As the White Sox came marching into Camelback Ranch three days before the scheduled start of spring training, so did the talking points.
So, what's in store?
Robin Ventura has spent most of his very, very young tenure allowing members of his coaching staff to establish their own identities, which led me to wonder how he's going to go about expressing his own when the situation demands it.
Kenny Williams isn't concerned. Answering questions about whether he'd make himself more involved to guide Ventura, he said Ventura brought his own ideas to the table, and he's already seeing some through:
Ventura came to the job with his own set of ideas, including running his camp. Williams likes that.
"One of the things I hate the most is when people say, ‘Because we’ve always done it this way, this is how we’re going to do it,’ " Williams said. "I don’t think it allows for creativity. I don’t think it allows for people to get the most out of their staff. I want them to tap into it and tap into it without thinking that because I express an opinion about something, that is the overriding decision we’re going to make.
"I’m in a position that I’m going to do a lot more listening at the beginning, and I’m going to interject when I think it’s necessary and express my opinion. But he was hired for a reason, and that was to run this club the way he sees fit."
The "running his camp" phrase could carry added meaning, since it had been said that Ozzie Guillen delegated too much to Joey Cora. Anyway, Ventura looks like he's slowly solidifying into a managerial presence, and one might be needed with ...
"Um, I have played right and center," Rios said on Saturday. "I’ve never played left [very much]. I like center and right because those are the ones I’ve played. I think I played left last year. It’s different. It’s different. Center and right is different than left. We’ll see what happens."
Rios, of course, did not play left field during the 2011 season. Ozzie Guillen went out of his way to make Rios comfortable, always moving Alejandro De Aza to a corner instead of making Rios, the inferior center fielder, play out of "position" in late innings. Sometimes Rios proved Guillen wrong immediately, and yet Rios never lost his Role-with-a-capital-R. Now that we know Rios didn't even notice the courtesy, can somebody remind me why benching him was too complex?
Ventura acknowledged Rios' outfield history, but said: "Guys will just have to be open to moving around and do what’s best for the team. That’s what we have to go with, and guys have to be flexible."
This is an encouraging first volley, because if Ventura can't use the massive failures of 2011 to ensure a more liquid 25-man roster, this experiment will be pointless. Ventura has the high ground, with the support of his bosses and Rios' 2011 stats on his side. He can yield zero ground without having to play tough guy, and so far, so good.
According to The Baseball Player Patter Guidebook, Brent Lillibridge kinda got the order wrong:
"It’s a big year for me personally, just to get into arbitration and really hopefully get a big payday for myself but also hopefully get a lot of at-bats and really help this team. I’m really excited to see where we can go this year."
T-shirts to replace your 'Vote for Pedros!"
I remember when Gordon Beckham used to lean heavily on early-1980s Saturday Night Live bits to express himself. Kids grow up so fast:
"Don’t care. Don’t care. Honey badger. We’re all going to be honey badgers. We’re not going to care at all this year," said Beckham, referencing the viral YouTube video about the fearless predator.
Beckham was joking -- sort of.
He plans on making White Sox honey badger t-shirts for his teammates, anything to help lighten the load after they carried -- and failed to meet -- such high expectations last year.
"I think sometimes I take it way too seriously," Beckham said. "I want to do so well for this team and for the fans, for myself that sometimes it gets too much of me. Be a little more carefree this year. Not care so much."
It's good to see Beckham has taken it upon himself to carry the "Carlos Quentin is going to try to have more fun this season" story into a new era. Between his wrong-size-wrong-shape body issues, the mechanical flaws and the emotional turmoil that accompanies both, it seems like Beckham is almost as likely to loosen up as our old pal Q. Here's hoping he can start his career over.
At the very least, we know his boss is a fan of the team-unity-through-t-shirts idea. However, this is going to be my Beckham meme of choice this year:
No. 1: Pierzynski saying, ""You guys all got on (Adam) Dunn last year for not hitting (in the offseason). I hadn't hit in five years in the offseason, at least."
Pierzynski and Dunn have vastly different styles of hitting, but they're similar in their ability to produce the same numbers year and year out ... at least until 2011 happened, anyway. Dunn is three years younger than Pierzynski, so it's understandable why Dunn didn't see a need to change his routine prior to last season.
No. 2: Flowers saying, "The last thing I want to do is step into the box and be down two strikes and say, 'Don't strike out.'"
I don't think Ventura has made clear his stance on strikeouts yet, which is something to pay attention to as spring training progresses. Guillen's teams morphed into his own image over time, overemphasizing weak contact over no contact. Ventura was a deep-count guy, and Larry put Flowers on his list of players who might benefit from commonalities. It's worth keeping that list in mind as Ventura forms his profile.