White Sox

The rookie and the vet: Rodon, Penny share special friendship

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The rookie and the vet: Rodon, Penny share special friendship

Cell phone in hand, Carlos Rodon is staring at the screen and smirking to himself while sitting in front of his locker at Camelback Ranch. In honor of his teammate Chris Sale's 26th birthday, a sports website has resurrected a YouTube video from a few years ago. It shows the staff ace pummeling the dugout bench and an unsuspecting Gatorade cooler between innings. An impressive display of frustration for Sale, who gave up eight earned runs in seven innings of work. An outburst that makes the equally competitive Rodon chuckle to himself.

For a moment, he considers making the 10-step trip across the clubhouse to Sale's locker and jokingly asking the pitcher if he recommends the meltdown technique. He decides against it. Sale might laugh, he considers. But he might not. And the whole encounter would likely go against Rodon's self-imposed Spring Training rules:

Head down. Mouth shut. Listen. Pitch.

This was his mentality all camp long. Don't ruffle feathers. Ask, never tell. No one wants to hear from the rookie, no matter how soon he might be joining the big league club. No matter how quickly he might be a face of the franchise. Rodon is, of course, the White Sox 2014 top draft pick, the third player selected overall. The expectations are great. But so is the scrutiny, even by some of those sharing this space.

So while he can't avoid the attention, Rodon can minimize his part in amplifying it. He can clasp his hands behind his back in an unassuming stance when the microphones and cameras surround his corner locker. He can answer every inquiry with a courteous and measured response, keeping his voice low. He can repeatedly lean on an us-versus-me mantra: "I'm just here to help the team any way I can."

[MORE WHITE SOX: Carlos Rodon doesn't want Cubs' Kris Bryant hype]

Brad Penny takes slow, deliberate strides as he crosses the White Sox clubhouse in Glendale. His locker is well enough away — a solid 35-step trip — from the likes of Sale and other starters John Danks and Jeff Samardzija. Tattoos peak out from under his shorn T-shirt sleeves, adding to his intimidating presence. Even if the two time All Star's pitching performances lately have been anything but.

It was early in camp when the 36-year old, in his umpteenth Spring Training stint, approached the new kid.

“Hey,” he simply said. “I’m Brad.”

It was as unnecessary an introduction as there ever was. And one that Deloreaned Rodon right back to his childhood in South Florida.

"Holy crap” the starstruck rookie gushed back, "you're Brad Penny. I watched you throw a hundred with the Marlins back in '03."

Rodon was just 10 years old during that playoff run, when the Marlins won their second World Series title.

“Yeah,” Penny laughed. "Shows how old I am, huh?”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Carlos Rodon promotion another win-now signal from White Sox]

Then his eyes brighten as he begins to rave about the 22-year old. 

"He's just a good kid. He's fun to be around, and he's competitive. You know, coming in, a lot of people love to hate the guy in that situation. He got paid a lot of money to do what he's doing, so he comes into a tough spot. I try to make it comfortable for those guys when they come into camp.”

"It's a little bit startling, right?," Rodon notes of the two quickly becoming inseparable. "He’s like a mentor for me, a big brother."

The fact is Penny was happy to offer his baseball insight and perspective to other White Sox players too. He’s at the point in his career where he's comfortable sharing the knowledge he's collected over the last two decades. But the relationship with Rodon evolved beyond the rest, likely because Penny sees a lot of his young self in the rookie.

“I like how he’s handled the hype. And his work ethic,” Penny says. "He’s more polished than I was though. I had the luxury of playing right away, but it also meant I learned on the job.”

And yet, he admits there were situations he could have handled differently. Penny was a fifth-round pick in 1996, drafted by the Diamondbacks. He made his first MLB start for the Marlins in April of 2000. He was 21 years old. Early on, with players like Randy Johnson in the Arizona clubhouse, he too kept his head down, his mouth shut. But eventually he'd earn the reputation of a wild child. Looking back, Penny knows navigating those roads with direction would have been easier than doing so blindly. Which is why conversations between Penny and Rodon extend beyond baseball.

"We talk pitching yeah, but we have a lot of other things in common," Rodon remarks. “I’m a bulldog, and he is too. It was good to have him, good to hear him talk. He's been through all this a few times."

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Penny hopes Rodon doesn’t have to experience all he’s been through on his baseball journey, but he wants him to continue using him as a resource. Down the road, maybe he’ll reveal how he dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness and eventually bounced back well enough to win another World Series ring. But for now, it’s mostly tips to ease the transition from the minors to the bigs. One lesson that stands out — a message about arm angles. Penny told Rodon to never miss an opportunity to perfect a more deceptive delivery. 

“A big thing was pitching with angle every time you play catch. Even if you’re just playing easy toss, it’s important not to be nonchalant. It’s all about angle, get on top of the ball. Work on that every time you have the ball in your hand.”

He also encouraged Rodon to get his mind off the game whenever possible. For Penny, that often means taking his boat out on the water and enjoying the serenity of fishing. The two even dropped a few lines together when they both were reassigned to Charlotte near the end of camp.

Rodon is learning to enjoy that quiet kind of relaxation - mostly because it means spending more time with his childhood hero. But perhaps unsurprisingly, given his age, he would rather relax at home, watching funny internet videos - not unlike the Sale dugout meltdown - when he needs to mentally check out of baseball.

He was actually in the middle of a good laugh session, scrolling through YouTube videos when he got the call that he’d be joining the White Sox. Shortly after, he sent a text to Penny who already had a hunch it was happening.

“He had told me he was bummed because he wanted to visit his family in Raleigh (on the upcoming road trip) and drive his own car there. But the team told him he couldn’t. I figured it was 'cause they were calling him up. But I didn’t say anything.

"When he told me the news, I just said 'Congrats, man. You deserve it.’”

Penny continues, further reflecting on the kid 15 years his junior. His teammate. And friend. Now he's the one star struck.

"Every once and a while, a special arm comes along. He's gonna be good and he's going to be good for a long time. And I can’t wait to watch.” 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Memories of Old Comiskey Park

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Memories of Old Comiskey Park

For many White Sox fans, Comiskey Park was their introduction to White Sox baseball when they were young. Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey, and Chris Kamka share their memories of the old ballpark. Among them: Chuck talks about seeing Al Cowens charge Ed Farmer on the mound in 1980 creating a bench clearing brawl, Ryan tells the story about catching a Mike Greenwell foul ball, Chuck talks about being there for the 1983 All-Star Game, they discuss the final game ever played there and read favorite memories sent in by White Sox fans.

You can listen to the whole thing right here, or in the embedded player below.

8:26 - Chuck talks about seeing Al Cowens charge Ed Farmer on the mound in 1980 creating a bench clearing brawl.

10:11 - Ryan tells the story about catching a Mike Greenwell foul ball.

12:49 - Chuck talks about being there for the 1983 All-Star Game

15:11 - The guys talk about the final game ever played there.

16:44 - The guys read favorite memories sent in by White Sox fans.

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'White Sox to the Letter'

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AP

'White Sox to the Letter'

Inspired by Ogden Nash’s 1949 poem “A Lineup for Yesterday”

 

A is for A.J.

Once punched in the face

If strike three ain’t caught

He’ll steal first base

 

B is for Baines

Who’s known to speak gently

When asked if he’ll homer

He said, “Evidently!”

 

C for Comiskey

The old baseball yard

When it was torn down

I took it quite hard

 

D is for Donkey

I mean Adam Dunn

He’d strike out or walk

Or hit a home run

 

E is for Eloy

He isn’t here yet

Though an All-Star career

Is still a good bet

 

F is for Fisk

The incomparable Pudge

From his perch behind home

Not an inch he would budge

 

G is for Gold

G is for Glove

Aparicio is

Who I’m thinking of

 

H is for Hawk

Unforgettable voice

Stretch! Dadgummit!

And don’t stop now boys!

 

I for Iguchi

Second base man

Won World Series

Returned to Japan

 

J is for Jackson

The legend still grows

A home run or touchdown

Only Bo knows

 

K is for Kopech

Speed, he has plenty

He’ll pile up strikeouts

In two thousand twenty

 

L is for Luke

Old Aches and Pains

Hit .388

That record remains

 

M is for Mark

As in Mister Buehrle

When he takes the mound

The game will end early

 

N is for no-no

Wilson Alvarez, Humber

Two by Mark Buehrle

Too many to number

 

O for Orestes

Miñoso’s real name

Not in the Hall

And that’s a real shame

 

P is for Paulie

He gave it his all

At the championship rally

Gave Jerry the ball

 

Q for Quintana

Kept coming up short

Only because

Of no run support

 

R is for Richie

But please call him Dick

A dangerous man

When he’s swinging the stick

 

S is for shoes

Which were not worn by Joe

In 1919

Please say it ain’t so

 

T is for Thomas

Amazing career

He went to the Hall

And brewed Big Hurt Beer

 

U for Uribe

He played everywhere

When the ball left his bat

Hands waved in the air

 

V is for Veeck

He knew how to sell

Fireworks, promotions

And Eddie Gaedel

 

W is for William

Or Bill; He was Beltin’

So hot was the corner

Third baseman was Melton

 

X is for Fox

At least the last letter

Among second basemen

Nobody was better

 

Y is for Yolmer

He has sneaky power

The master of giving

A Gatorade shower

 

Z is for Zisk

And others I missed

Unable to fit

In my White Sox list