We're two weeks into spring training, and we still have little real idea of what Robin Ventura will bring to the table as manager of the White Sox. It's not a matter of distance, because the people who have spent time around him leave with a pleasant impression and little else.
For instance, on The McNeil and Spiegel Show on 670 The Score a couple days ago, Laurence Holmes compared Ventura to two other coaches with whom he recently became acquainted. Holmes said Mark Parent makes his presence felt immediately, and new Cubs manager Dale Sveum has a spark to him. However, over a similar amount of time, Ventura offered nothing by comparison.
Likewise, Yahoo! Sports' Steven Henson wrote a feature about Ventura that is mostly about what Ventura doesn't do:
[Ozzie] Guillen, now manager of the Miami Marlins, was a regular on Twitter. Ventura rarely utters a peep, let alone a tweet. He spent about two minutes with reporters after the game, congenially answering questions with short answers before saying, "Have a good day, guys. Good luck with traffic." Then he wandered off to say hello to Angels coaches he’s known forever.
Besides the professionalism for which he is known far and wide, and the sneaky sense of humor that you realize isn't an accident, the one thing I've noticed about Ventura (besides obviously) is that he seems to be an excellent listener. When he was going through the interview rounds before and during SoxFest, he brought the conversations/forums full circle with a callback to a question or comment 15 to 45 minutes prior. Ozzie Guillen dominated the dialogue; Ventura plays off it.
I'd like to say this means that he's going to develop a voluminous memory for game situations, and when, say, a sacrifice bunt leads to a dead end, he's going to retain that moment and others like it and develop a great feel for how run expectancy applies to his team ... but I have no idea if that's true. We can only hope.
As the organization begins helping Ventura carve an image with ads, we learn another thing about the new skipper: He's hoping, too.
The White Sox released two "Appreciate the Game" spots released on Wednesday. The first recalls his past:
And the second is all about the present:
My untrained eye thinks they're well-made commercials, because, I mean, who doesn't love watching that slam again? It's slightly odd that they would use a grand slam to extoll the virtues of fundamentals, though. Given the Sox's problems with runners in scoring position, a Ventura slam seems more symbolic of not wasting opportunities. That's the lesson from 2011 that I would like to see applied in the future.
My potential pedantry aside, they're pretty fitting of the subject, because they leave a lot to the imagination.
For instance, if you weren't aware the campaign is "Appreciate the Game," you might not have noticed it. That's probably for the best. Given the problems of last year, there is no one pithy slogan that fans are going to adopt as their own.
I had a few other assorted thoughts, like, "Has Ventura already been in more White Sox ads than Ozzie Guillen?" or "Why doesn't he give himself a better parking space?" But really, I kept coming back to this line:
"That's what I hope to teach these guys."
It's the last line, followed by silence, a still Ventura and a black screen with the Sox logo, which means it's designed to be lingered on. I've been thinking about it for 20 minutes, and man, there's a lot of distance in that sentence. Ventura "hopes" to teach "these guys." Not "my guys." It's a notch bolder than, "I'll see what I can do."
To me, it seems like even the copywriters are respectful of what lies ahead for Ventura. He has to learn the ropes while inheriting a flawed team coming off a dysfunctional season. He hasn't yet imposed his will or personality on the team, so the marketing department isn't going to do it to him.
It's just odd to hear an ad with an impact line that can be dropped into a normal conversation. I can imagine Ventura saying to me, "That's what I hope to teach these guys." And then I say, "And if you can't?" And he might say, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." And to that, I'd respond, "Fair enough," and after a pause, "Welp, I think I have what I need here." I'd thank him for his time, and Ventura would say, "Have a good day. Good luck with traffic."
Wait a second.
The commercialized version of Ventura took me on a journey to a world of polite and decidedly unfantastic discourse between adults.
That's kind of the whole point of this managerial change.
Maybe these ads are perfect.