Thursday, January 13, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGOGordon Beckhams relaxed drawl, spilling out like molasses as he waited for his flight out of Miami on Thursday afternoon, flew in the face of a staunch determination to wipe out his disappointing 2010 campaign and reclaim a postseason berth for his White Sox.
Last year there was a lot put on my plate, and when I didnt immediately meet expectations I went into panic mode, the Chicago second sacker said of his atrocious start in 2010, which was scarred by his second position change in as many seasons field and first-half splits of .216.277.304 and a .581 OPS. That cant happen, and that wont happen again. I got frustrated, and mentally tired.
Beckham battled back and had an outstanding second half, putting up OPS marks of .950 in July and .931 in August before a beanball smashed his right hand in the seventh inning of an Aug. 31 game at the Cleveland Indians. The sophomore tried to battle through the injury but could mount only a paltry .497 OPS and seven total bases in the next two weeks before stepping to the plate for that last time on September 15.
I was in the worst mental state of my baseball life, Beckham reflected. It was good to come out on top.
The official beginning to the 2011 season might come next weekend as the ballclub hosts its annual packed fan hootenanny at SoxFest, but the now-traditional, still-unofficial start of proceedings came this week, in Miami, under the watchful eye of White Sox bench coach and future MLB manager Joey Cora. Several White Sox players committed to these voluntary, tune-up workouts that come a full month before pitchers and catchers begin to trickle into Arizona for spring training.
To hear Beckham tell it, Camp Cora was a resounding success on all counts, beginning with the bounce-back of the hand that had so plagued him at seasons end.
In December, Beckham said, he underwent a particularly painful batting practice session, which was later determined to be the breaking up of scar tissue in his hand. The very next day he hit the cages with no ill effects, and survived the three days of Camp Cora drills in perfect health.
I didnt deal with hand pain at all this whole week, the prototype Chisox grinder said.
On Monday through Wednesday, White Sox players gathered with Cora for infield drills and worked in the cages with White Sox batting coach Greg Walker.
I wanted to get some reps in with the infielders, get on the field and hit, Beckham said. It was a good time. It was good to start moving around and get ready for the season.
Of course, the Pale Hose being the Pale Hose, there has been no lack of off-field drama this offseason, culminating at the end of the year with Bobby Jenkss departure to the Boston Red Sox and the Fredo Corleone of the Chisox, Oney Guillen, exposing via the wildly inappropriate forum of Twitter apparent confidential, personal problems the closer had while in Chicago. Imaginably, it was a subject that did pop up during the South Beach boot camp.
Me and Joey talked a little bit about keeping confidences in the locker room, Beckham said. Everybody is on the same page. We want to play. We dont want outside drama to fill our locker room this year. Joey says hes talked a lot to White Sox manager and Oneys father Ozzie Guillen on that kind of stuff.
We want it to be on us. If were playing bad, its not because of some outside issues. Oneygate is over with and done.
While Beckham was brimming confidence as the dawn of the season nears (everyone on the team is going to share the loadwe have the pieces in place), the infielder almost didnt make it down to Camp Cora this week due to the surprise snowfalls that dusted the south: I would have been snowed in keeping my original flight on Monday, but I switched my flight to get there in advance. Me and snow, that doesnt work.
Defense was the real emphasis of Camp Cora, with Beckham, corner infielder Dayan Viciedo and third baseman Brent Morel getting in tons of infield reps per White Sox team footage released on Tuesday, in which Cora said that we want to get them in shape and work on backhands and some of the fundamentals of the gamewere striving to be one of the best infields in the league and we have the potential to do that. Beckham brimmed with similar confidence heading into his second season as a second sacker: I feel very comfortable at second; Joey was very happy with me at second last year. As an infield, were going to make some plays this year and can pick the ball. Its pretty obvious, we can play some defense.
Among many impressive-looking teammates, double-play partner Alexei Ramirez made the biggest impression on Beckham: Alexei looks bigger. Hes gained a little muscle.
Beckham was thrilled to have team captain Paul Konerko return to the fold, acknowledging that, without Paul last year, I might never have gotten out of the funk I was inHe handles the leadership duties nobody else wants to handle.
The former high school quarterback and Atlanta native is rooting for a Falcons-Bears NFC title game, even if he has to miss the game due to SoxFest: Id like the game to be close; maybe the Falcons win it right at the end. Like most people, I just want to see good games in the playoffs.
There was no word on any ill effects from Beckhams excursion into the haute cuisine of South Beach on Wednesday night, when the second baseman tweeted, Went to Prime 112 tonight with Greg Walker and Brent Morel. Food was awesome. All I got to say is, fried Oreos. OH MY GOD. UNBELIEVABLE.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.