting, but Robin made an impression on the team, and specifically on that one player who would eventually fulfill his dream of baseball, later becoming one of the game's biggest stars.

Who was he?

None other than Paul Konerko.

It was a chance meeting that Konerko remembers vividly. Ventura...not so much.

"I don't remember it all," Ventura said. "Apparently, I was talking to a U.S. team, an amateur team about sportsmanship. Things went a little haywire in the game."

Did they ever.

"They probably just grabbed him and he didn't even know what it was, and he came out said hello, said hi, good luck guys, and that kind of stuff," said Konerko. "Two hours later, there's a riot on the field that he caused."

The White Sox and Rangers hadn't been getting along at the time. Alex Fernandez plunked Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez the inning before. If Ryan wanted to retaliate (as he often did), Ventura was the logical target because his single in the first inning gave the Sox a 1-0 lead. But even before the game began (right around the time he met with the young Olympians about sportsmanship), Ventura told his teammates that if he got hit, he was going to charge the mound no matter who was out there.

Watching the brawl unfold from the left field bleachers was a stunned Konerko.

Did seeing Ventura go after one of the best, most respected players in the game change his opinion of him?

Nope. The opposite.

"That made me think nothing less of him, only more because anybody who's going to charge Nolan Ryan, you gotta have..."

Konerko paused for a few seconds, trying to find the right word he can use on family television. Then one popped in his head.

"You gotta have some guts, let's just put it that way."

Ventura fighting Ryan, as crazy as it was, made him a hero to his White Sox teammates. Now a 14-year veteran himself, its an attitude Konerko loves to see in a clubhouse.

"That gives you ultimate respect in this game if you say, 'Hey this guy throws at me a lot or he throws at our team a lot, if he hits me, I'm gone. Be ready.' That's ultimate respect in the fact that he followed up on his word," Konerko said.

Ventura was ejected, but Ryan, for some inexplicable reason, was able to stay in the game.

"And I remember for every inning after that, the whole place was chanting 'Nolan' for what seemed like an hour long," Konerko said. "It was an electric-type atmosphere after that happened."

When the Olympic coaches thought of taking their players to a baseball game, this was not exactly the kind of experience they probably had in mind. So what kind of effect did the fight have on those young, impressionable minds?

"Obviously, one guy became a major-leaguer so it must have been pretty good," Ventura said, laughing.

And now as fate would have it, where does Ventura make his White Sox managing debut on Opening Day? Texas. And who's the president of the Rangers? Nolan Ryan.

Somewhere out there, the person who makes out the MLB schedule is giggling profusely.

"They'll get all hopped up on it, but I'm not playing," Ventura said about what the fan reaction will likely be. "It's not going to affect me as far as winning or losing the game. I'm more concerned about how we do in the game than about getting booed or somebody yelling at you. I mean, that's been happening for years."

It follows Ventura wherever he goes.

"He makes a joke out of it," Konerko said. "Whenever he's in a public setting, they have a pool going. How long is it going to take for the Ventura-Ryan fight to get brought up? He just knows that people are always going to say, What about Nolan Ryan?"

While Ventura says that 500,000 fans claim they were in attendance that night, the official number is 32,312. Paul Konerko will always be able to say that he was one of them.

"There have been a million fights in the game and all that, but with Nolan Ryan, it's just a legendary moment in the game that will always be," Konerko said, "so I'm happy and proud to say that I was there for it."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox looking for more?

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox looking for more?

The offseason is still going on, which means the White Sox could make even more moves. Host Chuck Garfien is joined by NBC Sports Chicago White Sox writer Vinnie Duber and producer Chris Kamka as they discuss various options the Sox could go with to fill out the roster.

(1:35) - How will the Sox fill out the rest of the roster?

(6:02) - Will Nicholas Castellanos be on the South Side?

(8:15) - Is Yasiel Puig an option for the Sox?

(13:26) - Options for the Sox at second base

(21:16) - Who can the Sox get to fill out the Bullpen?

(25:44) - Adding more starting pitching

(29:04) - Who should the Sox sign ASAP?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

On the eve of the most anticipated SoxFest in recent memory, Michael Kopech got a haircut.

He likely won't be the only one sporting a fresh look when the White Sox gather for the annual fan convention this weekend at McCormick Place. But he's probably the only one who had his restyling attended by the local media.

Kopech got his trademark flowing locks clipped off Wednesday as part of a charity event that raised $20,000 for the Ronald McDonald House and White Sox charities, meaning there'll be a noticeable difference the next time he steps on a major league mound. There was bound to be a difference, considering he last pitched in a big league game in September of 2018. But how much of a difference there will be in his pitching style remains to be seen.

Kopech has long been promised as a flamethrower that can touch ungodly speeds like 101, 102 and 103 miles an hour on the radar gun. He'll still be able to do that, he says, but there will be a difference.

"I don't know if I'm going to necessarily be that type of power pitcher again in my career," he said Wednesday. "I think I'm going to be a little bit smarter and cautious about how I pitch. That being said, velocity will always be a part of my game."

We'll have to wait and see exactly how Kopech will attack opposing hitters after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. "Wait and see" will be a theme of at least the early portion of Kopech's 2020 campaign. The White Sox have signaled that he'll be limited in some capacity in an effort not to overwork him — remember that his next major league appearance will be only his fifth — but we don't know what that will look like yet. Will he be part of the rotation, but be skipped at times? Will he pitch out of the bullpen for a little bit? Will he start the season in the minor leagues?

According to Kopech, he doesn't know the plan, either, knowing only that he feels great and will be looking to earn a roster spot in spring training.

"Not really," he said, asked if he's talked with the team about what it has planned for him. "My plan for myself is to be competitive in the spring and give my team a chance to win, and hopefully that's giving myself the best chance I can.

"But for what the team has in store for me, I really don't know those answers. I'm just going to do my best when I get there."

Between the moves Rick Hahn's front office has made this winter and the way so many of the White Sox young, core players broke out in 2019, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side for the first time in a long time, with the expectation being that the team will make its long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. Kopech would figure to be a big part of that, still ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Even with plans to limit his workload, the White Sox would figure to want him to be pitching in meaningful games if they should roll around in August and September, or even October.

Of course, these kinds of expectations are nothing new for these White Sox players, who have long been willing to express their confidence in the organization's bright future. Kopech has talked about wanting to win the 2020 World Series. Eloy Jimenez has talked about being a part of a championship outfield. Lucas Giolito, "sick of losing," has been talking playoffs since the end of last year's 89-loss season. And the freshly extended Luis Robert is talking about winning multiple championships.

This group has always been about setting lofty goals. But now the fan base is buying in to all that, too, and setting its own set of expectations, ones that end with the White Sox reaching the postseason. Kopech can already feel a different vibe surrounding this team, though added that the expectations inside the clubhouse haven't changed from what they've always been.

"We were just talking about that a couple of days ago. We were out playing catch, me, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, Grandal was out there. It was that camaraderie, but more so, the underlining competitiveness in all of us. It felt like a different energy, was the word that was used," Kopech said. "We were all pulling in the same direction, which I think is kind of a glimpse to us what the future is going to look like.

"Not to look too far ahead, but I think we all are pulling in the same direction, not that that wasn't the case before. We're all starting to get that taste, sort of speak.

"(Playoff expectations are) what we've put on ourselves, as well. We're always going to want to be a competitive team, and we're going to want to be a competitive team at the highest level and that's to be in the playoffs.

"Those expectations that people are putting on us, we're going to also put on ourselves and try to achieve that."

It's still a bit of an unknown when and in what capacity we'll first see Kopech contributing toward reaching those expectations. But don't adjust your television set when he does make his first appearance. That's him, all right. Just lighter now without all that extra hair.

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