FORT MILL — Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen made himself right at home at Charlotte Knights Stadium on Thursday. His team was in town to play an exhibition game against the Knights.
Two-and-a-half hours before the game, Guillen fielded questions from a bevy of media. There were local newspaper, radio and television personnel as well as a couple of White Sox beat reporters from Chicago that followed the team to Fort Mill from the Arizona desert where the team has been in spring training.
It didn't take long for the flamboyant manager to gather more attention. He climbed into the stands above the third base dugout to get up close and personal with Knights baseball fans. The fans came out in huge numbers to see the first major league exhibition game at the Castle since March 31, 2001, when the White Sox played the Montreal Expos.
Charlotte won the game, 4-3, behind three home runs.
Guillen leaned against the railing atop the dugout roof as about 40 fans closed in on him. Guillen got comfortable; he planned to be there for a while. He signed some autographs and talked to the fans. There was a lot of laughing.
The crowd grew to 50 or more. Some sat in the chairback seats, others stood in the rows and nearby aisles. Guillen was just getting started.
More talking. More autographs. A lot more laughs.
"We have come here for a reason," Guillen said.
"People have paid to see a big league team."
A sellout crowd of 10,212 came out to the game. Those that huddled around Guillen got a lot for their money. Stephanie Poag and Daniel Kallal of Rock Hill were two of them.
"He was really nice. He talked to the kids mostly," Poag said.
She liked the way Guillen tried to give everyone equal time. She saw some guys who were trying to get multiple things signed. Guillen told them he'd been around the game a long time and wasn't going to fall for that trick.
"I saw him walking up the steps. He walked right past us over to the top of the dugout," Kallal said. "Most managers don't sign autographs like that."
Poag and Kallal go to enough Knights games to know that as a fact.
Guillen was generous and courteous. He gave a lot of his time and his personality.
This is the same manager that was quoted earlier this week saying "Don't hate Ozzie Guillen, hate the Chicago White Sox." He wants his team to be feared. If they aren't, he assumes, opponents don't think the White Sox are very good.
The White Sox got solo home runs from Mark Kotsay leading off the second inning and Carlos Quentin to start the fourth. Kotsay was a Golden Spikes Award winner in college. Quentin bashed 36 home runs two years ago for Chicago. Last season was injury-plagued.
Charlotte has the makings of a competitve team. They got a leadoff single from Jordan Danks in the fourth inning. Stefan Gartrell homered to left and Josh Kroeger made it back-to-back with a clout to deep right field.
Tyler Flowers added a solo homer in the sixth for the Knights. A minor leaguer named Kyle Shelton hit a homer for the White Sox in the seventh, long after most of the big league players had called it a night.
Chicago's Jake Peavy started the game on the mound. He made a handful of rehab starts for the Knights last season before finishing the year with the White Sox after his trade from San Diego.
He is the only one that knows if he is back to his 2007 National League Cy Young Award winning form. He's too smart to give anything away in spring training. At least that's what Guillen was saying prior to the game.
"No one knows (expletive) about spring training numbers. All those geniuses at ESPN wonder why he's pitching so bad," Guillen chanted. "He's been throwing all fastballs. He's not showing all his pitches. I'm not worried about him. He does his job to get ready for the season."
Peavy's last start was March 22 against Kansas City when he gave up seven runs on 10 hits in three innings. In three major league spring starts he had a 6.55 ERA.
"I think it's funny people get worried about spring training," Peavy elaborated. "Everyone goes about it in their own way. Guys that need to make the club go out to impress. I've seen guys have the worst spring training of their life and then have great seasons."
Peavy deemed himself to be as healthy as he has been and is ready to get into a season mentality. When asked if he felt Cy Young good he stopped short of making any prediction.
"I don't know about that," he said, "I feel as good as I did in 2007."
Peavy is scheduled to start on Wednesday in Chicago against the Cleveland Indians. The Knights open up the 2010 season at the Gwinnett Braves on April 8. Their home opener is April 15, also against Gwinnett.
Karl Lyles 329-4032