Pitching coach Don Cooper had to marvel at Rick Renteria’s pace during his first spring training as White Sox manager.
He almost seemed concerned.
“You can’t keep that up in a 162-game schedule,’’ Cooper said.
Having managed the Cubs in 2014, Renteria knows a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But there was important work to do this spring, laying a foundation for his new regime, bringing players and staff together and enforcing a plan to bring an acceptable brand of play, hopefully starting Monday, when the Sox host the Tigers on Opening Day at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“There were a lot of things to do,’’ Renteria said when told of Cooper’s observation. “When we started here, we talked about inspiring, encouraging and motivating players. We’ve been consistent with that, sometimes in a firmer tone than others.’’
Renteria is overseeing a rebuild with the Sox in a similar yet far from identical environment he worked in with the Cubs. He had a lot on his plate this spring, starting with team bonding that included players in the farm system and established veterans. He also preached fundamentals, execution and hustle.
Every manager strives for that during spring training, but Renteria pursued it knowing first impressions mean a lot.
“It was a big step for all of us,’’ Renteria said of spring training.
And not to worry. Renteria, 55, knows the rigors of a 162-game schedule from his years as a player, coach and manager. He knows how to pace himself to avoid a crash and burn.
“During the regular season, my energy level is the same, but it’s now going to be concentrated on 25 guys and our staff,’’ he said, suggesting a lighter workload. “I can’t change. It’s going to be hard to put me in a box, but it’s the only way I’m going to be able to function.’’
Cooper, the Sox’ longest-tenured coach, has worked under Jerry Manuel, Ozzie Guillen, Robin Ventura and now Renteria. He got to know his new boss when Renteria was the bench coach last year, and he has bought into the rebuild, even though it meant seeing prized pupil Chris Sale traded.
“It’s different, where we’re at as a club, as an organization,’’ Cooper said. “Where we’re trying to go and who we’re trying to be in the years going forward. Rick has laid a solid foundation.’’
Reporters down the hall from the Sox’ clubhouse this spring heard loud laughter during Renteria’s team-bonding exercises. They heard the manager exhorting the team in almost Rockne-esque tones. On the field during morning drills, he was a hands-on voice of instruction and encouragement.
Players say there is a firm side to him, as well. It’s because Renteria wants things done right.
“If you make a mistake on the field, he sheds light on it in a positive way so it’s instructive for everybody to learn from,’’ infielder Tyler Saladino said.
“Everything we’re doing has purpose, even if it’s the smallest thing. And with so much passion. He’s really trying to create community and family, organizationally inside and out. You come in excited for what he’s got in the morning.’’
Renteria has old-school roots, but he seems to adapt to the new-age player.
“Each day there’s a message, some purpose he’s trying to spread to us,’’ Saladino said. “It makes for a very good learning environment. Even if it’s something you’re aware of, just the way he breaks it down and the perspective he puts it in is on another level.’’
Saladino said Renteria “keeps the fire burning every day.” It will be worth watching to see if he can sustain it.
“He’s got this energy and emotion about him that you just cling to,’’ third baseman Todd Frazier said. “In the meetings, everybody is sitting up listening to what he’s got going on. We have a mission: It’s hustle hard and play with enthusiasm and emotion. Only good things can come out of that.’’
Frazier had genuine respect for Ventura and said he loved playing for him.
But it was time for a change — even Ventura acknowledged as much — and Renteria provides a breath of fresh air.
“And he’s bringing it,’’ Frazier said. “We’ll see what happens.’’
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