Rivalry leaves impression on prospects
Hopefuls get kick out of Cubs showdown, vets take it in stride
MESA, Ariz. -- By the time John Danks was done warming up in the bullpen for his sixth-inning entrance into Sunday afternoon's game at HoHoKam Park, the young left-hander already had a small taste of the heated Cubs-White Sox rivalry.
"As I was warming up on the mound, a Cubs guy told me I threw like a girl," said the former Rangers' prospect with a laugh, who proved that particular fan wrong by striking out one in a scoreless inning. "I try not to listen too much, but when they are right there screaming at you, you can't help but hear it.
"After today, you know it's awesome to pitch in this series. This was a totally different experience from any Spring Training game I've ever pitched. To have two teams like this, there's really a big rivalry between the fans, and it seems like a lot of fun."
Opinions seemed to be mixed on Sunday evening as to whether the Cubs-White Sox battles should fall under a different heading than "just another game," even during the second week of Cactus League play.
This rivalry certainly doesn't have the strongest impact on the American League Central or National League Central standings, respectively, at least not compared to facing the Twins for the White Sox or the Cardinals for the Cubs. But the electricity is palpable throughout Chicago during the two weekends these two teams meet up in the regular season.
That feeling was present in some form on Sunday, at least prior to the 13-2 shellacking administered by the White Sox upon their neighbors from the North Side. It's a packed-house atmosphere of 12,903 in attendance that gets the Cactus League adrenaline going for some of the veterans and gives the young players a taste of big-league pressure.
"It's just a lot nicer when people come out and are cheering you on, the crowd noise," said White Sox starter Jon Garland, a one-time Cubs prospect, who yielded just two hits over three scoreless innings. "To me, that's what it's supposed to be like."
"You play against the Rockies at Hi Corbett Field and you aren't going to see the same sort of media attention as this game," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "That's a big part of the game. When you see all the Chicago media around you and the crowd, you should get pumped up."
Any doubters concerning the significance of this particular rivalry need only to look back at March 27, 2006, when the Cubs and White Sox played to a 4-4 tie in Mesa. Guillen drew criticism from the North Siders for not bringing enough pitchers to work extra innings, but Guillen pointed out again Sunday that his only remaining pitcher at the time, Javier Lopez, was being reassigned after the game.
Guillen's approach didn't change on Sunday, as he brought the players who needed to be in the game and the pitchers who he wanted to see. He certainly has an appreciation for the rivalry, even as it's being played out in Arizona, as he put forth an example of using Chris Carter as a pinch-hitter during one of the two head-to-head matchups last spring, even though the big right-hander has never played above Class A Kannapolis. But Carter's family got to see him hit against the Cubs.
White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye, who launched his second home run in two games, doesn't necessarily believe the highly charged feeling emanating from Sunday's game had all that much to do with the two combatants. Instead, Dye points to geographic location during the spring as a bigger factor.
Dye even went as far as to explain how the Cubs games that count are played up more by the people off the field than on the field.
"The players really look at it as another series or another game," said Dye of facing the Cubs. "It's more for the fans and you guys to write about. That series [with the Cubs] was just as intense as playing Minnesota or Detroit or whoever. No matter who you are playing, you are just out there to win.
"Today, it's just [the] Phoenix [area], and mostly every ballpark sells out. The atmosphere is totally different in Tucson. Right now, guys aren't worried about the Cubs-White Sox stuff. They are more worried about getting at-bats and making sure they stay healthy to get ready for the season."
Sunday's game proved to be a valuable reminder for David Aardsma, who came over to the White Sox from the Cubs in a November trade. During his one inning of relief, the right-hander admitted trying "to strike out everyone on every single pitch," instead of getting in his needed work. Simply put, Aardsma overthrew trying to knock out his friends.
But for pitchers such as Danks, Andrew Sisco and Gio Gonzalez, the latter two combining for two perfect innings of relief, the afternoon served a dual purpose. They continued making their presence felt in White Sox camp, while getting a brief look at the crosstown showdown.
"I don't think the atmosphere was necessarily October, far from it," Sisco said. "There were a lot of people here today, but it's still no indication of what it would be like for a playoff situation with both teams in this city."
"If it was like anything that I saw today, I can only imagine what it will be like in the regular season," Gonzalez added. "There might be a lot of fans killing each other in the stands."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.