Well-respected coaching staff begins with Ventura
White Sox manager fosters relaxed atmosphere of openness, patience
CHICAGO -- On those few occasions during the 2012 season when Jake Peavy has departed from a game and not quite gotten the job done for the White Sox, his thoughts immediately center on what more he could have done to help his teammates win.
Then, the right-handed starter's focus quickly turns to the coaching staff that inspires Peavy and friends.
"I've walked off the mound a few times and apologized to these guys, simply because I truly don't want to let them down," said Peavy about the 2012 White Sox coaching staff. "You want to win for your team and them as well. You know how much they care.
"Each one of them brings a little something different. Each one of them has each other's backs and our backs."
First-year manager Robin Ventura receives a major amount of credit for guiding the White Sox to the top of the American League Central with a 68-55 record following their first sweep of at least three games of the Yankees since 2000 and their first sweep of New York at home since 1991. That AL Manager of the Year Award consideration certainly stands as deserving, but Ventura has been capably assisted by a coaching staff that quickly and perfectly fit together since the opening day of Spring Training.
Much has been made of Ventura coming into the job without any previous coaching experience, let alone managing. But bench coach Mark Parent and third-base coach Joe McEwing also find themselves in the midst of Year 1 on a Major League staff.
That perceived inexperience certainly hasn't been noticeable, as both men have been talked about as potential managerial candidates sooner than later. In the spirit of what has made the 2012 White Sox what they are today, taking one game at a time and not looking beyond, both McEwing and Parent speak about more pressing concerns than furthering their respective careers.
"It doesn't mean anything until it happens," said Parent of managerial possibilities attached to his name. "Just like this job -- if I ever did it, it probably would fall in my lap and I would go, 'Oh, OK.' I don't really think about it."
"Like I've said before, it's a huge compliment, and I'm in no hurry at all," said McEwing, who interviewed for the Cardinals' managerial opening this past offseason. "I'm very thankful for the White Sox opportunity. They gave me an outstanding opportunity to start my coaching career and to extend it here now in the big leagues. I'm continuing to learn every day."
McEwing's explanation of this learning process illustrates part of the reason why this coaching staff is so successful. He spoke of continuously picking the brains of Ventura and every other coach on what they can be better at and what they can do to improve the entire team.
"Questions are always flowing, and it's so much fun. There are no egos," McEwing said. "We have open discussions every night. We sit around and we talk about the game and situations, and that's why from the beginning, from Day 1 of Spring Training, it's the camaraderie in the staff I thought was outstanding."
Hitting coach Jeff Manto, who spent the past four seasons as the organization's Minor League hitting coordinator and was the Pirates' hitting coach from 2006-07, serves as another solid newcomer to Ventura's staff. Pitching coach Don Cooper, first-base coach Harold Baines, bullpen coach Juan Nieves and bullpen catcher Mark Salas all worked in Ozzie Guillen's previous regime, a successful eight-year run that yielded two division titles and a 2005 World Series championship.
Praise for this current group leading the White Sox is just that -- a focus on the amazing story unfolding since most of this team met up for the first time back in late January during SoxFest. At the heart of this tale resides Ventura, whose even-keel, cerebral playing style has translated into just what the White Sox needed at the managerial helm.
Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the iconic White Sox television play-by-play announcer, cites Ventura's reaction to Detroit's three-game sweep at Comerica Park from July 20-22 as an example of his calm leadership. Harrelson quickly made his way to the visiting clubhouse after that final setback, dropping the White Sox 1 1/2 games out of first, just to see how Ventura handled the situation. What he found was a smiling Ventura talking to his players -- about the British Open.
Not getting too high or too low might explain how the White Sox pushed aside a 3-7 start to the second half and made their way back into the division lead.
"Robin has been the same since when we played together to [now]. His personality never changes, on and off the field," said McEwing. "He's very competitive, and he's very even-keel. There's never a point during a ballgame or off the field that there's a panic. He has patience for every single player on the team, because he has been through every situation, and it rubs off on guys."
"Just like the whole team itself, it starts from the top," Parent said. "If people feel involved and can make a difference and you are happier and being used, you feel better about what you are doing -- especially if you are successful."
Success for a coaching staff or manager usually goes as far as players will take them. Ventura's group has made those White Sox travels much easier.
"They are all solid teachers, and consistent in their approach," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "They are good motivators, and their message is always the same, day in, day out, whether or not we've won three in a row or lost three in a row."
"If we win, it makes it doubly good," Cooper said. "We all enjoy working with each other. I like the interaction. I like the conversation. I like the whole process. I like our preparation."