White Sox

White Sox prep to play during COVID-19: 'We don't know what tomorrow holds'

White Sox prep to play during COVID-19: 'We don't know what tomorrow holds'

That, less than a week away from the start of a second round of spring training, we’re still talking about aspects of the 2020 season with “ifs” instead of “whens” should be all the illustration you need.

Major League Baseball has a huge hurdle to clear in staging even a shortened campaign in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. There will most likely be some alarming numbers later this week, when players start testing positive for COVID-19.

The NBA and NHL recently experienced a roughly 5-percent positive rate when those leagues tested their players returning after a three-month layoff. But with 1,800 baseball players showing up to big league camps and alternate training sites across the country, even if the percentage is the same, the number will be much higher.

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Sixteen positive tests in the NBA might not have set off nationwide alarm bells. What about around 100 positive tests in baseball?

That number could be even bigger considering the number of players coming from their homes in Florida, Arizona and Texas, where the number of COVID-19 infections is surging.

The rise in cases in those states and many others has given new fuel to the argument that it might not be a good idea for a U.S. pro sports league to stage a season in the middle of a pandemic. Players have been adamant that they want to get back to work. But should they?

“If you would have asked me that question a week ago, it would have been a resounding ‘yes.’ But you see how different things can change with the virus over a short amount of time,” White Sox catcher James McCann said Friday. “We don’t really know what tomorrow holds. You see what’s going on in states like Texas and Florida right now. You just hope and pray that things start to slow down.”

“But I think we are at a point now, the point of no return. If we don’t start now, I don’t think it’s possible to get a season in.

“The measures the league and union have taken to create the health and safety protocol, it’s the best we are going to get. We can’t sit around and wait and think the virus is going to disappear. The virus is going to be here. We put the safety measures in place and have the players abiding by those rules and do everything they can to keep themselves healthy and their teammates healthy.”

Even as the league and the union were still trying to figure out if there would be a season or not — a discussion that made money the priority instead of the players’ health and safety — there were positive tests popping up around the game. The Philadelphia Phillies experienced an outbreak at their spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida. So, too, did the Toronto Blue Jays at their facility in Dunedin, Florida. The Colorado Rockies had multiple players test positive, including All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon. The Texas Rangers had several people test positive after their front-office employees were required to return to work.

And this is all before the testing of players reporting to camp even begins.

The White Sox, according to general manager Rick Hahn, had experienced no positive tests among players or staff when he spoke with the media last Thursday, though Hahn mentioned that the intake for the second round of spring training had not yet begun.

RELATED: Lucas Giolito on MLB's 60-game season: 'Every single game's a must-win'

Playing amid a pandemic has been something that’s been talked about in the abstract, but it’s finally about to start happening in practice. Three weeks of camp, beginning later this week, will yield to a sprint of a season that features 60 games in 66 days.

Even with a health-and-safety document containing more than 100 pages’ worth of preventative measures — including that ban on spitting you’ve heard so much about, plus social-distancing practices on the field, in the clubhouse and in the dugout — the numbers that are about to start coming out of camps around the league are going to be worrisome for those involved.

“I don't think anyone feels 100 percent comfortable going in. We are dealing with a pandemic in this country,” White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “I know that I've done pretty much everything I can here at home to stay away from it and practice the right kind of social distancing. I'd hope that a lot of my teammates have, as well.

“I feel like the protocols in place for when we are at the field are very, very strict. … My biggest worry is what players are doing away from the field. I know that I'm just going to be going home and back to my apartment, playing video games, passing the time before I get to go back to the field, go back to work again. I want to make sure us as a team, every player is following the correct guidelines and we are staying as safe as possible while we are taking these risks.”

As Giolito mentioned, just because there are a ton of safety measures in place doesn’t mean the players' safety is assured. It will be generally up to players to be responsible away from the field. Will they forego the typical behavior of people their age, staying away from bars, restaurants and other crowded locations? Saturday in Wrigleyville, many 20- and 30-somethings did not. In Florida and Texas, bars opened only to close again amid the surge in cases in those states.

Socially distanced mound visits, players sitting in the stands instead of the dugout, replacing baseballs more frequently, that’s all well and good. But even in baseball — not a body-to-body contact sport like basketball or football — it’s impossible to always keep a safe distance.

“I don’t care how many safety measures are put in place. As a catcher, I have an umpire behind me and a hitter in the box. That’s not six feet apart from each other,” McCann said. “To be able to have the trust in each other and pitchers throwing the ball and if he’s been out the night before doing something and catches something, the next thing you know the entire infield is fielding ground balls off the bat and touching the same thing pitchers have been touching.

“There are so many unknowns. I think the biggest thing is preaching to each other to control what you can control. Be smart and take care of the stuff off the field as best as you can.”

RELATED: Why Rick Hahn believes 60-game season is 'absolutely' legitimate for White Sox

McCann and Giolito are both showing up to camp on the South Side. But they’re taking it seriously enough that they’re leaving their family members behind. Giolito’s wife is studying in veterinary medicine and won’t be accompanying him to Chicago. McCann’s young children will be staying behind in Tennessee.

The players are going back to work. But the pandemic remains top of mind.

And so we will continue to use “ifs” in place of “whens.” If players can behave responsibility and not bring COVID-19 into their clubhouses. If the positive tests this week include star players, who would then have to miss most if not all of the second round of spring training. If baseball’s health and safety measures are strict enough.

If baseball can complete the season.

Like McCann said, “We don’t really know what tomorrow holds.”


Ozzie Guillén hates Nick Swisher, with his whole heart

Ozzie Guillén hates Nick Swisher, with his whole heart

If you didn't know, Ozzie Guillén has strong opinions and that includes former players he dealt with.

On the White Sox post-game show, host Chuck Garfien asked Guillén who he disliked more, Carlos Gomez or Nick Swisher.

"Oh my God, nobody can compare that with Nick Swisher," Guillén responded. "I hate Nick Swisher with my heart."

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Guillén declined to elaborate, but then added: "I think he hates me back, there's nothing wrong with that."

And finally Ozzie gave some kind of reason.

"I never talked to him, I was managing him, but I don't like the way his attitude was all fake. And I don't like fake people."

Then Chuck pointed out Swisher was only with the White Sox for one year and Guillén had thoughts about that to.

"It was one year too long," Guillén said.

Guillén doubled down and said he thinks others players would agree if they were honest, while clarifying he didn't hate him as a person and thought he was a good player.

The White Sox way wasn't the Swisher way, and there was friction.

Ozzie also admitted he might of misused Swisher.

"I played him center field and batting first or second, that guy has to be in right field batting tenth."


White Sox end streak, stay confident: 'We are going to do the pushing around'

White Sox end streak, stay confident: 'We are going to do the pushing around'

The White Sox winning streak is over.

So why was Danny Mendick so chipper after a 1-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night?

His three hits might have had something to do with it. He was just about the only offense the White Sox mustered against Adrian Houser and a pair of relievers.

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But it seemed to stem more from the different feeling surrounding this year's White Sox team.

Mendick got a taste, however small, of the rebuilding years at the tail end of the 2019 season. After Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jiménez broke out the way they did during that campaign, Rick Hahn's front office complemented them with a host of impact veteran additions during the offseason. Throw it all together, and these White Sox have the look of a potential contender, something backed up by the way they played during their six-game win streak.

That's over now, though Wednesday's game had the same kind of playoff feel that the first two games against the Brewers did on Monday and Tuesday nights. The White Sox might not have played any games that felt like these in the last three years. Now there have been three in three nights.

So yeah, something's changed.

"I’ll tell you what, just the energy in the clubhouse," Mendick said Wednesday, asked about the difference between 2019 and 2020. "When we show up to the field, there’s more confidence.

"It’s not like we are going to get pushed around. It’s more like we are going to do the pushing around.

"Everyone is just prepared. Everyone shows up to the field ready. They know the opponent. We know what they are going to bring. I feel there’s just more, how do I say this, more education. We have more veterans. We have guys who are really focused on baseball, and it brings a lot to everybody."

RELATED: White Sox manager Rick Renteria finally has talent — and knows what to do with it

The six-game win streak turned the White Sox slow 1-4 start around in a hurry. In this shortened, 60-game season, every game means so much and even modest winning or losing streaks could tug the entire season in one direction or the other. The White Sox went from getting their brains beat in by the class of the AL Central to the third best record in the American League as of Wednesday morning.

They've showed what they're capable of, too. They blew out the Kansas City Royals, scoring a combined 20 runs and knocking out a total of 35 hits in back-to-back wins last weekend. Then they went to Milwaukee and won a pair of nail-biters, getting clutch hits from José Abreu and Jiménez to back strong efforts by the bullpen Monday and Giolito on Tuesday.

Wednesday, it was one of those newly arrived veterans, Dallas Keuchel, who shone. He logged seven one-run innings, the first White Sox starter to pitch in the seventh inning this season. If it weren't for the unusually cool conditions on the South Side, the outcome might have been different. Luis Robert and Moncada dialed up back-to-back deep fly balls in the eighth inning that both could have easily gone as go-ahead homers on a normal summer night.

The clutch hits could have kept on coming. And the knowledge of being competitive — the "belief," as Giolito keeps putting it — prevented the White Sox from feeling down after another fine effort Wednesday. It will likely do so every night for the remainder of this short season.

"The thing that probably has impressed me the most is the resiliency of the club," Hahn said Wednesday. "Obviously, those of us who have watched this team over the last several years, and certainly in the early phase of the rebuild, knew that feeling that you would get early or midway through games where you would feel the lead was perhaps insurmountable. I think looking at this club through the first 10 or 11 games so far, it feels like we're not out of any ballgame, regardless of what the deficit may be.

"I think that's a great testament to not just the veterans that have been brought in, but the growth of the young guys and the mentality I'm sure you've all picked up on going back to (spring training in) Glendale."

Part of the reason additions like Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnación looked so good during the winter was the playoff experience these guys have. While the White Sox core doesn't know what it's like to win at the big league level — not even Abreu does, who played for six losing White Sox teams before signing a new multi-year deal in the offseason — these guys do. They're all veterans of pennant races and playoff runs that go all the way to the end of October. Keuchel's got a World Series ring on his resume.

Experience with the highs and lows of a winning season might not be quite as valuable in this most unusual of seasons. But before the White Sox can be championship contenders, they actually need to do some winning. After a combined 284 losses in the last three seasons, even a six-game winning streak can mean a lot.

But whether they won or lost Wednesday, it didn't seem like the result was going to sway their belief. These White Sox are here to compete and live up to the high expectations they set for themselves dating all the way back to the end of an 89-loss season in 2019.

"We've been hot, and eventually it's going to come to an end. But man, we were right in the ballgame. That's all we can ask for," Keuchel said. "Game in, game out, we know that we're going to be in those contests.

"If we can win series, that's a playoff recipe."