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WSI News - News Watch

Buehrle, Sox looking forward to new season

March 27, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

TUCSON, Ariz. - Mark Buehrle walked off a mound at the White Sox complex Wednesday morning, got into a golf cart and rode back to the clubhouse with Ray Durham as his driver.

Once he was sure the coast was clear, Buehrle threw his glove in the air and let out a yelp.

After a brief outing against some Sox minor-leaguers, Buehrle knew his spring was finally over and Tucson would be in his rear-view mirror by Thursday night. The next time he takes the mound will be Monday afternoon at Safeco Field, when the Sox take the first step of a journey they hope will last into late October.

"I'm ready to get the season started," Buehrle said. "Staying so long down here in Tucson, getting up so early ... I think everybody is ready to get out of here."

The Sox play their final Cactus League game at 2 p.m. Thursday when they face the Cubs at Tucson Electric Park. They fly to Milwaukee immediately afterward for games against the Brewers at Miller Park on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and then they fly to San Francisco for one last exhibition game against the Giants on Sunday afternoon at Pacific Bell Park.

All in all, it was a relatively quiet Sox camp this year, except for the ongoing saga of Jim Parque and the disappearing radar gun. Last year's spring featured Frank Thomas' walkout over his contract, the denouement of the long-running Shouldergate episode and frequent David Wells sightings as well.

This year's clubhouse mix appears genuinely good, not forced like it was last March. For better or worse, Sox players know they're all in this together.

"Guys like Royce Clayton and Sandy Alomar have been here for a year now and we've gotten to know them," Paul Konerko said.

"Todd Ritchie has fit in well. It just has been kind of boring this spring. There have been no 'Boomer' [Wells] stories. But boring is good.

"Last year in spring training it felt like we were already about a month into the season. It felt like April or May, like we'd already been going at it for a while. This year we're going to be fresher, though I'm sure something will pop up. It always does."

Something usually does pop up with the White Sox, but not so during this silent spring. Thomas is happy. Clayton is happy. And manager Jerry Manuel is happy that Thomas and Clayton are happy.

With no James Baldwin or David Wells around, Latin reggae can be heard on the clubhouse stereo instead of the non-stop rap and heavy-metal music those former Sox veterans favored. The nouveau Sox clubhouse has an understated cockiness about it, some of which can be traced to new center fielder Kenny Lofton.

"Kenny Lofton has given us a little swagger," Manuel said. "He has taken over, as a leadoff hitter. Jose Valentin is back to being vocal, and if he's being vocal that means he's comfortable where he is [playing]. Paul Konerko—he's a media favorite. We find out what he thinks through the media. He doesn't talk to us. Sandy's in his second year here, so hopefully he can remain healthy. I'm pretty happy with the chemistry."

It's not a requirement that teammates get along. Some of the best teams in history bickered from spring training to the end of the World Series, notably the Oakland A's of the early 1970s. But Valentin said the Sox have to pick each other up if they hope to forge the same winning attitude of the 2000 season.

"It has to be that way," Valentin said. "We did it my first year here. No one thought we'd be good, but we believed in ourselves, picked each other up and surprised a lot of people.

"That's the way we have to think. Forget about what people say about us. We have to think of ourselves as underdogs and play every game like it's the last game of the year, whether it's Kansas City, Minnesota or whoever."

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