White Sox’ Adam Dunn anticipates a much easier Cell in 2012

SHARE White Sox’ Adam Dunn anticipates a much easier Cell in 2012

White Sox players stand for the national anthem at U.S. Cellular Field Friday, April 13, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

The Adam Dunn last seen at U.S. Cellular Field is not the same No.  32 who’ll be wearing White Sox pinstripes at Friday’s home opener.

Dunn 2011 was downtrodden, perplexed, befuddled – you name it – wondering what on earth happened to a swing that had produced 354 career home runs in three cities before Chicago. His woeful production after signing a big-money, free-agent contract with the Sox made him the go-to guy for fans venting frustration about the team’s disappointing season.

Although he wasn’t the only Sox performing below career norms, Dunn had been the picture boy for the ‘‘All In” campaign, so fans booed him the loudest. They shouted nasty things. They blamed him for much of the team’s failure.

To Dunn’s credit, he refused to turn on them, sulk, make excuses or feel sorry for himself. When he got his second hit in 55 at-bats against left-handed pitchers with a single on July 4 at U.S. Cellular Field, the crowd gave him an extended ovation that smacked more of ‘‘It’s about time” than heartfelt support. Dunn stood on first base, smiled and raised his helmet to the crowd.

Dunn took his lumps, took them in stride and has put them behind him. With his confidence back, a restored Dunn briefly reflected on a season he urgently needs to forget as he prepared to leave Cleveland on Wednesday and head to a reunion with Sox fans at the home opener against the Detroit Tigers.

‘‘The same people that will boo will cheer,” Dunn said. ‘‘That’s part of it. I’ve been booed before. Does it suck? Of course it does. No one wants to go in your home park and get more boos than you do on the road, but it comes with the territory.”

Right-hander Jake Peavy, who because of injuries has fallen short of management and fan expectations since he was acquired in a 2009 trade, understands the territory on the South Side. All it will take to get the fans behind him, Dunn and Alex Rios is a run of strong starts, home runs and RBI.

‘‘They are so passionate about their baseball,” said Peavy, who starts Friday against the Tigers. ‘‘They are die-hard fans. What I love about Chicago and our fans is they are blue-collar and they seem like real people. I think you guys know me well enough that that’s who I am. I was raised low-to-middle class in a very rural town. I relate well to a lot of [the South Side] in their personalities, but at the same time, I understand their frustration with me. I’ve never once questioned them for getting on me.”

Nor has Dunn, who maintained a self-deprecating sense of humor about his 11-homer, .159 season when reminded that U.S. Cellular Field is known as a good hitters park.

‘‘That’s what I hear,” Dunn said. “That’s what I hear.”

Dunn missed the home opener last season, recovering from an emergency appendectomy that marked the beginning of the end of his short-lived good times in a Sox uniform.

He comes into Friday’s game coming off a good spring (six homers), a major-league record-tying eighth home run on Opening Day in Texas and 18 collectively good at-bats at Texas and Cleveland. He has four hits in five games ­– nothing to write home about – but the batting eye that was lost last year is back. His four walks have hiked his on-base percentage to .364.

‘‘What happened last year is last year,” Dunn said. ‘‘I didn’t get to play in the home opener last year, and it’s kind of like the second opening day, so I’m looking forward to it.

‘‘I feel really good, still. I’m ready to rock, man. Ready go get home and get in the flow of everything.”

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