Fields preparing to fill big shoes at third
Following Crede, White Sox third baseman putting in fielding work
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He still might be the best quarterback in Chicago, even if Josh Fields hasn't split athletic training time as he did at Oklahoma State for quite some time.
Football is nothing more for Fields than memories of his numerous long-touchdown hookups with Rashaun Woods and a few YouTube highlights from the Bedlam Brawl against Oklahoma.
Nonetheless, Fields called a recent audible to a football reference when asked about his situation as the White Sox third baseman going into the 2009 season. Fields is following a living legend, of sorts, in Joe Crede, into the starting lineup. Crede stands as a legend, at the very least, on the South Side of Chicago.
Fields also has heard the phrase "don't expect Josh to be like Crede" so many times over the past few months in regard to his defense that he should have business cards printed up featuring his name and the particular quote. Yet, Fields understands and is able to explain this comparison by pointing to last year's exit of a true gridiron great as an example.
"Look at Aaron Rodgers, with people saying, 'Don't expect him to be like Brett Favre' and stuff like that," said Fields of the Green Bay quarterback situation after Favre retired and eventually returned with the Jets. "It's natural. It's something that comes along with the change.
"You come in behind a guy like Joe Crede, someone that a lot of people like, someone who has had success -- he was an All-Star and probably should have been a Gold Glove winner almost every year here -- people definitely will make comparisons."
Truth be told, Fields might not wind up quite as spectacular as a healthy Crede was with the glove at the hot corner. He might never win any accolades for his fielding.
Then again, a scant few third basemen match up with Crede when he's on his game. The present concern for Fields is not these personal highlights, as much as simply fitting into the White Sox big picture. To reach this goal, Fields knew his defensive play had to improve from an inconsistent 2008.
And that specific responsibility was not taken lightly by the 26-year-old. Fields, who had purchased a home in Florida during the offseason, traveled with his wife, Ashleigh, to Miami each weekend in January in order to work with White Sox bench coach Joey Cora for two or three days.
The program was easy to follow.
"We would get out there, and Joey would hit as many possible ground balls as he could in the shortest amount of time that he could," said Fields with a smile of his private offseason workouts with Cora. "We would start out at 9 or 10 o'clock and end up at 12 or 1.
"Basically, I took ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. Sometimes, it seemed like he was holding a machine gun and not necessarily a Fungo when he was hitting because it was ball, ball, ball, one right after another.
"There was no time wasted with him, that's for sure," Fields said. "I just called him and asked because I wanted to work. He took it as I wanted to work, so, when I got down there, it was a lot of work and getting after it."
According to Cora, the call from Fields came as absolutely no surprise. Fields knew at the end of the 2008 campaign that October surgery was coming for his troublesome right knee, a process called a lateral release along with cleaning up cartilage damage. When he got healthy, Cora expected this program to begin.
January was when Fields got the full medical clearance, wanting to be able to move around first before he shifted into high gear taking ground balls. Not only did Fields sharpen his defensive skills through this process, but also gained a greater understanding of Cora himself through their work together.
"I saw a complete other side to Joey that I hadn't seen before then," Fields said. "It was good. It made me relax and [feel] more comfortable around him.
"He really wants and likes people to work hard. But he's also funny, relaxed and a good dude. If something is going on here and I need to say, 'Hey, I feel like this,' I know I can go up and he'll give me a straight answer."
In 2007, Fields hit 23 home runs and drove in 67 over 100 games. In 2008, Fields hit .156 without a home run over 14 games. When Crede went down because of his balky back, the White Sox opted to start Juan Uribe at third because of his stronger defense.
Cora believes a different Fields will be on display this year, and not solely because of their extra offseason work. It's simply about Fields being healthy again and far more flexible.
"You can tell right away the difference with the way he's moving because he's healthy," Cora said. "I want to say he was battling that injury since almost when he got here [with the White Sox]. You are going to see the athletic Fields we were hearing about because he's healthy."
Dayan Viciedo also worked out with Cora and Fields -- actually, Fields joined in with them. And the 19-year-old Cuban phenom will be challenging Fields for that job in replacing Crede.
It's a tough task, darn near impossible in some ways. But remember, Rodgers threw 28 touchdown passes in his first year in place of Favre. Now, it's Fields' turn to take the snaps, or take the grounders, for the White Sox.
"In my head, I know what I can do," Fields said. "I know that, if not soon, one of these days I feel like I can possibly get to that point [like Crede]. So that's my main goal, my own personal goal that I set for myself to achieve.
"People can compare me all they want. But it really comes down to being satisfied with what I'm doing and how I'm helping the team. That's what really matters."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.