White Sox

Yonder Alonso on bringing Manny Machado closer to SoxFest, team's chances in 2019

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USA TODAY

Yonder Alonso on bringing Manny Machado closer to SoxFest, team's chances in 2019

Manny Machado might not be at SoxFest in person. He’s at his home this weekend in Miami. But to fans holding out hope that the White Sox will ultimately be able to sign the supremely talented free agent so much on the minds of White Sox fans, I have some news for you.

Machado IS at SoxFest. He’s here all weekend, inside the pocket of his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso.

“We’ve been texting,” Alonso said on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

Alonso then took out his phone and saw another text coming from Machado.

“Yeah, that’s him right there.”

Earlier on Friday, just as SoxFest was beginning, Alonso brought Machado even closer to the action to give him a taste of what he’s missing.

“I FaceTimed him earlier when we got introduced (in the opening ceremonies) with me and [Yoan] Moncada and [José] Abreu,”  Alonso said. “We talked, said hello.”

I asked Alonso point blank, what are the chances that Machado eventually signs with the White Sox?

“Probably as much of a chance that you feel, is the way I feel,” he said.

I feel 50-50, but when you hear Alonso talk about the importance of family, his tight bond with Machado and the funny coincidences that have occurred during this offseason with him, Machado and the White Sox, it’s difficult to ignore the intangibles that have helped the White Sox go from longshot to legitimate contender in the Machado sweepstakes.

For one, when Alonso found out he got traded from the Indians to the White Sox on Dec. 15, Alonso disclosed that he was out to dinner with Machado, of all people.  

“Me, my wife, my dad and mom, my sister and Manny (who are married) were having dinner and I get a call from (Indians President) Chris Antonetti from Cleveland and he’s like, ‘You’ve just been traded,’” Alonso said. “We had a talk and he hadn’t told me the team yet. So, what team am I going to? He says, ‘Well, you’re going to the White Sox.’ I’m like, what? No way.”

Machado, who was already being heavily courted by the White Sox, watched this entire phone conversation unfold from across the table with curious interest.

What was his reaction to the White Sox essentially doubling down on their pursuit of Machado, by acquiring his brother-in-law?

“He was pumped. My sister was pumped. They were like, 'No way.' Then a week later he came here (for his visit with the White Sox). So it’s been a pretty crazy offseason,” Alonso said.

But the coincidences don’t end there. They’re just beginning.

Four weeks later, Alonso and his family were in Miami walking to a nearby park with Jon Jay’s family. Alonso, Jay and Machado are all close friends who go way back

“We were just walking to take them all to a park and here is (Jay) having a pretty serious conversation on the phone and he’s just strolling around his kids. The next thing you know he says, ‘Let’s hug it out man. You’re going to be my teammate!’ It was pretty cool. Then obviously we called Manny and let him know. We were all super pumped,” Alonso said.

2019 might be Alonso’s first season with the White Sox, but back in 2008, Alonso thought he could be a member of the White Sox for life.

“The White Sox were on me since college. I actually thought I was going to get drafted by the White Sox. My junior in at Miami, the White Sox were deep on me. I’m like, here we go. I’m going to be on the White Sox,” Alonso said. “I told my parents. I get goose bumps everytime I tell the story. 

"My dad loved Michael Jordan and he loved the Bulls. He was like, 'This is it.' He loved Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, and El Duque [Orlando Hernandez] and all these Cuban guys who came up. We’re Cuban. The White Sox were the thing. It’s the White Sox!”

Unfortunately, fate intervened. Or shall we say, the Cincinnati Reds.

“So here we are, it’s the draft. And the next thing you know, the pick before the White Sox were the Reds and they picked me. And I was like, 'What?' It made no sense at all. Who’s the manager? That was it. Just like that. 

"I was a Red. I would come here to play here and I was like, ‘This could’ve been it.’”

The Reds got Alonso. The White Sox ended up with Gordon Beckham.

Now eleven years later, Alonso’s desire to play for the White Sox has become a reality. And while it’s more than a decade after he was drafted, he believes he’s coming to the South Side at a pivotal time. While playing for the AL Central champion Indians last season, he watched intently as the White Sox, despite losing 100 games, evolved as young players, to the point where they seem ready to make a big leap this season.

Alonso compares the White Sox of 2018 to the days of the week, which is a thing of beauty. One of my favorite quotes of the offseason:

“In April, I saw them and you see them throughout the year and then I saw them in September and you see a real Monday through Friday change and we’re all here waiting for the weekend and the weekend is now. Saturday and Sunday is coming and it’s coming now (for the White Sox). The fun people that are going to play in a concert are coming and they’re here and it’s going to happen,” he said.

“I want to go out on the weekend and have fun. I want to join it. Saturday and Sunday are here and these are the players that we have. I’m just like, I saw such a huge difference of play from Monday through Friday and from April to September that I’m like, this is nice. So when I got traded over here I was like, ‘Yeah, hell yeah. Why not?’  

"I’m really excited about that, because I saw a huge difference of play and a lot of growth with these guys. Now I’m super excited about it.”

He then added, “I think we’re a team that can surprise a lot of people.”

The White Sox have veterans like Alonso and Jay to help lead the young guys. Now, if only they can add his brother-in-law into the mix...

“Do I want them all to play here, yeah, “ Alonso said about Machado and Jay. “Who wouldn’t?”

But if they don’t, Alonso has a message to White Sox fans about the talent that’s already here.  

“Today is the day where we need to respect my teammates, and the guys and the good that we have here. I’m telling you, you (fans) will get spoiled by seeing good baseball and you should appreciate that. What’s wrong with that?  Just enjoy what’s happening here,” he said. “If obviously (Machado) happens, that’s the cake because he’s such a good player. 

"We have a lot of good here and we should focus our attention on so much good we have here, because our fan base is very, very good and our players are very, very good, and I think we’re going to see a change in all this, not only this year but going forward.”

With or without Machado.

Alonso can’t make Machado’s decision for him.  

“It’s hard to get involved in things like that,” he said.

But as we’re seeing this weekend, Machado is only a text or FaceTime call away. And Alonso is doing whatever he can to help bring his brother-in-law to the South Side.

As Mr. Rogers famously asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

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Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

"Even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

White Sox fans probably have some varying opinions on that statement, but it was an unexpected laugh-worthy line in Rick Renteria's public service announcement encouraging folks to participate in this year's U.S. census.

In an otherwise standard pep talk from the South Side skipper, he assured every Chicago resident and every White Sox fan that they deserve to be counted in the every-10-years tally of the national population.

But even the manager had to chuckle when he got to this line: "I mean, even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

Renteria has repeatedly expressed his lack of ill will toward his former employer on the other side of town and his gratitude for the Cubs giving him his first big league managerial job.

But a little neighborly ribbing between the two Chicago squads is always welcome. And in this case, it's for an important cause.

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Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts

Neal Cotts was one of the stars of the 2005 White Sox bullpen, the top lefty in Ozzie Guillen’s relief corps.

Remember that guy?

Neal James Cotts celebrated his 40th birthday a week ago; he was born March 25, 1980 in Lebanon, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. A Lebanon High School product, he attended Illinois State and as a second round pick by the Oakland A’s (69th overall). At the time, Cotts was the second highest drafted player in ISU history, after Dave Bergman (second round, 36th overall in 1974).

Cotts started his pro career in 2001, posting a 2.73 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 66 innings across Vancouver (low-A) and Visalia (high-A). The next year for Modesto (high-A), he was 12-6 with a 4.12 ERA but struck out well over a batter an inning (178 K in 137.2 IP). He looked promising, if only he could cut down his walk totals (5.7 BB/9).

On Dec. 3, 2002, the White Sox traded Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson, Joe Valentine and cash to the A’s for Billy Koch and a player to be named later – Cotts – whom Oakland sent to the Sox on Dec. 16.

Cotts was excellent for Birmingham (AA) in 2003 and even started for the U.S. (under manager Carlton Fisk) in the 2003 Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field. He made his MLB debut Aug. 12, 2003 at the Angels as a starter, going 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, two runs and six walks – including four in the third inning – and one strikeout (Shawn Wooten).

Cotts made four starts for an 8.10 ERA and was sent back down at the end of August. He had an encouraging minor league season, sporting a 2.16 ERA in 21 starts at Birmingham while striking out 133 in 108 1/3 innings, though the walk totals were still high. He made the transition to the bullpen in 2004, making only one start in 56 appearances. He struggled to adjust to his new role, finishing with a 5.65 ERA while striking out fewer than a batter an inning.

What happened in 2005, however, nobody would see coming.

Cotts walked a batter in each of his first four appearances of 2005 (five in three innings), but then walked only two over his next 13 games (10 2/3 innings). His positive roll continued, though he allowed three runs in his last appearance before the All-Star break to inflate his ERA to 2.86. He was nearly unhittable down the stretch, posting a 0.70 ERA in 35 games (25 2/3 innings) after the Midsummer Classic. He finished his season with a 1.94 ERA in 60 1/3 innings with 13 holds and a pair of saves, allowing just one home run.

Of 271 pitchers to toss at least 60 innings in 2005, Cotts’ home run rate (0.15 per nine innings) was the lowest. Here’s a fun fact: the highest home run rate (2.56) belonged to Ezequiel Astacio, with 23 in 81 innings. He was the pitcher who allowed Geoff Blum’s 14th inning blast in Game 3 of the World Series.

In the 2005 postseason, Cotts became the answer to a fun trivia question: who was the only White Sox reliever used in the ALCS? He retired two batters in relief of Jose Contreras in Game 1. Then the Sox cranked out four straight complete games. Cotts (1 1/3 innings, no runs) and Bobby Jenks (5 innings, two runs) were the two White Sox pitchers who saw work in all four games of the World Series sweep.

Like Cliff Politte, Cotts couldn’t find the same magic in 2006, as he posted a 5.17 ERA in 70 games. After the season, he was involved in what seemed like the rarest of trades – the crosstown swap between the White Sox and Cubs. The White Sox received pitchers David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez in return.

The southpaw reliever from Southern Illinois shuffled between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa over the next three seasons, though in 2008 he became the second hurler (after Bob Howry) to pitch for both the White Sox and Cubs in the postseason (Clayton Richard would later join them).

Cotts received the dreaded Tommy John diagnosis in mid-2009 and underwent elbow surgery in July. To make matters worse, the reliever had four hip surgeries starting in 2010. He tried to latch on with the Pirates in 2010 and the Yankees in 2011, but injuries wouldn’t allow him to throw a single pitch over a two-year span.

Cotts resurfaced in the Rangers organization in 2012 and finally worked his way back to the majors in 2013. On May 21, he threw his first major league pitch since May 25, 2009 in a remarkable story of perseverance. Not only did Cotts make it back, he turned in a career year, posting a remarkable 1.11 ERA in 58 games (57 innings). Of 330 pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, only Koji Uehara (1.09) of the Red Sox was better.

Cotts struck out 65 batters that season and allowed fewer than a baserunner an inning (0.947 WHIP) for the only time in his MLB career. He regressed in 2014 (4.32 ERA in a career-high 73 games) and spent 2015 with the Brewers and, after an August trade, the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 68 games.

The next two seasons saw Cotts sign with the Astros, Angels, Yankees, Rangers and Nationals, but he was unable to find his way back to the majors. He finished his MLB career with a 3.96 ERA in 483 games over 10 seasons. He had some ups and downs, but in 2005 Cotts was instrumental to the White Sox improbable World Series run.

You remember that guy.