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Pitching coach Don Cooper feels a loyalty to White Sox

Updated: March 21, 2014 3:44PM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — Pitchers and catchers reported to White Sox camp Saturday. It took pitching coach Don Cooper two days to be ‘‘all in.’’

For a couple of days, Cooper was loose and at ease, wisecracking with reporters and giving the 10 o’clock news in Chicago an entertaining video clip from his seat in a golf cart.

And then the switch flipped. Cooper went to his room after work Monday and got serious, breaking down everything he wants to accomplish this spring. His goal is to leave all 30 pitchers here with at least one thing they can take from camp, whether they’re going to Chicago for the season opener or to Class AA Birmingham.

‘‘Once I’m all in, when I [leave the spring-training complex], I can’t turn it off,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘It would be smarter and healthier for me to play golf for three or four hours and get away from it, but my mind is telling me, ‘Let’s get on top of this.’ It’s almost like I’m worried about being found out and that I’m tricking people, that I’m going to wake up one morning and someone has found me out and make a change. I think that guards me from ever getting complacent.’’

Generally regarded to be in the upper echelon of pitching coaches — the Sox used him as a big selling point during their recruitment of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka — Cooper knows he isn’t a smoke-and-mirrors trickster.

‘‘You can say one of two things: We’re either [bleeping] lucky, or we’re a qualified bunch,’’ he said.

At 58, Cooper is entering his 27th year in the Sox’ organization and 12th full season as their pitching coach. A native of New York, he was drafted as a pitcher by the New York Yankees in 1978 and once dreamed of wearing Yankee pinstripes.

Those days are gone.

‘‘There were times in the past when I would daydream about being somewhere else; I don’t have them anymore,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘The bottom line is this: I want to be a major-league pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox until I physically can’t do it any more. In my mind, I am a lifetime White Sox.’’

Working with his third manager in Robin Ventura, Cooper is entering the third year on a four-year extension that will take him into his 60s. He has known one organization — and one owner — as a coach.

‘‘When I say ‘White Sox,’ I
really say [chairman] Jerry
Reinsdorf,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘My loyalty is to him because he’s given me loyalty. Everything I have has come through the White Sox. My job, my security, paying the bills, all that stuff comes from Jerry and the White Sox. I’m motivated by people telling me or showing me that you’re doing a good job. It makes me want to do more.

‘‘This is going to sound corny, but it’s the truth: I remember playing catch with my dad. I was in the third grade, and I got a new Regent glove. I played with that till it wore off my hand. My dad told me, ‘You keep practicing, you’re going to be a good player.’ That was the confidence I needed. That fueled me because my dad told me.’’

There is a common thread of loyalty and family, Cooper said, in the organization that trickles down from Reinsdorf. Cooper sought the same words of affirmation he got from his dad from the coaches he played for after that. Now he thrives on Reinsdorf’s approval. And devotion.

‘‘In the White Sox case, in Jerry’s case, I know I have that because I keep coming back,’’
he said.

‘‘If and when this does end, it will be one helluva sad day for me. I don’t even want to think about it.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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