White Sox

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


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 2005 Rewind: Scott Podsednik and the art of making things happen


White Sox 2005 Rewind: Scott Podsednik and the art of making things happen

An awful lot of energy is spent these days discussing the leadoff spot.

Offense struggling? Maybe there needs to be a new leadoff hitter. Offense doing fine but the leadoff man isn’t of the stereotypical variety? Better think about making a change.

While teams certainly don’t need a stereotypical leadoff hitter who specializes in speed and small ball to be successful — the school of thought that your best player should get the most plate appearances possible is not a bad one — Scott Podsednik showed how guys at the top of the order can simply make things happen and win you ballgames because of it.

On April 11, 2005, the White Sox were once again having trouble figuring out Kevin Millwood, who was throwing his second gem against the White Sox in as many starts to begin his season. But after five scoreless innings, Podsednik made something happen.

He popped up a bunt that went so awry that it went over Millwood and behind the pitcher’s mound. It was a bad bunt, maybe, but it worked. He reached first with a single. Not long after, he used that blazing speed of his to swipe second base and put himself in scoring position with nobody out.

In a one-run game, the White Sox down 1-0 at the time, Podsednik changed everything. He scored the tying run two batters later, when Carl Everett drove him in with a single. It’s a run that doesn’t happen without Podsednik’s skill set. Call it the best argument in favor of the stereotypical leadoff man. Or just call it making things happen.

Podsednik did it again two innings later, driving in the winning run to cap a two-out rally against Millwood. After two quick outs, Chris Widger and Joe Crede delivered back-to-back singles. Podsednik made it three in a row, driving in Widger — who went from first to third on Crede’s hit up the middle — to put the White Sox in front.

Podsednik’s work 15 years ago isn’t likely to do much to sway any ongoing arguments over who should lead off for the 2020 White Sox or any of the 29 other teams. But it sure paid big dividends for the 2005 White Sox.

He made it happen.

What else?

— Millwood pitched extraordinarily well against the White Sox for the second time in 2005. After throwing six shutout innings on April 6, he allowed just two runs over seven innings in this one. Millwood ended up making five starts against the White Sox in 2005, logging a 1.32 ERA in 34 innings, but went just 0-2 in those five games. He had himself an excellent season overall, with a 2.86 ERA that led the American League and was the second lowest single-season ERA of his 16-year big league career. He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young vote that season, tying with White Sox pitcher Jon Garland and finishing behind Mark Buehrle.

— Freddy Garcia was pretty darn good in this one, too, throwing eight innings of one-run ball. He retired the final 13 batters he faced. Garcia allowed just three runs in 14 innings in his first two starts of the season. This one was the first of a whopping nine outings he made that season of at least eight innings.

— Garcia threw a pair of wild pitches with Grady Sizemore at the dish in the second inning, two of the 20 he ended up throwing in 2005. That total led the major leagues. In the following season, his second full campaign with the White Sox, he only threw four in the same number of starts, 33.

— Podsednik threw Ronnie Belliard out at third base in the third inning, preventing what might’ve been another run in the inning the Indians scored their lone tally. Podsednik had three outfield assists in 2005.

— “Aaron’s going to get hit a lot in his career.” Hawk Harrelson chalked up Aaron Rowand getting hit by a pitch in the fifth inning to the center fielder’s approach at the plate. Well, Rowand did get hit by a lot of pitches in 2005, 21 of them, to be exact. Only Shea Hillenbrand of the Blue Jays got hit by more that season. This one that caught Rowand in the hand looked like it hurt like hell.

— Remember when the Indians played at The Jake? Good times.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 10, 2005: The White Sox got shut down by the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, who allowed just two runs in his seven innings, striking out 11. The Twins tagged Buehrle for five runs, including four in the third inning alone. Torii Hunter’s three-run homer was the big blow in that frame. White Sox lose, 5-2, drop to 4-2.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Sunday, when you can catch the April 13, 2005, game against the Indians, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. It’s an extra-inning affair with some heroics from Juan Uribe.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

USA Today

Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

Early in the 2005 season, there was one White Sox player that fans thought was on thin ice and another who actually was on thin ice.

Despite playing great defense at third base, Joe Crede hadn’t exactly won over the fan base yet. He hit just .239 in 2004 with a .717 OPS in his second full major league season. He was already 27 and the White Sox had used their first round draft pick in 2004 to select hot shot third baseman Josh Fields, who was already considered an MLB Top 100 prospect.

So when Crede got off to a 3-for-21 start in the team’s first six games in ’05, there were already calls for his benching.

It wasn't going to happen. Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen were prepared to be patient with Crede. They seemed more concerned with closer Shingo Takatsu.

Takatsu had taken the South Side by storm in 2004, entering games in the ninth inning to standing ovations and the sound of a gong playing over the speakers at U.S. Cellular Field. After taking over the closing duties in June, Takatsu converted 19-of-20 save opportunities in his first year with the White Sox.

Still, there were concerns that his unique frisbee style of pitching wouldn't last once teams saw Takatsu more than once. Those concerns were heightened when the Indians tagged him for three solo home runs on April 7, 2005, leading to the White Sox’s first loss of the season. Takatsu’s only blown save in 2004 also came to the Indians and Guillen was already voicing his concerns.

“I might not use him against (the Indians),” Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. “They have a good left-handed lineup. Right now, he’s going to be there no matter what. We’re going to see the next couple days.”

It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence, especially considering the White Sox had already played three straight close games against the Indians, including two one-run victories.

But that was the situation as the White Sox went to Cleveland with a 4-2 record for the Indians’ home opener. Freddy Garcia took the mound for his second start of the season, while Kevin Millwood countered for the 3-3 Indians.

Here was Guillen’s lineup:

LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
DH Carl Everett
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Pablo Ozuna
C Chris Widger
3B Joe Crede

The White Sox-Indians game from Apr. 11, 2005 will air Saturday at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.