As I’m sure you’re all fully aware, SoxFest is this weekend. Fans from all over will flock downtown to meet some of their favorite players and hear some of them in panels. Before SoxFest starts, the White Sox wanted to give season ticket holders a chance to talk to Tom Paciorek and Robin Ventura during a conference call this afternoon.
As with every other season ticket holder chat, Gene Honda moderated the call, and we started with Wimpy. He’ll be a big part of SoxFest this weekend, as it will partly be a celebrationg of the 1983 “Winning Ugly” team. Wimpy is excited to be there this weekend with a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. He mentioned that while most fans remember the players, some people may have forgotten the personnel of the 1983 team. The 1983 team dedicated the season to hitting instructor Charley Lau and scout Loren Babe who were both fighting colon cancer. Paciorek remembers the somber mood after their last game, knowing they all wouldn’t see Lau or Babe next season. Both passed in the offseason, Babe in February 1984 and Lau in March 1984.
As part of the SoxFest celebration of the 1983 team, Paciorek will be part of a panel all three days of SoxFest with Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Tony LaRussa. Wimpy recalled a time when he got made at LaRussa and said he couldn’t manage a fruit stand which elicited the biggest laugh out of Honda, considering the career LaRussa has had. Wimpy said it’s always good to see LaRussa, who will probably remind him of that remark. Honda noted that he’s moderating the panel with the ’83 guys on Sunday, so he’ll make sure it’s brought up!
Paciorek was asked about the White Sox fantasy camp. He said that it’s been going on for the past 25 years, and they hope to have it start up again next year. He mentioned that it’s a fun week where everyone gets together with Sox fans, they play baseball, and they drink beer. Some Sox coaches come out to help out, and it’s a really good time. Wimpy recalled that Kevin Hickey was a big part of fantasy camp and always enjoyed it. He said that he was a very dear friend that everyone misses greatly. It was a big shock to lose him last year. Another person that loved fantasy camp was Moose Skowron. He was always mesmerized by the skill level of some of the campers that came out every year.
Wimpy was asked about his most memorable moment from the 1983 season. He said it was probably after they clinched in early September. After that it was even more fun being in the clubhouse. Every day there was something fun going on, including practical jokes like shaving cream in your towels. The players couldn’t wait to get to the ball park every day. He knew the Sox were back on the map after they beat the Mariners to clinch the West.
Paciorek was asked about broadcasting this season. He jokingly said he was looking ahead to see when all Jewish holidays are during the season. He loves working with Hawk and he did want to mention that the Sox went 7-1 last season when he was broadcasting. Wimpy mentioned that he thinks Hawk and Stone are the best broadcast team in baseball. Between coaching his grandson’s baseball team and being with his grandkids, he’s watching a lot of Sox baseball as well.
One caller asked if Paciorek knew that Kevin Hickey was one of the best 16-inch softball players in Chicago history. He did know that, and he mentioned that it was Roland Hemond who signed Hickey. He then did his best imitation of Hickey imitating Hemond, which was amusing. He said that Hickey did a spot-on impression of Hemond, including all of his mannerisms. Paciorek said Hemond still visits fantasy camp, even though he works with the Diamondbacks now. Honda asked is Paciorek knew that Hemond will be part of the seminars he’s in this weekend. Wimpy responded that it’ll be fun. Even though Hemond released him, Wimpy still loves him.
Callers were asked to take part in a poll question: where do you think the Sox will finish in the AL Central this season? Paciorek was also asked this, and he thinks the Sox will be right up near the top again, if not in first. He said Detroit threw out a tons of money to get good players. He also said that it very well could have been the Sox playing the Giants in the World Series if not for that bad last week or so of the season.
He mentioned having John Danks come back healthy is like signing a top free agent pitcher. Having Jake Peavy back and a strong rotation bodes well for the Sox. He also said Dayan Viciedo is getting better and that will be a big help as well.
Paciorek also thinks the Sox have someone who is a very strong contender for the AL MVP title this year, and his answer surprised me just a little. I didn’t expect him to say Alex Rios. He says what Rios did with his swing between 2011 when he was hitting poorly to what he was doing last year shows that he has tremendous power. His defense has drastically improved, and he thinks that working with Jeff Manto will lead to him being a big stud for the Sox.
He also said that Tyler Flowers is going to be a key player to keep watching. With AJ Pierzynski gone to Texas, Flowers is the number one guy now. He has the talent, and we just have to watch it develop. He also loves all the young and strong arms coming out of the bullpen.
To finish his part of the call, Wimpy said that the call of Robin Ventura being the manager last season was absolutely brilliant. He loves how relaxed the atmosphere is, and he said that if you can’t play for Robin Ventura, “you need to be in another business.” He says that Robin will be the reason for the Sox success for years to come. He also says he’s looking forward to seeing Sox fans this weekend, so head out to SoxFest to see Wimpy!
Robin Ventura joined the call, and right off the bat, a question was asked about the catcher position. The caller, much like myself, loves AJ and is going to severely miss him. She wanted to know who our back up is since Flowers is now our starter. Robin said that right now, it’s looking like Hector Gimenez, a switch hitter. He was called up at the end of last season, and he’s been playing very well in winter ball. Josh Phegley is another option since he played well in Triple-A last season.
Another caller asked if the postion was open or if it was guaranteed to be for Flowers. Robin said Tyler is the front runner. It’s time to see what he’s got. He’s great with the pitchers, so it’s time to see what he has behind the plate. As a back up, he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to get consistent at-bats. Because of that, his timing was off, and he didn’t have fluidity. As a starter, he has the chance to do that now.
The final question about the catcher position was whether Robin wants a veteran or if he’s happy with Flowers. He reiterated his previous points, and said that Tyler couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively since AJ played so well. He said it’s not easy to be a back up and to do that job, which is sort of like being a pinch hitter in the National League.
Robin was asked about his plan for this season and what he wants to do differently. He said right off the bat that he wants to finish in first. The main goal is to do things similar to last year except finish on top. As of now, there’s not much different. The way players come into camp is going to dictate how spring training goes and how the season will eventually play out.
Honda told Robin about the poll callers took part in, and he gave general results. Not one caller said the Sox would finish last, and almost everyone said they felt the Sox would finish in first. Robin said that’s what they expect too. He said the AL Central has great teams, but the game is played during the season, not on paper in the offseason.
A caller asked about the fifth starter position. Robin said Jose Quintana is the front runner, but he’s not guaranteed the spot. Chris Sale, Peavy, Gavin Floyd and Danks are a great rotation. He’s hoping Danks is ready to go for the beginning of the season. He also said Quintana proved a lot by pitching so well in his rookie season. He has the experience and maturity now, just like Sale does after his first year as a starter.
Robin was asked about Paul Konerko being in his last year of his contract. He said he doesn’t get into dealings with contracts, but he knows Paulie has a good relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf and Rick Hahn. They’ll do what’s best for the team when the time comes. For now, he’s happy that Paulie’s here for another year. He’s well-respected not only on the Sox but throughout the league.
Honda said that Robin sounds more relaxed than he did in his chat with season ticket holders the day after he was announced as manager. He said it was because there was so much unknown last time. He felt that people were apprehensive to ask him questions about the team, and he felt apprehensive to answer them at the time. Now he has a better feel for the guys that he’s talking about, and he feels better about projecting for this season. He also mentioned that he was lying on a couch during this call, so that’s very relaxing.
To close the call, Honda reminded us that there were still SoxFest tickets available for Saturday and Sunday. He also reminded us that single game tickets go on sale tomorrow morning on WhiteSox.com.