White Sox keeping it clean, fun at spring training

Camp Renteria is running smoothly and with crisp attention to detail. And, as always, it gets rolling in full fun mode almost every day at 9 a.m.

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White Sox manager Rick Renteria tries to keep things light-hearted at spring training.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria tries to keep things light-hearted at spring training.

Carlos Osorio/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Camp Renteria is running smoothly and with crisp attention to detail.

And, as always, not without laughter, almost every day at 9 a.m.

“They keep it loose,” catcher James McCann said, looking over his shoulder to see what form of entertainment was getting ready to be staged at the daily morning team gathering of players and staff.

On Tuesday, as always, media shuffling out of the clubhouse after open access were left to guess what was going on behind closed doors. The sounds booming from the clubhouse told you it was stocky Class AAA catcher Yermin Mercedes singing “Baby Shark.”

Rick Renteria has promoted this kind of fun since he became manager four spring trainings ago, in the name of team bonding, minor-league players included. Unlike the Cubs’ more publicized stunts during the Joe Maddon era, the White Sox and Renteria keep their fun private.

But it’s not all fun and games all day long. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work.

“There is also the importance of getting the little things right,” McCann said. “That’s a huge component. You look around the clubhouse, and there is a lot of talent. But if you have a lot of talent and don’t do the little things right, it’s going to get you. So make sure you do the little things right.”

Renteria says winning Cactus League games is nice, but, more important, he wants a clean game. So far, overall, it has not been sloppy. Outfielders are throwing to the right base and getting out of each other’s way. Infielders are communicating. The little things are evident.

“I’ve been in big-league camp for a handful of years with Ricky,” outfielder Adam Engel said, “and there’s a method to what he’s doing. And then you just feel like guys are peaking at the right time. Guys aren’t rushed early on, and if guys need something, they get it. If we need more bats, we will go get more at-bats. They have a good gauge as to where everybody’s at.”

In short, “they do a really good job of getting us ready for the season,” Engel said.

The Sox say they will be better in 2020 after three years in rebuild mode under Renteria’s watch because of the talent McCann speaks of. As McCann suggests, a lack of execution here or a decision there can flush away a lot of good.

“And that’s what the coaching staff focuses on, the little baserunning things, the little things like hitting the cutoff man and backing up bases,” McCann said. “Those things get overlooked by the average eye. And those things matter.”

Players and coaches insist team bonding and cohesiveness do, too.

“It’s just something [fans] don’t get to see behind the scenes,” veteran infielder Andrew Romine, 34, said. “We’re in our locker room — or ‘our house’ — for pretty much nine months out of the year. You’ve got to communicate with people, spend time next to them every day and then have to work with them at the same time.”

Which is why Renteria does the things he does. The players really do seem to enjoy it. It does bring them together.

“It’s a pretty close-knit group,” said Romine, a quiet observer during his first year at Sox camp. “Even accepting of new guys, respecting the guys that are coming in and where they’ve come from, their voice and how they fit in this organization.

“It seems like Rick likes to have some fun, but at the same time still get us focused on what we’re going to accomplish today, and get ready for the season.”

Baby sharks and all.

“They had a little fun putting it together,” Renteria said. “I’m trying to have these guys do a little Lynyrd Skynyrd. They kind of deviated from that. But it was OK.”

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