White Sox

Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

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Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 7:48 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz - Its 5:53 a.m., a pitch-black morning in front of the White Sox spring training facility. Look up in the sky, you see the moon. Across the barren parking lot, nothing but darkness.

Suddenly there are headlights in the distance, the same as yesterday and the day before. Rest assured, theyll be back again, same time tomorrow.

The car stops. A silhouette appears.

You guys are serious! says the voice.

Yes we are, just doing our jobs. But then again, so is he.

Most guys are nestled in their beds right now.

Probably, but not him. Not Juan Pierre.

One of the hardest working players in baseball, this is how his day begins every morning during spring training. Hes a man with an internal clock thats always ticking, ready to rock well before the rooster crows.

Its just a routine. Something I follow and believe in. Its kept me around this long, says the speedy White Sox outfielder, who stole a career-high 68 bases in 2010, his 11th in the big leagues and first on the South Side.

Nothing stops Pierre from his early morning ritual. Well, except for one thing: The front door.

Juan is here so early, its locked. He walks around the building where he spots a training intern who lets him inside.

In a couple hours, Pierres teammates will be flooding the White Sox clubhouse, talking, laughing, prepping for the day ahead. But right now, its just Juan, me, a CSN cameraman, and possibly a nearby cricket.

Pierre goes to his locker and takes out his favorite workout shirt. Its black and grey camouflage with the words Beast Mode written across the front.

Its a mind-set, Pierre says. Never use any excuses no matter what. Trust me, I would like to be sleeping right now, but I know the sacrifice I have to make to remain in this game. Thats what the Beast Mode stands for in a nut shell.

By 6:15 a.m., Pierre is in the White Sox gym, on the bike for a 10-minute warm-up.

Gotta get the legs loose.

In walks Allen Thomas, the White Sox Director of Strength and Conditioning. Hes one of the best in the business, and marvels at Pierres work ethic.

This is my 16th year doing this, and Ive been around a lot of great players who love to train. Juan is a step above, Thomas says. Sometimes a lot of athletes like to do this for attention, but this has been a part of his regiment since he stepped into a baseball uniform. And he doesnt miss. You can put him on a timer, its like clockwork.

Four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) Thomas puts Pierre through a high-intense workout, one that would probably make your everyday gym-goer lose his lunch in the first five minutes.

I push him, because I know what he has in the tank, Thomas says.

This quickly becomes apparent as Pierre shuffles through a speed ladder with resistance bands attached to his waist. An exercise normally used by NFL cornerbacks, Pierre flies through the rope ladder to strengthen his legs and feet to prepare him for his number-one job: stealing bases.

Everything we do in here has a purpose, says Pierre. (Allen) always tells me why were doing it, and relates it to baseball terms. Thats what separates A.T. from the rest of the strength coaches.

After that theres stretching, free weights, ropes to emulate his swing and work his core. Theres a grunt here, a grunt there. Sweat here, sweat everywhere.

By 7 a.m., Juan is back at his locker for a quick breather. Like a minute.

Pretty intense, Pierre describes it. That went well, but its only phase one of the day.

Whats next?

The cage. Gotta go hit in the cage. I got my stamina with weight training done. But if you cant hit, you cant play.

With the sun starting to peek across the horizon, Pierre walks over to the outdoor hitting cage holding a battered piece of wood that could probably use its own walking stick. Its a black Louisville Slugger that Juan practices with, and has hit so many times, the paint has been completely wiped off the barrel.

As you can see its worn out, right where you want it to be worn out, Juan says as he points to its sweet spot. Ramon Castro and those guys hide it from me, and tell me to get a new bat. Im like old school, if I find something I like, I use it until the wheels fall off.

Is there a name for that bat?

I call her Old Faithful. Shes been with me the last three years, so Im going to ride her out until she breaks.

Most major leaguers live for the home run. Juan knows better. For a guy who has gone deep only 14 times in his major league career, hes all about the line drives.

Thats what I like to pride myself on, or survive, because all my fly balls get caught. I might have one fly ball that dont get caught a year. You cant have a whole bunch of teams full of Konerkos and Dunns. Their job is to drive me in, my job is to get on base.

Juan goes through a hitting drill hes done thousands of times, placing a pair of tees side by side with a ball on top of each of them.

Im going to come right over the top of this ball and hit the one in front of it, he explains. If I hit the back one, that means Im getting underneath it, which I dont want to do. This drill definitely helps me.

He begins.

Im always out here with a purpose.

Smack!

This is just preparation to do what I have to do to survive.

Whack!

I hit one good in the cage, I say Oh, yeah, thats a home run!

Cuhh-rack!!!

By now, the sun has arrived, just in time for the end of Juans workout. Birds are chirping, cars are rolling in. The day has begun.

But not for Juan. He treats the day like he does first base: making sure hes got a nice, big lead on it, and when youre not looking... hes gone.

Which is exactly what happened here.

Juan said thanks, good-bye, and disappeared onto the next thing on his non-stop agenda. Where did he go? Breakfast I think, the mans got to eat.

Where is he now? Not sure.

But I do know where hell be tomorrow at 5:53 a.m., and the day after that.

Back to do it all over again.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Rick Renteria isn't going to change his 'don't quit' ways for anyone, 'Johnny Hustle' included

Rick Renteria isn't going to change his 'don't quit' ways for anyone, 'Johnny Hustle' included

LAS VEGAS — Manny Machado isn’t going to be Johnny Hustle, he told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal during the postseason. But if he gets $300 million to play baseball on the South Side of Chicago, will he reevaluate that stance on busting it down the line?

Because if he doesn’t, his new manager might do it for him.

One of the mighty interesting side stories to the White Sox aggressiveness this winter and their reported interest in Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on the free-agent market, is how Machado and his comments about distaste for hustling would mesh with Rick Renteria’s “don’t quit” culture on the South Side.

It’s all speculative, of course, because Machado does not, as of this writing, play for the White Sox. But as they potentially rev up to hand out one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, it’s worth wondering what would happen if Machado does what he did during the NLCS, when he failed to run out a ground ball against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Renteria made a habit of benching anyone and everyone who committed that cardinal sin during the 2018 season, be they a young player still learning how to be a big leaguer like Tim Anderson or an established veteran like Welington Castillo, a free-agent import in his own right. Heck, Renteria even benched Avisail Garcia, the team’s lone All Star from the 2017 season, during a spring training game.

Well, refusing to beat around the bush during his Tuesday media session at the Winter Meetings, Renteria said he’s going to keep being him and that any player signing up with the White Sox rebuilding effort will know what to expect.

“We've been ingraining this now for two years. And we've taken some steps where we'll pull a guy,” Renteria said. “But it has nothing to do with trying to embarrass them. It has everything to do with trying to set a particular standard of play or effort level.

“And there are going to be situations in which I might have to have conversations with guys that are coming from the outside. But I will venture to say this, I've said it enough publicly, they know how we want to play the game here. I think anybody who is thinking or contemplating becoming a White Sox, that we go about it a certain way.”

As much attention as Machado’s comments about hustling not being his “cup of tea” have received, they weren’t expected to impact his free agency in some super dramatic way. Meaning, he’s such a good baseball player, that the excerpt from a public-relations professional’s nightmare probably was going to pale in comparison to the numbers he just posted during a career year: a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. He’s a four-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glover, and he’s finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting three times.

Machado has an incredible track record of production. But he also has a track record of not looking like the model baseball player. In addition to these comments about effort, he got called dirty by the Brewers for dragging his foot across the leg of first baseman Jesus Aguilar during the NLCS, he's thrown a bat and a helmet on the field in separate incidents of anger, and he injured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-up slide.

And so Renteria admitted he would have a managing job ahead of him. Machado isn't a wide-eyed youngster who came up through the White Sox farm system. He's a major league veteran with an entire different background in the game.

"I think that it's a learned attitude, so to speak," he said. "When players get to the big leagues, in my humble opinion and in my experience, you take care of all of those issues in the minor leagues, period. It's a philosophy that you have as an organization. Every organization is different. So when they get to us, what they do has already been taught. So I don't have to deal with any of that.

"It's a little more difficult at the major league level to change an attitude of an individual if they've been doing that their whole life, if they're not giving you the effort all the time, absolutely. But it requires conversation. That person is that person. My job is to get the most out of that individual to the best of my ability.

"Will I be able to do that 100 percent? Probably not. But I'm going to give it a shot. But I've got to be creative and find ways to communicate with the players."

Machado's comments might have created a postseason and offseason firestorm — there are a lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans who went from all aboard the Machado train to wanting no part of him — but it's also not difficult to see him putting this behind him with excellent play no matter where he ends up. Adam Jones, who played with Machado in Baltimore, told our Chuck Garfien on Tuesday that Machado "plays the game hard and the right way." Machado attempted his own mea culpa earlier this winter, but those comments from a former teammate mean a little bit more.

It's very possible that if the White Sox are the ones to give Machado his big contract that he runs every batted ball out for the next decade.

But in the hypothetical situation that he doesn't, Renteria doesn't plan to shy away from doing what he does because Machado is a $300 million man. As long as he has the backing of his bosses — and he believes he will — he's going to keep sitting guys if they don't play the way he believes the White Sox should play.

"Everybody has to be comfortable with me making and taking an action like that," he said. "And when I do, I think we'll be backed."

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Favorites or not, White Sox will still make their pitch to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

Favorites or not, White Sox will still make their pitch to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

LAS VEGAS — The words coming from White Sox brass at these Winter Meetings show an aggressiveness in pursuing the biggest names in the game and a confidence that the rebuilding process is moving toward an incredibly bright future.

But reports from some of the national writers who break all kinds of news during this kind of event show something different.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal wrote about the White Sox on Tuesday, reporting that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has given his front office the green light to pursue Harper and Machado, who are expected to receive a couple of the biggest contracts in baseball history, even though he has doubts about winning a bidding war. Then came a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Wednesday, indicating that the South Siders are set to meet with the two big-name free agents, even though they don't see themselves as the favorites.

Humility is always good, but it's a stark contrast between those couple bits of reporting and the description of the White Sox and their aggressive winter to this point.

That being said, both pieces of information include the fact that the White Sox are still going to make their pitch to these guys and try to get them to play 81 (and eventually more) home games a year on the South Side.

It's already been reported that Hall of Famer Jim Thome came on board to help the White Sox pitch Harper, and the White Sox were reported to have a meeting with Machado soon, though whether that's here in Vegas or back in Chicago remains unclear, as Machado was reportedly going to take his free-agent tour to teams in their home cities.

The White Sox will be in the room with these guys, pitching them on why an impact talent like themselves should sign up with a team that lost 100 games last season. Certainly the metaphorical dump truck full of money will have an awful lot to do with it, and the team's virtual lack of any long-term financial commitments has made them seem such a realistic option to so many in the know. The White Sox sure seem willing to offer that kind of monstrous contract. They'd have to be, otherwise there'd be little point in an aggressive pursuit.

But their pitch will likely be focused on something else.

"It's the future. The talent we have," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday when asked what the White Sox biggest selling point to free agents is. "We've got some really good-looking young players that are not far from being here and impacting us and helping us hopefully do what we're searching to do, which is win ballgames."

Hahn thinks that's a winning pitch, too. The chance to do something special from the ground up, to join a rebuilding team, buy into the future, watch the minor league talent ascend around you and then win a bunch of championships. That's what the White Sox will say to Harper and Machado.

Will it work?

The Philadelphia Phillies have vowed to "spend stupid," perhaps the reason they're the favorites to land Harper and one of the favorites to sign Machado. The New York Yankees can sell Machado (they took themselves out of the Harper running, it seems) on joining a 100-win team and being a part of the next Bronx dynasty. The Los Angeles Dodgers always seem willing to spend a huge chunk of change and are reportedly trying to make some moves that would clear room in their crowded outfield, perhaps for Harper.

That's tough competition. The Dodgers have been to back-to-back World Series, the Yankees had the third best record in baseball last season, and the Phillies made big strides in their rebuilding effort. It's hard play at that table with mere plans for the future.

But, as mentioned, the White Sox seem confident in their pitch, and they'll get to make it. The good news is their future does not dim at all if they don't hit on Harper or Machado. But getting one of those guys would certainly make it neon bright.

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