CHICAGO -- Rick Hahn didn't believe the White Sox were as bad as they played last season. But he wasn't buying the thought that all they needed was another chance."At the end of last season, when I was sitting around with various players about the year in one-on-one meetings, many
CHICAGO -- Rick Hahn didn't believe the White Sox were as bad as they played last season. But he wasn't buying the thought that all they needed was another chance.
"At the end of last season, when I was sitting around with various players about the year in one-on-one meetings, many of them of said, 'Look, just bring back the same group and I assure you we're going to contend,'" said Hahn, the team's fourth-year general manager. "'You have enough talent in here right now, just bring back the same group.' As I explained then, [and] we've talked about over the last few months, we weren't comfortable doing that. Something had to change in terms of the mix in there.''
On a snowy 39-degree Friday at U.S. Cellular Field, when the sun came out after a pregame blizzard before giving way for more snow showers in the middle innings, the White Sox played in front of their home fans for the first time. While a 7-1 loss to the Indians wasn't what fans wanted to see, it was clear from the moment players were paraded in on the back of convertibles that Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams have done more than upgrade the upholstery.
Cosmetic surgery? No, this is about blood flow and vital organs.
While fixture John Danks drew the starting assignment on the mound, five newcomers were in manager Robin Ventura's lineup for the home opener. Jimmy Rollins, Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Austin Jackson bear witness to Hahn's offseason attempt to bring in two-way talents with energy on the field and presence in the clubhouse.
Early returns are encouraging. Not only did the White Sox win three of four in Oakland to start the season, but they also posted a winning record in Spring Training, something they hadn't done since 2004.
"There's a different feel,'' said Adam Eaton, the leadoff man who moved to right field with Jackson available to play center. "There's definitely a culture change here that is exciting for us. You can just tell from the [series in Oakland]. Our hitting came up when we needed it to come up. Our pitching came up when we needed it to come up.''
Rollins, the National League MVP Award winner in 2007 and a key piece of the Phillies' championship team in '08, and Frazier, an All-Star who hit 35 homers for the Reds last year, represent the most notable additions. But Ventura points out how homegrown pieces like utility infielder Tyler Saladino and reliever Nate Jones are also making their presence felt on a team that hopes to wind up bigger than the sum of its parts.
"If you were there in Spring Training, you'd understand we really came together Day 1,'' Eaton said. "It's a group of guys pulling in one direction, pulling in the right direction. We really haven't had that the last couple years. It's a good feeling.''
Team chemistry is impossible to quantify. It's generally perceived as good if a team is winning and poor if it is losing.
Nobody knows that more than executives, managers and players, all of whom have rolled their eyes at the concept at one time or another.
"It's tough,'' said Ventura, asked if chemistry can make a difference. "You have to win to be able to do it. But you're talking about guys who have been around a little bit and there's different pieces that go with it. This seems to be a group that respects each other and enjoys being around each other, but they can also play, and that's the biggest thing.''
Eaton believes that through team dinners, conversations on flights and celebrating one another's clutch hits and big plays in the field, the White Sox are starting to emulate the team that everyone in the American League is trying to catch.
"Just personalities that match and mesh together,'' Eaton said. "[Chemistry] is such an underrated thing …although I don't think it's underrated now that Kansas City has done what they've done, with the meshing that they've had.''
It won't take long for the White Sox to find out how good they'll be. They're faced with a challenging April schedule.
This weekend series against the Indians represents the only three days that the Sox will be in Chicago between the time they left for Spring Training and April 18, when they open their first real homestand.
"Nobody has a routine here yet and we're only here for three days,'' Ventura said. "Hopefully [the newcomers] know where the laundry is and can do that and repack up and be ready to go.''
The White Sox play 17 of their first 27 games on the road and somehow have only one day off during that stretch. Three teams have already had two days off, and the Royals have somehow had three scheduled days off.
"Not many days off, so you'd better play well,'' Ventura said. "I hope there's not too many rainouts, and we need to pitch well, because your bullpen can get beat up if you don't pitch well. You look at a day like [Thursday], it was big for [Mat Latos] to go out and give us what he gave us. We've got to hope we can continue that, because it can be a brutal start to the season if you run into any hiccups.''
Eaton sees the demanding schedule as a positive. He appreciates that Minnesota is the only place other than Chicago where cold weather could be an issue, and he believes an early grind could be a good thing for his baseball body clock.
"I like playing a lot of games,'' he said. "In Spring Training, we have days off basically every one or two days. [I like being able] to hit the ground running and get yourself mentally ready for a long season, just get some games out of the way, as well as your body. You want to get your body to that numb, hurting feeling, to be honest with you. And when you give yourself days off, your body sort of figures it out and goes back to thinking it's going to get another rest. You don't want to do that. You want to get into the pace of the season, get your routine down pat. I like it. The less off-days in April, the better.''
The less snow, too.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.