GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The White Sox are waving goodbye to spring training, and as lovely as the warm desert air is this time of year, they can’t get away fast enough.
“I’m just ready to get out of Arizona,’’ closer David Robertson said, echoing the sentiments of most players all around the Cactus League. “Spring training is way too long. It feels like we’ve been here forever. It’s time to start the season. Let’s get to the games that count.’’
Forty-one days have passed since pitchers and catchers reported, and many showed up before that. Wednesday was the last day for the Sox, but there are still four more days between now and the season opener against the Oakland A’s Monday night. After Thursday’s off day, there are exhibition games against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park and a workout day at the Oakland Coliseum Sunday.
For a team that has slugged a spring training leading 49 home runs, played it relatively clean on defense and on the basepaths – which, if those things carry over into the regular season would represent three improvements from last year– the Sox are ready to play for keeps.
“We’ve had a good camp,” manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s time for them to get out of here.”
“I’m ready. The team is ready,’’ left fielder Melky Cabrera said through translator Billy Russo. “We have a very good vibe right now and everyone is excited.’’
Because hope springs eternal in spring training, this is probably being heard in 30 camps today around the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. The Sox’ hope is based on a better looking unit over the course of 29 practice games in which they – for what it’s worth – posted their first winning record since 2004.
All-Star Chris Sale has endured three consecutive losing seasons. First-year additions Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and Alex Avila also played on losing teams last season, so there’s a hunger for fleeting success among the old and new.
That can’t be a bad thing.
“There’s a different vibe,’’ Cabrera said, citing a new veteran group that also includes Jimmy Rollins, Dioner Navarro and Austin Jackson.
Sale, who at the time said Sox camp went off the rails when Adam LaRoche, told by vice president Ken Williams his son couldn’t hang around as much and abruptly retired, said everything is back to normal now. It does look that way.
“We’re rolling,’’ Sale said, pointing to grind-out at-bats by Adam Eaton and Avila and a Frazier home run in Tuesday’s win over the Texas Rangers. “We’ve been playing well. [Tuesday] was a great indicator. It’s things like that that get us closer together and get us as a unit to move forward and keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“We’re all ready to start the race.’’
Getting out of the blocks has been a point of emphasis in manager Robin Ventura’s camp, especially with only 10 games at home in April.
“We need to start in a good way, keep the momentum going and close the season hard,’’ Cabrera said. “There’s a Latino saying, ‘If you punch first, you want to punch again.’ ‘’
Zach Duke, an 11-year veteran, summarized the mood around the clubhouse this week in one word: “Optimism.’’
“And eagerness to get it going,’’ he said. “We want to show we have a good team here and can do some things.’’
Robertson, blaming his crankiness on being in one place for too long, likes the mood around him nonetheless. Everyone gets along in a relaxed, older clubhouse, he said.
“Everybody is having a lot of fun all the time so that’s a good thing,’’ he said.
Fun is nice, but let’s cut to the chase. Will this team win?
‘’We have 162 games, so we can’t say ‘we’re going to be there at the end’ right now,’’ said Robertson, who recorded his sixth scoreless outing without allowing a run this spring. “We definitely have the talent. It’s a matter of us putting it together on the field and seeing where we end up at the end of the year.
“Obviously we expect to be there, but it’s a long season.’’
Even longer than spring training.