White Sox look to regain title form
Outlook positive as pitchers, catchers check in to camp
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Any visitor to the White Sox offices at the Kino Sports Complex can't miss the huge banner hanging just to the right of the front door celebrating the team's 2005 World Series title and one of their many "Grinder Rules" made famous by the championship.
Ozzie Guillen would like to see the spirit live on from both that special season and the intense style of play that brought about the title. But the White Sox manager also would like to see said banner taken down.
"I just saw the White Sox 2005 World Series champs, and I want to get that [stuff] out of there," the White Sox manager said. "I almost did it last year, but [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] wanted to enjoy it a little bit."
As pitchers and catchers officially reported Saturday, Guillen's charges echoed the sentiment expressed by their man in charge. The 2005 season is one to treasure, one that will never be forgotten. But it's time to move on to the task at hand.
This grinder sort of intensity wasn't absent in 2006, as the White Sox battled for a postseason opportunity down to the final weeks of September and won 90 games. But just as a taste of such ultimate success breeds a strong desire for more, not living up to lofty expectations oftentimes can push a team to even greater future heights.
Falling short of winning a second World Series title in three years would be considered below standard for this present White Sox group, judging by their comments even before Saturday's first bullpen session was thrown.
"I can't say anything bad about our club last year. A couple of teams played better than we did," said Guillen, referring to the Tigers and Twins earning playoff spots, more so than the White Sox falling short. "But after we don't do what we're supposed to do, you come back the next year and we're hungrier. The satisfaction is not there. People are satisfied because we won 90 [games], but I don't care."
"You run into almost unrealistic expectations, and that's part of what happens to teams that win," catcher A.J. Pierzynski added. "People expect you to do it again, and when you don't, it's a disappointment. It's almost a no-win situation. You feel like the Yankees -- if they don't win, then it's a disappointment."
Pierzynski, fresh off his latest foray into TNA's world of pro wrestling, comes off a near-.300 effort in 2006. He was joined Saturday by familiar personas such as Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez, comprising four-fifths of what could be one of the steadiest starting rotations in baseball, not to mention a trimmer Bobby Jenks preparing for a run at his second straight season with at least 40 saves.
Quite a few new faces mingled in the White Sox clubhouse before heading out to the field for the first day's work. There were Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, top pitching prospects acquired from Philadelphia in an offseason trade for Freddy Garcia. Floyd is considered the very early frontrunner to earn the fifth starter's slot.
Much like the White Sox overall approach as a team for 2007, the young right-hander is taking nothing for granted.
"I have to earn it," Floyd said. "I'm just going to work real hard and go out there and pitch and do my best. I want to be the fifth starter, but whether it happens or not, it's out of my hands."
Other newcomers included Toby Hall, who joins Pierzynski to form one of the strongest catching tandems in all of baseball, as well as freshly added bullpen power arms such as Andrew Sisco, David Aardsma and Nick Masset. Garland quipped that he was meeting some of the White Sox additions at the same time the media was being introduced.
Guillen often has joked about how Tucson is nestled just far enough out of the way in Arizona, with only two other Major League teams in the immediate vicinity, that the national media usually doesn't bother the White Sox for much of Spring Training. Instead, the reporters wait for a White Sox trip to Mesa to take on the Cubs or a trip to Scottsdale to face off against the Giants or a visit to any other venue in the general Phoenix area in order to explore what the South Siders have in their arsenal for the upcoming season.
This particular theory didn't really play out during Spring Training 2006, as media from all over the country converged on Tucson to investigate how the White Sox were handling prosperity after winning their first World Series title in almost nine decades. Guillen's judgment just might be considered slightly askew once again as the next six weeks play out in Arizona.
Only this time, inquiring minds want to know how the talented White Sox will bounce back from not being able to defend their title and missing the playoffs altogether.
But the White Sox won't argue with a lack of national attention at Saturday's outset of Spring Training, with almost all of the media in attendance Saturday coming from Chicago. They flew under the radar for a good portion of 2005, but had the spotlight to themselves by the time the memorable season was complete.
The White Sox believe history could repeat itself in 2007, although their overall strength won't come from reminders of past success.
"You might as well [take the championship banners down] because it's a new year," Garland said. "We might have been a tick off last year, only from being tired and not experiencing before what we went through, but the hunger is always there. If it's not, you shouldn't be around."
"That was a big part of history, but everyone here knows that was two years ago and it's time to start over," Pierzynski added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.