Ozzie Guillen had a famous saying about A.J. Pierzynski that you’ve probably heard before.
"If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."
It would be hard for any player to match Pierzynski’s reputation, who was (and continues to be) beloved in Chicago but was booed and despised in almost every other MLB city.
And yet, here comes Tim Anderson.
“When you play against him, you kind of want to fight him all the time,” White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel said Wednesday.
Keuchel has experience playing against Anderson and now he is teammates with him, seeing a different side of the White Sox shortshop that won the American League batting title last year.
“He’s definitely misunderstood,” Keuchel said.
Comparing Anderson to Pierzynski isn’t exactly apples to apples. Pierzynski’s reputation was a little more convoluted, while Anderson just likes to have fun with general disregard for baseball’s outdated “unwritten” rules. His bat flips catch the attention of much needed younger sports fans, yet also seem to trigger just as many old-school players around the league. Just ask Royals pitcher Brad Keller.
Keuchel now has the perspective of being on the same team as Anderson and he means well when he says the opposition wants to fight his new teammate.
“That's not necessarily a bad thing, because you see the passion he plays with, you see how much he loves the game,” Keuchel said. “It definitely gets under your skin, which can help him.”
The former Astros and Braves pitcher even had examples.
“I remember a few times where we'd be going over the scouting report and (the report said) you can go in this area if you're ahead of the count, or if you're behind in the count, you can go in this area,” Keuchel said. “And then all the sudden I'm going in those areas and he's pulling a groundball double down the line and I'm just dumbfounded. But now I see where he's at. His mindset, the way he's trying to be more knowledgeable about the game about his at-bats.”
The White Sox hope Anderson picks up where he left off last season, and he’s showing early signs of that, even delivering a signature bat flip – er, throw – in an intrasquad game. But at this point, Anderson has earned the right to flip, even if opposing pitchers hate it.
“That's where you get the true professional,” Keuchel said. “You put the talent with the mindset and the knowledge to get better and you're sitting pretty, you're sitting with a batting title, you're sitting with respect around the league. I think he's going to be a force to reckon with and someone who some of the younger guys can even learn from.”
When forward Alex Nylander came to the Blackhawks last offseason in a trade that sent Henri Jokiharju — a young and promising defenseman for Chicago — to the Buffalo Sabres, Blackhawks fans and media were left scratching their heads.
Then, Nylander scored the Hawks' first goal of the season in their first game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague.
Throughout the season the winger would show flashes of offensive brilliance that occasionally earned him ice time among the Blackhawks' top forwards like Patrick Kane.
But as soon as we would feel remorse for doubting the trade and his abilities, Nylander would cough up the puck or hesitate in the midst of a quality scoring chance immediately after.
The 22-year-old is using the NHL's Return To Play program as an opportunity to show growth and dependability in his game.
Nylander was one of few Hawks that regularly participated in Phase 2's small group voluntary workouts. Teammates are already noticing his game in Phase 3's training camp, which began on Monday.
"Nylander, I thought, looked really good. He’s quick, he’s firing the puck and he’s a lot of fun to play with," Hawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's practice.
When asked about Strome's comments on Wednesday, Alex said he's confident in how he's performed in camp, but wants to reach another level for the Blackhawks' big postseason opportunity.
"I feel pretty good right now, been getting those skates in before in Phase 2 which was huge. I feel really good here in camp, but I want to be prepared because this is obviously going to be my first playoffs," Nylander said. "Like Stromer said, I started playing really well at the end of the season, especially with Stromer and Kane, good chemistry and stuff like that and kind of building on that and keep it going for the playoffs, it's going to be huge."
The Blackhawks will be playing the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton. Before the qualifying round starts, the Hawks will take on the St. Louis Blues July 29 in an exhibition game.
"We have huge games there obviously and we just need to be as ready as possible," Nylander said. "It was nice to get to know (teammates) and play with them in Phase 2, so we got to know each other better off the ice and on the ice, so just keep carrying it on every day in training camp and working hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs."
Nylander had 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games with the Hawks before the NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.