White Sox

Sox Drawer: The White Sox on 911

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Sox Drawer: The White Sox on 911

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 3:09 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com
It was the most devastating thing that your mind could ever imagine. -- Hawk Harrelson

They were saying 10-12 planes were unaccounted for, and were staying at Grand Central Station. We said, Lets get out of here. -- Paul Konerko
It was the first time I actually thought we were going to die.-- Mark Buehrle

At 2:00 a.m. of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the Chicago White Sox arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Manhattan. They were scheduled to start a three-game series that night with the New York Yankees.

But later that morning, the world as we knew it would change forever.

Kip Wells called me and said, Turn on the TV, the World Trade Center is getting bombed, Mark Buehrle said. I went to the TV to see what was going on, turned it on, and there it was.

A few doors down, a similar phone call went to Ed Cassin, the White Sox traveling secretary.

I picked up the phone, and it was my wife, Cassin recalled. She said, Are you okay? Im like, Why wouldnt I be okay? Whats going on? She told me to turn on the television. I asked, What channel? She said, It doesnt matter.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada was in a New York City hospital that Sept. 11th morning, at the bedside of his young son who had just had surgery.

He wanted to watch a videotape, and while Im rewinding it, I see the first plane going into the building, Posada said. I didnt think anything. I just thought it was something made up, some kind of show. But then I see the second plane go into the second building, and then Im like, Hold on a second, somethings going on here. So I go outside to tell the nurse just in case people were coming in, and what to do about all the lines if they needed extra tables or extra beds. Posada paused. But nobody came in.

Back at the White Sox hotel, which was about four miles from the World Trade Center, Paul Konerko said he woke up to panic on the street, alarms at the hotel. He and teammates Sean Lowe, Keith Foulke, and Bob Howry gathered in the lobby. With glazed looks on their faces, they went outside and noticed the exact same expression on everyone else.

Anybody whos been to New York, normally people are walking the streets doing their own thing, but there were really millions of people all thinking about the same thing at one time, it was a very odd feeling, explained Konerko.

From one captain to another, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter shared Konerkos point of view.

It was surreal to see Manhattan with no cars, no traffic, just people walking in the middle of the street not saying too much, almost something that was out of a movie set, you know? Jeter said. Anyone whos spent time in Manhattan knows how busy it is, all the noise. But it was a ghost town.

Hearing that several planes were unaccounted for, and realizing that they were very close to the Empire State Building, a possible target, Konerko and his three teammates concluded that the safest place to be was actually where it had been the most dangerous.

To me, it just sounded smart to go to where the terrorists already hit, because then youre away from everything else. So we walked down to the World Trade Center, as far as we could, enough to where we could get close and see debris and smoke, Konerko said. Youre still thinking that something could happen again. At that moment, there was still talk that it could.

The fear that engulfed Manhattan was overwhelming, certainly for the 21-year-old Buehrle, in his second season with the White Sox, who was in New York City for the very first time.

I remember walking back to my hotel room and just looking over my back thinking that somebodys going to jump out of a door and kill me or come attack us thinking that terrorists were staying at our hotel, Buehrle said.I mean there was a lot of stuff going through your mind.

With the series against the Yankees cancelled, and all surrounding airports closed, Ken Williams, in his first season as White Sox general manager, called Ed Cassin and gave him a single directive.

I dont care what you do, get us out of town.

Over the next several hours, Cassins ear would remain glued to his cell phone as he attempted to get the White Sox back to Chicago, and doing it from the city of our countrys greatest single-day tragedy since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

I called Major League Baseball and their security agents, who put me in contact with the Port Authority police, the New York state police, the New York City police, because they had basically stopped all traffic coming into Manhattan, Cassin explained. So our plan was to try to get a couple buses off Manhattan the next day and we had to have approvals from all authorities. It took a lot of phone calls. Obviously, they were quite busy dealing with the situation to worry about the Chicago White Sox. We were probably the last thing on their minds.

Thanks to Cassins relentless determination, two buses arrived at the White Sox hotel at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. Amidst the chaos and extreme devastation in lower Manhattan, the White Sox found a way back home.

It was an eerie, eerie ride, Hawk Harrelson remembered. Everybody was very quiet. And I was just looking out the window and looking up at the sky and I never saw one plane. Not one plane the whole trip from New York to Chicago because they had canceled all the flights, not even a military plane did I see.

It was the shortest and most relaxing 15 or 20 hour bus ride I ever had in my life, Buehrle said. I just remember driving through the country and seeing trees and I think that was the first moment in a day and a half where you could breathe and say, Im finally safe.

Six days after the attacks, with emotions still raw, the grieving process just beginning, baseball returned to a dark and solemn America. The following day on Sept. 18th, the White Sox and Yankees coincidentally resumed play at U.S. Cellular Field. It was Chicagos first sporting event since 911, and a passionate crowd opened its hearts, not just for the White Sox, but even the visiting Yankees, whose city was still reeling from the terrorist attacks.

Its a memory that remains with the Yankees now 10 years later.

There was a big sign in right field that said Chicago loves New York. I will never forget that, Posada said. I think it was just a very, very exciting time for people to see baseball again.

It seemed like even people that hated the Yankees were almost pulling for New York so to speak, Jeter explained. Im sure there were fans who wanted us to lose, but it seemed like there were a lot less boos and a lot less hatred towards our team at that point.

When the White Sox returned to New York City in October to play the postponed games with the Yankees, a policeman at Yankee Stadium who was a friend of Hawk Harrelsons, took the White Sox play-by-play announcer for a visit to Ground Zero.

Clearing his throat, an emotional Harrelson recalled seeing a canine unit coming back from an unsuccessful mission at the site.

The dogs had their tails between their legs with their heads down, just walking. Someone came over to us and said, These dogs are taking it as hard as we are because theyre trained to find life, and they cant find it.
"There was a big sign in right field that said 'Chicago loves New York.' I will never forget that.-- Yankees catcher Jorge Posada
Harrelson brought a small bag with him to collect some of the debris from Ground Zero. His policeman friend said to him, Do you know what youre putting in there?

Harrelsons eyes well up.

Thats vaporized concrete, vaporized steel, and vaporized bodies.

A few weeks later, Harrelson shared some of the debris with his good friend, golfer Arnold Palmer.

I said, Arnold I want you to have this. And I put it in his hand, and he started crying. It was the most devastating thing that your mind could ever imagine, and its just a shame that so quickly so many people have forgotten it, Harrelson said.

That might not be the case in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the sites of the terrorist attacks, where the emotional toll can still be felt, unspeakable pain that might never go away. However, with Sept. 11th now 10 years in the rearview mirror, it is important to remember the feeling of that day and how we bonded together as a country in the days that followed. While parts of America have likely moved on from 911, burying the memories of that frightful time, Harrelson has chosen to keep the tragedy close to his heart.

He feels like hes in the minority.

I have never loved this country more than I do right now, never. I didnt like it so much after the Vietnam War, but its changed me. Its changed my whole family, Harrelson said. I just hope people remember. They say that they do, but its bull----. They dont.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th. The White Sox will host the Indians in Chicago, the Yankees will be in Anaheim to play the Angels. But most will have their hearts and minds in New York City, the place where the world changed, the same with all of our lives.

I think the one thing that you appreciate is you appreciate the freedom we have in our country, Jeter said. It was an unfortunate event, but it opened a lot of eyes.

Baseball for me is not everything. Family comes first, added Posada.

Obviously, being there and seeing it, its one of those things where I dont take life for granted, Buehrle explained. Thats why I go out there and have as much fun as I can no matter what Im doing. Even baseball can come to an end, so just never take life for granted.

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 to start for Charlotte Knights on NBC Sports Chicago

Michael Kopech to start for Charlotte Knights on NBC Sports Chicago

Tonight, White Sox Triple-A affiliate Charlotte (44-52) will go head-to-head with the Pawtucket Red Sox (45-49) on NBC Sports Chicago at 6 p.m.

Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech (2-5, 4.88 ERA) faces William Cuevas (5-3, 3.21 ERA) at BB&T Ballpark. The flame-throwing Kopech is coming off an 11-strikout performance in his last start when he completed six innings of work and allowed only four hits and one earned run.

Kopech has been inconsistent for the Knights this season, but leads the International League with a whopping 122 strikeouts. He had a forgettable month of June, when he went 1-4 with a 5.46 ERA, but he looks to be getting on the right track recently.

Charlotte’s batting lineup is highlighted by White Sox No. 1 prospect Eloy Jimenez, who has performed well since his promotion from Double-A Birmingham in mid-June. The powerful hitter has a .283/.348/.483 slash line with three home runs in 60 at-bats with the Knights.

Reliever Ian Hamilton (2.71 ERA), who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 18 White Sox prospect, has served as the team’s closer since his June promotion to Triple-A. The 23-year-old has converted four of five save opportunities with Charlotte, making him a player to monitor during tonight’s game. He has 10 strikeouts with only two walks in 9 2/3 innings.

Everything that's gone right this year in the White Sox farm system

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USA TODAY

Everything that's gone right this year in the White Sox farm system

If there’s a sweet spot in the White Sox rebuild, you will find it in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

That’s where first-time manager Omar Vizquel and a surge of talent have quickly burst onto the scene in the Carolina League.  From big names like Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford to under the radar types like Jimmy Lambert and Ti’Quan Forbes, Vizquel has been in charge of an overflow of prospects the White Sox minor league system hasn’t seen in years.  

Injuries this year to Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Alec Hanson, Jake Burger, Dane Dunning, Micker Adolfo and Ryan Cordell may have put a damper on your spirits about the White Sox rebuild and the speed in which it will take for the big league club to be good again.  But despite those setbacks, the organizational depth Rick Hahn has preached about and has attempted to create in the farm system is starting to become a reality.

Even after some of Vizquel’s best players like Cease, Joel Booker, Luis Basabe and Bernardo Flores were promoted to Double-A Birmingham in June, Vizquel has inherited a brand new wave of talent from Class-A Kannapolis in the form of Luis Gonzalez, Laz Rivera, Tyler Johnson and Blake Battenfield and they haven’t skipped a beat, excelling in a higher league, creating more late-game drama like we saw from the Dash in the first half of the season.

Here’s 28th round pick Laz Rivera hitting a walk-off grand slam Tuesday night in the 10th inning.

If you want to feel down about the lost development time for Burger, Robert and Dunning, go ahead.  It’s real. Their timetables to the big leagues might be pushed back (although Basabe told me at the Futures Game that Robert “is going to learn very quick.” Store that in the back of your mind when he returns, possibly in the first week in August).  

But if you ask Vizquel about the players he has managed this year,  he believes that many of them are on an accelerated path for the major leagues.

“We’re seeing a lot of explosive players who can go through the system and maybe surprise some people and be in the big leagues a little sooner than people expected,”  Vizquel said in a phone interview.

Who is Vizquel speaking about?  Let’s start with Cease who started the year in Winston-Salem. Vizquel likened him to Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he went there.

“A guy I can compare (Cease) with, I would say he’s a Justin Verlander type.  I was with Justin the last four years in Detroit and obviously he’s one of the most veteran pitchers in the game.  Just the way he handles the situation when he’s on the mound, he’s just amazing. What impressed me about Cease was his composure.  The way he takes the mound every time,” Vizquel said. “Obviously, he’s got a really good fastball that can go up to 98, 99, and he can go to 100 pitches and he still has the strength to go out there in the 9th inning and shut people down.  At his age it’s really tough to find guys like that who can handle the pressure and everything that goes around the pitcher’s mound. And he has that.”

Cease and Basabe both played in the Futures Game.  If Robert wasn’t injured, he very likely would have joined them in Washington, DC.   

Basabe made a big splash in the game, drilling a 102 mph pitch from Reds prospect Hunter Greene deep into the right field seats.   The third player in the Chris Sale trade, Basabe battled a knee injury last season. Healthy this year, he’s showing off all the tools and promise the White Sox were expecting.

“He’s one of those guys who can run balls down in every outfield position.  We used him in every spot. Right, center and left. With his speed and his arm he can play anywhere.  He can hit the ball with power, he can hit consistently for average,” Vizquel said about Basabe. “He can be one of those players who can change the game with one at-bat.  He can bunt, he can hit for power and he can also steal a base. When you have a player that is complete in every aspect of the game, he can be a really good player for anybody.”

Basabe and Joel Booker have both had big comeback seasons.  Booker has been a revelation, raising eyebrows in the White Sox farm system.

“Joel Booker is the most underrated guy we have,”  Cease said during an interview before the Futures Game.

Booker was named the MVP of the Carolina League All-Star Game, got promoted to Birmingham where he’s leading off for the Barons, hitting ahead of fellow outfielder Basabe.

“(Booker) is another guy who has the same tools that Basabe has, except he’s a little faster than Basabe,”  Vizquel said. “I think he wasn’t being mentioned too much in the White Sox organization because there are so many high top prospects here that he probably gets lost in that group of people.  Obviously, when the game starts you can see that he’s one of those players who can bring a lot of attention. He can steal bases, he can hit the ball hard. Even though he’s a leadoff guy he can hit the ball a long way.  He’s a guy who is still learning the game and I think because he hasn’t played baseball that long, people overlook him a little bit, but he’s going to be a great player, too."

When Booker got promoted to Birmingham, that opened up a spot in the Winston-Salem outfield for Luis Gonzalez.  The White Sox 3rd round pick from 2017 immediately became one of the Dash’s best players.

“Luis Gonzalez is one of these guys who can hit in every spot in the lineup.  He’s a good leadoff guy and is very aggressive with the count. He likes to swing the bat.  As a matter of fact, he got mad at me because I don’t let him hit in the 3-hole sometimes. He can tell you that he’s ready to swing at every pitch,”  Vizquel said about Gonzalez who is slashing .306/.349/.449 in 22 games in Winston-Salem.

“He’s a left-handed hitter who doesn’t care if he has a left-handed pitcher on the mound.  He still sticks his nose in there and he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time. That’s who I have at the top of the lineup right now and he’s another player who’s learning the game real quick.  Even in his young age, he looks like a veteran out there.”

But wait, there’s more.  Outfielder Blake Rutherford who the White Sox acquired in the Todd Frazier/David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle trade last July, has quickly made people forget about his struggles in Kannapolis last year (.213/.289/.254 in 30 games).  This year in a higher league, he’s been one of its top hitters (.300/.345/.459), ranking 2nd in RBIs and 4th in hits.

“Rutherford is a guy who is really young too.  I love to have him with runners in scoring position because he can bring an RBI anytime,” Vizquel said about the Dash right fielder who turned 21 in May and is batting .343 with 57 RBIs with RISP.  “He’s a guy who makes contact. He’s going to be good. He’s another great outfielder, not as good as defensively as (Booker and Gonzalez), but he still does have great tools to be out there playing everyday.”

When it comes to starting pitching, Cease, Dunning, Hansen and Michael Kopech get most of the attention in the minor leagues.  But there are some other pitchers making names for themselves this year. Left-hander Bernardo Flores has combined for a 2.56 ERA in 109 innings for Winston-Salem and Birmingham. Since being called up to Double-A, Jimmy Lambert is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA.  He flirted with a no-hitter in his last start against the Cubs AA team, giving up 1 hit over 7 innings with 10 strikeouts.

“He’s gross,”  Cease said about Lambert.  “He throws his fastball 92 to 95. Disgusting change-up.  He can throw 15 change-ups in an inning and he’ll get 11 swings and misses on it.

Good curveball and slider.  He’s gross.”

Cease and Lambert are now throwing to catcher Zack Collins, who leads the Southern League with a .409 on-base percentage and 77 walks.  The next closest in the league in walks has 53.

We know Collins can hit and get on base.  What about his defense?

“From when I threw to him during spring training to now he’s like almost a new guy,”  Cease said about Collins. “He’s framing well, calling a good game and blocking and that’s all you need from a catcher.”

In Charlotte, there’s 23-year-old reliever Ian Hamilton, who got called up last month and gave up only 2 hits in his first 6.2 IP with 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. His fastball can hit 98 mph and he has a hard slider that can reach 90.  He’s a possible future closer for the White Sox.

He also has a teammate named Eloy Jimenez.  I hear he’s having a big season as well.

In a perfect world, every White Sox prospect listed here will stay healthy, all of them will max out their potential, and in the coming years they’ll win every World Series title from 2020 to 2023.

But life isn’t perfect, especially in baseball.  Too much can go wrong, and often does.

The way to withstand the inevitable setbacks is by stocking your organization with waves of talent.  For a long time, you could only find ripples of this in the White Sox farm system.

Now in Winston-Salem, it’s surf’s up!   The hope is that one day they’ll be hangin’ ten from Kannapolis to Chicago.

For now, Omar Vizquel is handing out longboards to his first-place Dash who have been the class of the Carolina League.  

If he can create a winning culture like he experienced with the Cleveland Indians in the 1990’s, and have that success flow upstream into the big leagues,  the future at 35th and Shields will be very bright.

“I’m glad that I have this opportunity to be involved with all these young bright stars and make a difference and teach them the right way to play fundamental baseball and just play the game the right way,”  Vizquel said. “It’s something that I learned with all my years of experience. I think we’ve been trying to let these guys know how to play the right way and I think it’s paying off.”