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This is a true story. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.
It was last Thursday in Glendale, Arizona. The Royals were visiting Camelback Ranch, and Adam Dunn played first base for half the afternoon. He stepped to the plate three times, all against left-hander Bruce Chen.
Although most of us have short memories, and, as baseball fans, we tend to be very forgiving - especially with a winter's passage - we remain aware that the big left-handed slugger went 6 for 94 against lefties in 2011. Don't bother with the math. I already did it: .064 en route to a .159 mark for the season.
However, last week Dunn hit a towering opposite field two-run shot off Chen in the first inning. With a 3-2 count, no less. After flying out in the third inning, the big man strolled to the plate in the fifth with the bases loaded, and produced a long, high fly ball that settled on the hill behind the right-field fence. Grand slam! Joy! Life is good!
Yes, this was a meaningless spring training game. But Chen, who was 12-8 last season and signed a $9 million contract during the offseason, wasn't being generous. Apparently he was trying to do more than pitch batting practice. Forget that Dunn tagged Chen last year for two of his hits off left-handers. This is the time for optimism. The slate has been wiped clean. The Sox haven't lost a (real) game yet, and Adam Dunn was swinging and connecting with out-of-this world success.
And he wasn't the only one. New leadoff man Alejandro DeAza walked in the bottom of the first and stole not only second base but also third before coming home on a single by Alex Rios. (Yes, you read that right.)
Another guy who impressed me was 23-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Eduardo Escobar. He ought to make the team solely on breeding (see Carrasquel, Aparicio and Guillen), but it also looks like the kid can play.
He's a switch-hitter, which is simply dandy. He laid down a perfect bunt to the third base side to open the six-run fifth on Thursday and sped all the way to third when Chen threw the ball past the first baseman. He showed his speed again when his line drive to center field was played into a three-base error, and the kid went into the hole to throw out a runner, showing an above average arm.
Of course, there are contingencies. Eduardo struck out 104 times last season at Triple-A, and on Friday he air-mailed a throw on a routine ground ball for an error. But he's young, he exudes enthusiasm, and - now that Omar Vizquel is gone - who else is going to spell the middle infielders every few days?
Brent Lillibridge came to the last few spring trainings on the bubble, fighting for a spot on the big club. But after a solid 2011, Lilli has a secure job. He can play second, and manager Robin Ventura also is giving him time at third base. He also made some outstanding plays in the outfield last summer.
But as far as I can tell, there is no backup shortstop, and Escobar looks as though he also would do an adequate job both at second and third. So there's a good chance we'll see him on the South Side in a couple of weeks.
Lest we become giddy at these prospects, a perusal of preseason prognostications will bring us back to Earth. Sports Illustrated picked the Sox for dead last in the division with 95 losses, and one scout offered that the team could lose as many as 100. Ouch!
I was an Ozzie Guillen guy, but it was time for him to go. Won't a calmer atmosphere devoid of the Ozzie-Kenny silliness make for a more relaxed, laid-back team which can concentrate on what's happening on the field?
It is well-documented that Robin Ventura is a helluva nice guy, soft-spoken, and a gentleman. Dropping f-bombs after losses and blown saves now belongs in White Sox annals and not in the clubhouse. Expectations are low. If we're not "all in," does that mean we're "all out?" Or "mostly out?"
It does mean that the Sox will fly under the radar because of the above-stated factors. There's going to be a lot of empty seats at The Cell as the season kicks off, and maybe that's a good thing. Let the athletes become familiar with one another, their new manager, and the dismal predictions. I've heard of worse scenarios.
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