October 1, 2014
Robin Ventura guided the White Sox through a divisional race during his first year as manager and a free fall toward 100 losses in his second, so he already has navigated through a range of circumstances in two strenuous seasons.
This one will be a whole new adventure. The Sox are in something of a rebuilding phase, so Ventura has reached for his educator’s cap and will play the role of guidance counselor as the Sox transition into a year of change.
‘‘We’re younger than we have been in the past,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. ‘‘We have some guys in Chicago with less big-league experience, and Robin and the rest of the staff is embracing the opportunity to instruct and teach and mold this next unit at the big-league level, which was less of a priority with the veteran clubs he’s had the last couple of years. He’s embraced this role, and I think he’s really enjoying it.’’
Ventura agrees. The Sox think they can be something of a rebuilding/competing hybrid, knowing they’re not stacked talent-wise standing next to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, but they haven’t stripped the cupboard bare, either. With a Cy Young contender (Chris Sale) and maybe enough pitching behind him to go with some promising young position players, they know there’s enough to distance themselves from the ‘‘bag this for now and win later’’ plan the Cubs have mapped out.
‘‘Win games,’’ Ventura said when asked how he measures success even in the context of the retooling phase the Sox are in. ‘‘You have to win games. That’s the name of the game.’’
Teaching them how is Ventura’s work order. He’s more than fine with it, and Hahn says Ventura has enough tough-love qualities to handle it.
‘‘There’s fun with that,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘There’s energy that comes with that. There’s guys who are trying to prove themselves and show they belong here and make a career and stay a long time. There’s a certain amount of excitement with that.’’
Five Sox in the lineup Monday will be playing on an Opening Day roster for the first time, including possibly the first four hitters in the lineup: Adam Eaton, Marcus Semien, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia. That’s a lot of newbies.
‘‘It’s different that they’re younger,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘There’s more teaching going on and conversations you don’t necessarily have to have with older guys. But it’s still fun.’’
And Ventura is good with that.
‘‘That’s part of it we didn’t have the last couple of years,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s fun. You do it as a player — as you get older, you have those conversations with younger guys. But it’s also exciting that there are guys who are starting out on their career and you’ve got to kind of steer them in the right direction.
‘‘There’s a little bit of patience, and there’s the other side, too. They have to understand what it is. It is a business and a job and everything that goes with it. It can be fun. But you’ve got to get your work in and do it right.’’
Ventura’s laid-back style is fine for this. Just don’t confuse it with being aloof. Hahn saw enough of an edge to give Ventura a contract extension before spring training began. He believes Ventura is the right guy to manage the Sox now.
‘‘I see the consistency that everyone sees publicly in terms of how he treats people and communicates on a daily basis,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘I also get to see, when there is an issue, he handles it behind closed doors head-on, sometimes with a little fire or salt and vinegar.
‘‘People don’t see the fire in the clubhouse or on the backfields before the media is here. We know these things are being handled and in the way we want, which is more professional. It’s not as satisfying [to fans or media] when you want to see a guy overturning a buffet table or screaming at a guy in the dugout. More often than not, that’s eye-wash. I’d rather have it handled directly than in a showboating action.’’