White Sox

Model Behavior

Model Behavior

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I hate the Mets! Its funny where your mind will wander to while you're in the middle of a thousand-mile drive. That I was trying to achieve the distance in one day should come as no surprise to any of you. The experience of driving through Nebraska, which I was doing for the first time, can as be mind-numbing as any drive I have ever made. No wonder they're crazy about their college football team, anything to take your mind off of where you are. While the kids are watching "College Road Trip" for the 1000th time that I can remember in the car, I start to mentally check out and let the 'white line fever', and the caffeine buzz, take effect. For some reason, I started thinking about the Mets starting pitcher, R.A. Dickey. I must be losing it! As you know, ordinarily I wouldn't give a pitcher from the Mets a second thought, but this guy is definitely different. The most obvious difference being that he's a knuckleballer. You know, the pitch that guys who are on the way out, try in a last-ditch effort to hang on to the Major League dream. 99.9 don't make it, the foray with the most unconventional, and un-manly, pitch being the last act of a truly desperate man. But for Dickey, his knuckler has not only got him to remain in the bigs, it has allowed him to flourish and has been the most confounding pitch thrown in the Majors this year.

That gets me thinking of the ultimate, in my mind, tale of a knuckleballer, and that is "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. About the one-time Yankees whiz-kid who was hanging on by a thread, and his finger-tips, to his Major League dream. Was that a cop?

Anyway, Dickey's success this year has been shocking. A pedestrian, at best, pitcher during his very undistinguished career, he is living every kid's dream of dominating Major League hitters and being the toast of baseball. All of this at the ripe old age of 37, well past the time that many of his fellow under-achievers have hung it up.

Of course, this success has led the media to ask the question: Who is this R.A. Dickey??

As expected, with any knuckleballer, he's got quite a story. He was a young pitching hot-shot, who was drafted in the first round of the amateur draft by the Texas Rangers in the 1996 draft. He was offered big money to sign, and just needed a physical to get his cash. It was during this physical that it was discovered that he did not possess an ulnar collateral ligament -whatever that is!- in his pitching elbow. Bye-bye bonus! Thus began his nomadic professional existence. In 2006 he committed to the pitch full time and the Rangers gave him an opportunity in their rotation. After giving up 6 long-balls in his first start, that opportunity was gone and sent him off on his journey bouncing up and down between the Majors and minors. This led to his coming to my despised rival in 2010. That was his breakout year, where he proved that he and his bag of tricks could be a serviceable Major Leaguer.

But like everyone else, I didn't really notice, because sports are full of guys that hang on for a while and then are gone and, oh, did I mention he's a Met?! But, his pitching this year has made sure that we find out who he is and this is where it gets interesting. The first thing that struck me was that he was an English Lit major while he attended the University of Tennessee. That was not a typo. (Sorry, couldn't help myself. Easy shot, but I had to take it!) So right off the bat, this is not your ordinary ballplayer.

One of the first things that comes up when you google him is that, he climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro this past off-season to raise money and awareness in the battle against human trafficking.

At this point he really gets my interest because here is someone who is willing to risk quite a bit for something he believes in. Something that in this world is a large issue, but one you don't necessarily hear about a lot here in the States.

But what really struck home, especially now, is him coming out this year and talking about how he was sexually abused growing up and how he has fought to overcome the mental obstacles this abuse has caused. Unfortunately this topic has my attention because of the ongoing Penn State scandal. I can't stop wondering how the victims overcome the evil that they were subjected to, and feel some residual guilt because they've had to do it. Being a Penn Stater just doesn't feel the same anymore. In fact, I unwittingly had a Penn State t-shirt on to wear as I drove to Denver. I still feel uncomfortable wearing any Penn State stuff out of the house. Realizing what I had done made me change shirts during the drive. The jury decision was a start in that case, but to hear Dickey talk what he still goes through makes me feel for the Penn State victims even more.

More too is my respect for Dickey. It can't be easy to bare your soul of uncomfortable things in front of everyone. But I have to imagine that his doing so, in some way, has to help others that have suffered the same injustice.

He's one athlete that you could say is a good role model. I understand the whole Barkley thing about how we put athletes on a pedestal and we shouldn't treat people who we have never met as our ultimate heroes. Barkley is especially correct in his own case. While I love him, the only one who Sir Charles should be a role model for is Joey Chestnut! (1) I have to make a Chestnut reference in my first July blog every year after he dominates the field once again on Coney Island. 2) I don?t believe the Barkley weight-watcher thing. His weight is going to snap back to where it was faster than you can say Frankie O. I know a fellow food-lover when I see one!)

It's impossible for us to watch others in the public eye and not develop feelings. Hopefully we choose the right ones.

More importantly, and to Barkley's famous point, we should be lucky enough to find and surround ourselves with others that are more worth emulating. Even someone as cynical as I am knows these folks are all around us. It's a matter of whether we are fortunate enough to find them.

For me, it started with my son and the people that have come into my life since he was born. Unfortunately he was born with a very rare skin disorder. Rare enough that we have met only a handful of people in this country that also have the same disorder.

But, fortunately, through his doctor (Needless to say, one of my favorite people ever!), we were able to meet many other families that were going through very similar circumstances. There are a group of disorders that fall under the description of being an Ichthyosis. These disorders, currently a total of 28, are brought together by the Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types (F.I.R.S.T. www.firstskinfoundation.org) It is an organization that brings together doctors, families, researchers and anyone else who wants to help.

For my family, this organization means the world. Having a child born with something that would be considered a disorder, or disease or illness that has no cure can very intimidating. Actually, it starts out as being suffocating. The weight of it is always there and you know that it is not going away.

It takes a while, mentally, for a parent to come to grips with that thought. It has a way of offering a new perspective of a lot of things that go on in everyday life. Call it a forced adjustment of priorities. But soon enough, you are able to move on. And thank goodness for that, since, who wants to stay in that place?

Like everything else in life, it helps when you can meet people on a similar path. Every two years we are able to do that when F.I.R.S.T. has a family conference. It's an opportunity to bond with old friends and begin relationships with new ones. It also affords the ability to meet with the leading Pediatric Dermatologists in the country to make sure we are on the right path. Within this we also can find out about the scientific advancements that hopefully hold the key to a better future.

To be honest, it can be a whirlwind and an incredibly emotional time.

But I always come away with the same thoughts and feelings. I'm truly in awe of being around such special people. It is so reaffirming to know that there are people that are motivated to help others live a better life. It makes me think that I better get my butt in gear to keep the line moving. (Thank you, Ed Farmer!)

I know there is more that I can do to help, and I might have to ask you to help me do it. But that will come in a little while.

Driving back from Denver and the Rocky Mountains, a place that even in spite of an all-time heat wave and awful wildfires, that my family and I completely fell in love with, (Come into the bar and I will tell you all about the sheer terror, panic, euphoria and majesty of getting to the summit of Mt. Evans! )my mind started to wander again due to the monotony of the Nebraska leg once again.

I started thinking about the people from the conference. I also was reminded of Dickey. I was struck by the fact that both do a lot of good for a lot of people by being driven by the idea of making a difference. Because Dickey is famous he can be looked at as a role model, and a very good one at that. But I realized that the group of folks that I and my family just spent the weekend with, although they will never get the public recognition, should be looked upon the very same way.

We should all be so lucky to have those type of people in our lives. I know I am.

And then another thought comes into my mind as I set my cruise-control a little higher and it brings a smile to my face: I still hate the Mets!!

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

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USA TODAY

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox best reliever through the first 42 games of this rebuilding season? Undoubtedly, it’s been Jace Fry.

With Rick Renteria’s bullpen hardly the most reliable relief corps the game has ever seen, Fry has been a revelation, starting his 2018 campaign with 7.1 scoreless innings over six appearances.

And now things are getting a bit more dramatic for the 24-year-old lefty, a guy who’s been through a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He pitched some high-leverage ball in Saturday night’s 5-3 win, sitting down all four hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings while protecting a two-run lead.

“I was ready the whole game, just waiting for my name to be called,” Fry said. “But it was awesome getting in there in the eighth inning, even getting the first guy in the ninth inning. After I got him I was kind of hoping he’d let me keep going.”

Renteria uses his bullpen in a non-traditional manner, one that perhaps he thinks is a way of the future or one that’s a result of his lack of dominant options out there. Whichever it is, he doesn’t really have a closer but rather a host of guys he uses in those high-leverage situations, whenever they might come during the late stages of a game. Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Bruce Rondon have all been used to get big outs late in games, and Rondon threw a scoreless seventh Saturday, with Jones getting the game’s final two outs for the save.

But it could be argued that most difficult outs were recorded by Fry, who put away the visiting Texas Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters before getting the seventh hitter to strike out to start off the ninth.

Renteria steered away from dubbing Fry one of his new high-leverage guys after the game, but why wouldn’t Fry be in that mix? All he’s done since joining the big league squad earlier this month is get outs. He’s got 10 strikeouts, hasn’t allowed a hit and has just two walks as the lone blemishes on an otherwise perfect season line.

“It just happens to be that it was the eighth inning and the ninth that he pitched,” Renteria said. “I think he’s looking very comfortable in those. It happens to be the eighth and ninth we needed him. He’s been very, very effective. He’s been commanding the strike zone very well, confidently approaching his hitters. He’s got pretty good stuff.

“He’s able to command the zone. Along with that nice breaking ball he’s got to lefties and righties, it’s pretty effective. But he’s continuing to show you he’s capable of coming in and getting some pretty good hitters.”

Fry has been a rarity this season in that he’s appeared to be a candidate for a long-term spot in the White Sox bullpen. Jones would perhaps be the only other guy coming close to qualifying for that, mostly because of his team-friendly contract that keeps him under control a few more years, but he’s had some rough moments, even with his ERA dropping to 3.50 on Saturday.

Fry, though, is young and is dealing at the moment. He even got a shoutout as a potential long-term piece from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week.

“Take Jace Fry, someone we haven’t mentioned when we’ve had this conversation the last couple of weeks,” Hahn said Thursday, discussing the positives he’s seen during this developmental season. “He’s shown up here and shown that he’s made some progress in his last stint in the minors and now, at age 24, seems like he’s ready to take that next step, and pencil his name in as part of what we’re building here going forward.”

There’s a lot of season left, and no one’s expecting Fry to keep batters hitless and opposing teams scoreless from now through the end of September. But this is a nice development for the rebuilding White Sox at the moment, a guy who’s giving them at least one name to put into that bullpen of the future.

How long can he keep this thing going? As long as he keeps getting ahead of hitters.

“Having the success is awesome, but I realize it’s the plan, the plan of attack,” Fry said. “I’m going out and throwing Strike 1 and getting ahead. Actually doing it, seeing it and having the process work definitely creates more confidence. Once you go back to the blueprint of baseball, Strike 1 is everything.”

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer getting sent to Triple-A following Friday’s game might be, to this point, the biggest development this season on the South Side.

Fulmer doesn’t carry the same expectations as higher-rated prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen or Dane Dunning, but this is a top-10 draft pick who the White Sox still believe can play a significant role in their bright future. And he’s struggling. Badly. Once his ERA jumped up past 8.00 thanks to his third straight brief and run-filled outing, the White Sox made the decision to send him to Charlotte.

It leaves the White Sox rotation looking like this: James Shields, a struggling Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Hector Santiago and either Chris Volstad or the recently summoned Dylan Covey.

Four of those guys (Shields, Santiago, Volstad and Covey) don’t figure to play a role in the team’s long-term future, and Giolito is dealing with his own significant struggles, leading the American League in walks heading into his Saturday-night start. Lopez has been the rotation’s bright spot, but even he watched his ERA climb more than a full point after allowing six runs in two innings his last time out.

It’s not a great state for the rotation to be in if you, like the White Sox, have your sights set on the long-term future of this team, though it probably won’t look like that for too much longer. Still, it provides a few valuable reminders about not only this rebuilding effort but rebuilds in general.

This season is about development, and this is what development looks like

For better or worse, this is what development looks like. The White Sox own baseball’s worst record, and general manager Rick Hahn has been among the large number of White Sox fans to voice their disappointment over play that has been sloppy at times.

Fulmer’s struggles fall into the same category and serve as a reminder that growing pains like this are going to happen. We’ve seen it with Fulmer. We’ve seen it with Giolito. We’ve seen it with Lopez. Heck, we’ve seen it with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, too.

But more than wins and losses, this is what this season is about. Hahn calls it “the hardest part of the rebuild” because it features guys getting lit up and games being lost. The hope is that Fulmer can figure things out in the minors and that Giolito won’t require a similar demotion to right his ship. And if everything turns out all right, then this will be an easily forgotten chapter in both of those players’ development.

In the moment, though, it’s another reminder that rebuilds take time and that the waiting game provides minimal fun.

Each player’s development has a different trajectory

Just because Fulmer is getting bumped down to Triple-A doesn’t mean he can’t still turn into a successful major league pitcher. Player development and rebuilds aren’t linear, as rebuilders like to say. And to expect every prospect to travel in a straight line from potential to big league stardom doesn't make much sense.

“We reiterate, ‘It’s not the end of your career,’” Renteria said Saturday. “This is simply a reboot, a reset. Ultimately, I think after the initial shock for any player, they settle down and they understand exactly what’s going on when you look at it logically and look in the mirror. I think it’s easy to logically look at it and say, ‘I need to work on x, y and z.’

“This is a good kid with a really positive attitude and a lot of confidence. I think he’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, I got things I can work on, I’ll settle in and get over this initial bump and get to work.’ Those are the guys that end up giving themselves a chance to return sooner rather than later and have success.”

Not all prospects pan out

The other side of that coin is the reminder that not every single one of the White Sox wealth of prospects will pan out. Hahn & Co. have prepared for that and built up an incredible amount of prospect depth, but when someone doesn't live up to expectations, it will be painful.

This isn’t to suggest that Fulmer, specifically, won’t pan out, but it’s to point out that not everyone will. That’s a crowded-looking rotation of the future with Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Fulmer, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all competing for those eventual five spots. Rather than the White Sox having to make tough decisions about who will be left out, certainly a possibility, the developments of those pitchers might make those decisions for them.

Renteria is confident that Fulmer will be back in the big leagues, and there’s little reason to think that this is the end of Fulmer’s opportunity. But not every top-10 pick reaches All-Star status.

The future is on the way

The current starting rotation might have fans asking why the heck it looks like it does. But a month or two from now it will look drastically different.

Rodon makes his first rehab start Saturday at Class A Kannapolis as he battles back from shoulder surgery last fall, and he shouldn’t be too far away from providing a serious jolt to the starting staff. Not to mention, he’s a guy who as good a chance as anyone as grabbing one of those front-end spots, and with him in the rotation, things will look a tad more futuristic.

Same goes for Kopech, whose promotion figures to be coming at some point this summer. Given the hype and the expectations there, his arrival will obviously be a really big deal.

But regardless of the results either Rodon and Kopech put up in their first tastes of major league action in 2018, they’ll make the rotation into something that way more closely resembles the rotation of the future. There’ll be plenty of development left for the Hansens and the Ceases and the Dunnings in the minors. But a rotation featuring Rodon, Kopech, Giolito and Lopez looks a lot different than one featuring Shields, Santiago, Covey and Volstad.

Patience. It’s not much fun. But it’s necessary to build a contender.