I admire Derek Holland’s enthusiasm. The White Sox pitcher believes his team will be good in 2017, never mind the outside predictions of rebuilding misery. His fervor sounds misguided, to the point where GPS might be necessary to lead him back to reality. But I’ve been diagnosed with enthusiasm deficiency, so what do I know?
“We know we’ve got the guys,’’ Holland said Tuesday. “[Manager Rick Renteria] has done a great job of pushing away the talk of, ‘Hey, we’re in a rebuilding phase.’ You would never have guessed we were in a rebuilding phase because of how he has instructed everybody here and motivated and put everyone together.
“To me, I feel like we’ve got something special here. To sit and say we’re rebuilding, it’s just an excuse. We’re going to lose games. We’re going to win games. We’re not going to make an excuse. Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, we lost because we’re rebuilding.’ We don’t look at it that way.’’
In baseball, April is custom built for optimism. So Tuesday’s do-over of Monday’s rained-out opener against the Tigers at Whatever the Name is Now Field was the perfect time for hope.
Three home runs off starter Jose Quintana in the first four innings helped give Detroit a 6-3 victory and handed Renteria a loss in his debut as Sox manager. Hope was dazed but vowed to be back Wednesday.
When you say someone sees things in black and white, it usually means he or she sees things as they are, with no nonsense involved. Holland sees things in black and white, which means he sees everything in Sox colors.
Here’s how my conversation with him went after his enthusiasm about the team’s chances this season bubbled over and started lapping against my shoes. It highlights the difference between a standard-issue cynical sports columnist and a typical ballplayer who, against reason and dire forecasts, thinks, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!’’
Me: “Let me play devil’s advocate. How many years have you been in the big leagues?’’
Him: “Eight, all with Texas.’’
Me: “Those weren’t all good teams, right?”
Him: “We had a year where we set the MLB record for most guys hurt and on the DL. I started that. We went through the whole rebuilding process. The 2010 season was somewhat of a rebuilding process, and look where we ended up [losing in the World Series].’’
Me: “Would you have stood in front of me before what would turn out to be a bad year and said you were going to win? In other words, do you think you have all the pieces to win every year?’’
Him: “You always believe in your guys. No player is going to say, ‘Yeah, we’re rebuilding, so we’re going to suck.’ That’s never going to happen. Everybody has a winning attitude.’’
Me: “Maybe we should take your enthusiasm about the Sox with a grain of salt then, given that enthusiasm is a big part of who you are.’’
Him: “Yeah, but at the same time, we want everybody to be very confident in us. We want everybody to believe in us. If we don’t go out there and perform, we know we’re letting our fans down because we know we’re better than what we were.
“Don’t get caught up in the rebuilding talk because that becomes an excuse. Because when we do lose, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, don’t worry about it because we’re rebuilding.’ No, see, that’s [b.s.]. It shouldn’t be that way.’’
Me: “I’ll come back and check in on you in two months and see where your enthusiasm is.’’
Him: “Oh, it will be the same, I promise.’’
That’s the challenge for Sox players. Fans seem onboard with the team’s rebuilding plan. They’re braced for pain and delayed gratification. But the players who are here want to win now.
Lest you think Holland is alone on an island of rah-rah, first baseman Jose Abreu also believes the Sox are going to be better than all the dark predictions would suggest.
“I respect their opinion, the people who are saying we don’t have anything to show this season,’’ Abreu said through an interpreter. “I respect them, but I don’t agree with that because whether we’re in a rebuilding year or whatever you want to call it, I think we have a lot of talent to compete.’’
I don’t have enough enthusiasm to compete with that. But this season really isn’t about this season. It’s about a better one down the road. Just don’t tell the players that.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.