White Sox

Sox Drawer: Remembering Tom Seaver's 300th win

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Sox Drawer: Remembering Tom Seaver's 300th win

Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010
5:36 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Time.

It goes by way too fast.

How else can you describe 25 years passing by, and yet the sights, sounds, and smells from that day remain so present you could swear it all happened last week?

I was reminded of this when I woke up today and thought of Aug. 4, 1985, a date which as I get older speeds further and further behind in my life.

For White Sox fans, it is known as the day Tom Seaver won his 300th game. But for me, its something more. Not just because I was there to watch the game in person, but because of the man who was sitting there beside me.

Maybe he is again.

In the summer of 1985, I had braces on my teeth and baseball on my mind 23 hours a day. The other hour was likely spent thinking about girls, which at the time was a puzzling exercise in teenage futility.

So I mainly stuck with baseball. Its what I knew best.

The Sox in 1985 were a team on its last fumes. Still clinging to the success of 1983 when they won 99 games and the AL West title, players like Britt Burns, Julio Cruz, Rudy Law, Ron Kittle and Tom Paciorek remained on the roster. Two years later, all of them, including manager Tony La Russa, would be gone.

Such inevitable roster moves were of no concern to me back then, especially when my mother made an announcement in the Garfien household, telling me that my grandfather wanted to take me to New York City to watch the White Sox play the Yankees. It was the kind of bulletin that if my life was a TV channel, you would see running in bright red letters at the bottom of the screen:

Breaking News: Garfien headed to NYC to watch White Sox.

My grandfathers name was Joe Garfien. But to me and his eight other grandchildren, he was simply Papa Joe, a man who came to America in 1926. Or was it 1927? He and his mother left behind their home in Austria. Or was it Poland? The geography in Europe kept changing back then. So did Papas year of birth. Details of such trivial facts remained blurred for decades.

But not Papa Joes early memories of watching sports in Chicago.

He saw the great Babe Ruth play at Comiskey Park. He saw Carl Hubbell pitch at Wrigley Field. Name the athlete (Red Grange) or historical figure (Al Capone), Papa Joe saw them live and in the flesh. Now, we were both embarking on a journey together, sharing memories of our own on a special weekend between grandfather and grandson, and our common love for baseball.

Back in July when the trip was planned, we got two tickets for two games: Aug. 3 and Aug. 4. As the weekend drew closer, we became the beneficiaries of an extraordinary coincidence: Tom Seaver, the White Sox 40-year-old pitcher was in line to start on Sunday, Aug. 4, in search of his 300th career victory.

In Chicago, this was a big deal. But in New York, where the former Mets legend would try to make history inside enemy territory, Yankee Stadium, it was even bigger.

You got a sense of the enormity of the event during the Saturday game when a rabid Mets fan hung a massive 50-foot sign over the first-base upper-deck railing that said three simple words:

Tom is God.

Yankees fans were furious. You could hear their displeasure in the profanity-laced tirades that were coming from all angles around us.

But those jeers would soon be replaced with cheers. Don Mattingly, Ron Hassey and future Sox slugger Dan Pasqua all went deep off White Sox starter Bill Long (remember him? I dont). The Sox got pounded 8-4.

Papa Joe and I went back to our hotel disappointed, but looked forward to the Seaver game on Sunday, as well as the festivities planned for Saturday night.

On the plane ride to New York, my grandfather raved about us seeing the Rockettes, the famous dance company known for their sky-high leg kicks that could poke an eye out. But when we arrived at Radio City Music Hall for their show, something wasnt right.

Little kids were everywhere. Were talking 5- and 6-year-olds overdosed on candy, running through the aisles as if they were nervously awaiting the arrival of Big Bird and Kermit the Frog.

Suddenly, the curtain rose, and there they were: the Rockettes! They danced and kicked in perfect unison, much to Papa Joes delight. For five solid minutes they owned the place ... until they exited the stage, and never came back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rockettes!

It turns out Papas favorite dancers were just the opening act. What everyone came to see that night was something different.

A two-hour Disney cartoon.

I think it was Bambi. I frankly dont remember. My grandfather was asleep by the opening credits. I was out soon after that.

But Sunday, as we headed back to Yankee Stadium for the Seaver game, we were wide awake. Our tickets were in the upper deck on the first-base side, close to where that Mets fan declared his religious love for Tom the day before.

Seaver might have been 40 years old at the time, but that season he was pitching in his prime. He came into the game with an 11-8 record and an ERA under 3.00. And from the very beginning, you knew this was going to be Seavers day, which just so happened to be Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium.

So much for that.

Other than an RBI single by Ken Griffey Sr., the Yankees couldnt touch Seaver. At one point, the future Hall of Famer retired 10 batters in a row. The Yankees managed six hits for the game. All singles.

Seaver went the distance, striking out seven, ending the game with a Don Baylor fly-out to Reid Nichols in left.

Win No. 300 was his. This incredible moment between my grandfather and I was ours.

As you get older, you learn that life is rarely that perfect.

Papa Joe would live another 20 years. He passed away in May 2005, missing the White Sox winning the World Series by five months.

Somewhere in the Comcast SportsNet library lives a tape of the Seaver game. Somewhere in my mind lives the memories of a grandfather who always wanted the best for his grandson. I was lucky to have him.

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

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.