Anti-Ozzie: Robin Ventura era starts with Sox

TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer Published:

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Coolly dressed in a black long-sleeve shirt and jeans, the new manager of the Chicago White Sox sat atop an aluminum picnic table and held his first media session of spring training outdoors.

He didn't curse, rant, make headlines or bold predictions.

This was different. This was Robin Ventura, about as far as one can get from Ozzie Guillen.

On Wednesday, Ventura and the White Sox began a new era, opening camp for the first time since 2004 without Guillen, their sometimes irascible, sometimes lovable, always entertaining former manager, who took his act to Miami with the Marlins.

Ventura hasn't managed before -- at any level -- and his hiring in October caught Chicago fans off guard, much like a hitter sitting fastball and then getting a curve for strike three. He's grateful for the chance to succeed Guillen, the only White Sox manager to win a World Series since 1917. But Ventura doesn't see himself as anything special, just the next guy in line.

"I don't look at it as that I'm replacing him," said the laid-back Californian. "I can only look at it that I'm just happy to be in this position with the White Sox. You're talking about a guy who played here, managed and won a World Series. Until all that stuff happens, I'm proud of what he did and it's just move forward."

Ventura can't wait to get started.

After months of staring at a desk filled with statistical data, scouting reports, schedules and other paperwork, the former All-Star third baseman was thrilled to be in the dry desert air. He couldn't wait to hear bats crack and gloves thud as the White Sox took their first steps in what they hope is a better season than their disappointing 2011 campaign.

Ventura felt spring's renewing powers for 16 seasons as a player. He's now experiencing them from a new perspective, from the view of the man calling the shots.

"Spring's fun," he said. "You get back here and you're starting over. You're starting back new. It's different as a manager, seeing the differences of being ready to come as a player and physically being ready. I think this is more mentally being ready to deal with 25 guys instead of just dealing with yourself."

The White Sox won't have their first full workout until next week, giving Ventura more time to figure out what to include in the first clubhouse speech he gives his players.

"I know what I basically want to say as far as them understanding who I am and what's expected," he said. "I don't have it all written out. I know what I want to say, which I will do on the 28th when everybody is here. I can't waste all my material right now."

There's a confidence about the 44-year-old Ventura that makes it feel as if he was the perfect choice to replace Guillen. As a former big player, Ventura knows what players expect of a manager and he's hoping to use some of the qualities he liked in managers he played for to shape him as the face and voice of a team.

He'll ask a lot of his players, and he hopes to be able to give them all they need.

"As far as the managing goes, be honest, up front and excited to be there -- and not screw up," he said, laughing. "Don't make any mistakes. But if you don't make any mistakes, you're not trying, either. There's a fine line there. I want guys to be able to enjoy coming to the ballpark and play hard. That's important."

Will it be a dictatorship?

"Absolutely," he said sarcastically. "It's my way or the highway."

As some of Chicago's players reported Wednesday, Ventura's arrival was one of the primary topics.

Peeling off his sunglasses after entering the clubhouse, pitcher Chris Sale scanned the large room looking for his locker. Once there, he talked about the chance to move from the bullpen to the rotation this season, taking up swimming during the off-season to improve his endurance and getting to meet Ventura last month at SoxFest.

"He seems like a great guy," Sale said. "He was a great player and he's level-headed, so I don't think he's going to be as loud or as entertaining as the last one -- Ozzie. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's very knowledgeable about the game and we're ready move forward and get to work with him."

That sentiment was echoed by third baseman Brent Morel and pitchers Gavin Floyd, Jesse Crain and Phillip Humber, who all expressed an eagerness to play for Ventura.

It's not that they disliked Guillen, but his animated antics may have grown stale.

Ventura represents a fresh start.

"He's got a laid-back personality and a good sense of humor," Humber said. "As far as the Xs and Os, I don't know, and I don't know if he knows because it's his first time so everyone has to adjust as they go. I know that he knows the game very well. I know that he was a great player and I've heard players say if they had to pick a guy that they played with to be a manager, he would be the guy. That's high praise coming from teammates."

Ventura knows there's work to be done. The White Sox lost 83 games last season, when the team's "All In" slogan became nothing more than an empty promise and punchline. This year, "Appreciate the Game" is the motto for Ventura's first campaign, a fitting slogan for a player who led by example and will demand his team plays with passion.

The White Sox aren't expected to contend in 2012. Ventura is aware that Detroit, boosted by the signing of Prince Fielder, is favored to repeat as division champion. Predictions don't change anything.

"We still have the same goals," he said. "We're here to win games and we've got to figure out a way to do that. We're not going to concede anything to anybody."

Ventura can't lament the loss of ace Mark Buehrle, who left as a free agent. He won't highlight the battles in camp as those will sort themselves out naturally. And, Ventura won't prejudge anyone. His eyes are wide open.

"There's a competition in everything," he said. "But as far as guys coming here and having kind of a clean slate to do whatever, I'm the guy for that."

Ventura hasn't tried on his full manager's uniform yet, "just the top."

He's still working on his "look" as manager, joking about accessories worn by his peers.

"Maybe I will wear a watch," he said. "That way I'll know where we're supposed to be."

Ventura seems to be in the right place.