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Following up: Rick Renteria embarks on culinary diplomacy mission

It’s only words — and queso — at this point, but he’s getting a different reaction

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Rick Renteria at Benito Suarez

After the White Sox offered a sneak preview last week, the inaugural season of Rick Renteria: Baseball Man, Sensitive Chef is officially underway.

He whipped up his locally famous queso fundido at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on Wednesday in the approach to this weekend’s SoxFest. Ken was there, and he provided his first-hand account in Wednesday’s discussion:

Renteria made some churizo with cheese, salsa. Good! But it was a bit spicy and i’m worried about my stomach heading into 9th period. lol.

Renteria being of Mexican heritage wants to engage himself in this neighborhood which is a fantastic idea. While baseball isn’t the main sport of choice, it is growing (unfortunately, partly do to the Cubs), but students remember stuff like this. I’ve complained about my school on sox cubs day being a whole heck of Cub fans. I can see the Sox park from my 9th and 10th period classroom. The Sox should do a much better job marketing here. Untapped potential. I’m told this is just the start of a partnership between the school and the sox. So thats pretty boss!

Told a story of one time while playing for the Marlins, cooked a dish for Bret Barberie. It had jalapenos. Barberie ate right before the game and rubbed his eyes. Got the jalapeno juice in there so Renteria got to play that day. Also, told the kids to find a passion whether it is baseball, cooking, reporting (shout out to my guy Merk who was in the house with the rest of them) and stick to it because they’ll always be happy. Brought a Benito Juarez Sox jersey. Took some pics with the culinary students and the baseball team. I shook his hand and told him to get this thing turned around. Nice escape from the usual day.

In comments to the media, Renteria reasserted his desire for a “White Sox-first” approach, which he’s also described as a “White Sox way.” Structure is a good point of emphasis since a rebuilding hinges on minor-league players making the team in waves. It’s also the kind of ambitious goal the White Sox haven’t had the ability and/or discipline to reach in recent years, although that’s in large part because they lacked the talent and evaluation thereof. That’s been the biggest crimp on fans’ enthusiasm for the rebuild — the same guys who couldn’t win with that core now get a chance to rebuild. There has been some turnover, though. It’s just been gradual instead of cathartic, and the hope is that Renteria was one of these hey-he-hasn’t-been-here-that-long hires who can make his own mark.

Weeks before spring training, Renteria really can’t do more than talk about plans. At this point, I’m more curious about how people respond to him, both inside and outside the clubhouse.

Here’s one reaction I hadn’t seen Ventura generate, especially after he became a given:

One student at the school, Jennifer Orozco, is a huge White Sox fan and was elated when she heard Renteria would be visiting her school. Orozco is a senior in the culinary program and also coaches tee-ball in her neighborhood, so she was excited to learn Renteria shared a passion of hers.

“It was actually very interesting, because you’d think that a coach like that is more focused on like other things, like business or stuff like that,” she said. “But then you see that he has a favorite pastime like you do, it’s like you can actually connect to them in some way.”

Another departure from Ventura is that Renteria speaks in a manner that can be set to swelling background music.

Combing through all the coverage, there was one line that jumped out at me more than anything Renteria said about his goals for the organization or his ceviche. He was talking about what he tried to impress upon the students at Benito Juarez, and it’s what he tagged on to the end of it:

"[I] let them know that anything is possible, but you have to push, you have to fight and you have to not give up. Honestly, maybe that's why I'm still here."

I’m not going to try to characterize it in terms of added wins or losses, but I imagine there has to be some kind of impact when a team goes from an inexperienced manager who was given a job before he was sure he even wanted it and was allowed to hang around for four consecutive losing seasons, to a manager who paid his dues with minor-league teams and coaching staffs only to get fired after one year of a job done well enough.