On the heels of SoxFest, 23-year-old Chris Sale is back in Florida and packing for spring training in Arizona.
Anticipating the start of his third season with the White Sox, the young lefty has already established himself as an asset to the White Sox organization. Last season, he was considered for the Cy Young award, was awarded Major League Baseball Player of the Month and threw 192 innings (a 120+ increase from his first season).
Left elbow issues, though, landed him in the bullpen in May. Fortunately, his stint there was short-lived. Sale, known in part for his lankiness, has put on a few pounds and is returning as a starter full-time.
Apart from baseball, Sale and I share a certain hood-to-hood connection. Both of us call the small city of Lakeland, Florida home, and we both now live in the Chicago-area. That being said, interviewing the starting pitcher one-on-one was a unique experience.
SCHICHTEL: Did you have a "welcome to the big league" moment?
SALE: First day out of the gate, I had to carry a pink princess backpack out of the bullpen with candy and Red Bull and stuff like that in it. That was definitely a welcoming gift. Other than that, the first batter I ever faced [Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles] in major league baseball, I walked him on four straight pitches. My major league debut didn't go so hot.
SCHICHTEL: What is your favorite off-day activity?
SALE: Well it depends on if I'm on the road or if I'm home. If I have my family with me, we usually go to the park or to the museum or to the aquarium. We live downtown so we go to Navy Pier when it's warmer. When I'm on the road, I don't leave the hotel room at all. I watch TV, play some video games and just relax a little bit.
SCHICHTEL: Do you have a favorite place to go out or eat in Chicago?
SALE: There's actually a place RPM Italian and the Chicago Cut has some of the best steaks of all time. And then I would say just a fun, quick in-and-out place to grab beer and food would be Timothy O'Tooles -- the Irish sports pub. I live pretty close to that place so we shoot over there a lot.
SCHICHTEL: Being a fellow Lakeland-native, I must ask -- what do you like to do when you go home to Lakeland?
SALE: I usually hang out at the house and have some buddies come over -- especially now with having a son. We usually just hang out around the house and not really do too much.
SCHICHTEL: Which team is your favorite to play against?
SALE: That's hard to say. I really don't have a team that I prefer to play against. There's some cool places I like to go as far as stadiums. Camden Yards where the Orioles play just because that's where I made my debut. I have a special place for that just because that's where I first started. I like going to Detroit, too, just because it's always a heated rivalry in Detroit. The hotel is one of the nicest hotels we stay at -- and one of my favorite clubhouse crews, too.
SCHICHTEL: Which hitter has challenged you the most?
SALE: The guy that gives me the most trouble is Billy Butler from Kansas City. He's probably hit four home runs off me in two-and-a-half years. He always finds a way to eventually hit the long ball off me.
SCHICHTEL: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
SALE: Not really -- there's nothing that I really do all the time. I have my routine of stretching, but there's nothing etched in stone. I don't have any lucky socks or anything (laughs).
SCHICHTEL: What do you think of manager Robin Ventura? Does he bring more to the table since he was a former star player himself, on the White Sox no less?
SALE: He's got a great grasp of the game and leading a team. I think I can speak for everybody when I say that we all love him. He kind of brings this energy and this attitude of playing hard, working hard but still having a great time. When we aren't playing so well, he's the same guy as he is on our good days. He keeps us level and keeps everyone clicking.
SCHICHTEL: How has the transition been from bullpen to starter?
SALE: So far so good. I've really enjoyed it -- it's a different way of pitching. It's been fun for me because I get to learn a new aspect of the game. Sitting around and picking the brains of Peavy, Cooper and Thornton -- all those guys have done so much for me as far as letting me progress to where I am now. They've kinda seen and done it all. If I can pick their brains and learn from them, it will only better myself in my career.
SCHICHTEL: Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci has you listed on the short list of players who may fall victim to The Verducci Effect. The trend is that young pitchers who see a large increase in pitching between their first and second years tend to burnout. Do you have any concerns about this?
SALE: I haven't really done too much research on it. I don't pay attention to that honestly. I just go with the flow. I've put a lot of time and work into the off-season. I'd like to think that that's not going to happen. But there are unexpected things that happen over the course of the year, and I try to just adjust accordingly to what goes on.
SCHICHTEL: How are you going to approach this season differently? Do you anticipate any changes in your pre-game or off-days training sessions?
SALE: This year I got a trainer down in Naples in the off-season--Rick Lademann at Beyond Motion. He's been helping me out getting core strength and lower body strength, just sharpening all tools to get better and get stronger. And hopefully I'll end up throwing more innings than I did last year.
SCHICHTEL: Which current player on staff do you count on as a mentor? Are there any other pitchers in the rotation that you look up to or get advice from the most?
SALE: I would say Peavy -- Peavy and Danks, for sure. Those are the guys I spend most of my time with on and off the field. We saw each other this weekend up in Chicago for Soxfest, and once a week we see each other in off-season and we get straight to talking about pitching. It's something we all enjoy doing. They've all done it well for a long time, and getting advice from them never hurts.
SCHICHTEL: Who's the clown of the team? Do you have a prankster?
SALE: I'd say anybody on a given day is liable to do or say something funny. You know, you spend eight months with the same group of guys and everyone has their moments or their days. I'd say it's pretty open in our clubhouse.
The White Sox's official spring training season bats off on February 23 with a match-up against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the spring training game I'm now most excited to see? March 17. Against the Kansas City Royals. I don't know about you, but I'm anxiously awaiting the moment Sale pitches to Butler...
Follow Leslie Reece Schichtel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeslieSchichtel