No matter what, fans will see Dunn's sunny side
DH returns for South Side opener bringing always-upbeat attitude
CHICAGO -- A home-field advantage didn't exist for Adam Dunn during the 2011 season.
The straight-shooting White Sox designated hitter points out that his rough results dictated pretty much everything thrown at him during one forgettable 122-game performance amid a highly successful career. Dunn's .149 average and 97 strikeouts in 59 of those games at U.S. Cellular Field certainly didn't help the cause.
Then again, there are fans getting on an underachieving player, especially a major free-agent signee at the centerpiece of the team's "All-In" campaign. And there is what Dunn had to endure last year in Chicago.
"It makes it harder, obviously," said Dunn matter-of-factly on dealing with the jeers. "As bad as it sounds, you play for the 25 guys in here and you play for your coaches and yourself. That to me is all that really matters."
"Fans certainly can do whatever they want," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton. "But there were times last year where he would take a strike and they would start booing in an at-bat. He would take Strike 1 and they would start booing."
White Sox fans certainly didn't pick out Dunn and his .159 average for sole punishment. Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham, Jake Peavy and even Thornton himself during a rough April were on the business end of their jeers. Former manager Ozzie Guillen heard it as the team faded once again in September, and if the fans could have booed general manager Ken Williams during the course of a game, they would have acted accordingly.
Before White Sox supporters take umbrage at being chastised for their conduct, understand this is not a story breaking down fan etiquette. Dunn is returning to the South Side of Chicago for Friday afternoon's home opener against the Tigers looking more like the prodigious slugger who produced seven straight seasons of at least 38 homers from 2004-10 and the man with 366 career long balls.
Don't pay attention to Dunn's .222 average through the season's first five games, because the difference is absolutely noticeable to everyone around him. One Dunn trait that hasn't changed is how he carries himself.
Even in the face of the worst six months as a professional, Dunn remained the consummate teammate. That important trait continues into the 2012 season.
"He seems to be one of the best teammates I've ever been around," said White Sox bench coach Mark Parent in a recent interview. "From what he went through last year, for him to have the attitude he has and it's not fake. It's like that every day. It has been amazing to watch."
"I love the attitude that he comes in with every day of wanting to play and enjoying it," White Sox manager Robin Ventura added. "He's talented. We've seen all the stuff in the past, home runs and that stuff. But just his energy when he comes to the park every day, I think it's an infectious thing for our team."
Infectious enough, if you will, that Ventura wants to get Dunn in the field a little more frequently because that energy rubs off on everyone. Ask Dunn about the "great teammate" compliment, and he speaks with pride big enough to fill his now leaner 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame.
"That's the highest honor that you can have, coming from players and especially your manager and coaches," Dunn said. "That's something that it doesn't matter how good or bad you are doing or what kind of player you are, being a good teammate is huge.
"You are going to play your best when you are loose and having fun, and I like to have fun. Some people look at it as I don't care or I'm goofing off all the time. That's not what I'm doing. I know if I can keep the pitcher loose or if I can keep Gordon loose next to me while playing first, they are not going to tighten up. It's baseball. It's supposed to be fun."
By Dunn's own admission, the fun disappeared a bit during 2011's debacle. He could hit .100 in 2012, and that scenario won't play out again.
"Where we all get into trouble, I think, is we dissect this thing so much," Dunn said. "Again, it's baseball. We've done it our whole lives. We know how to do it.
"We've always had fun doing it. We're at the highest level. Why wouldn't we be having fun doing it? I'm not losing it. That's part of me. That's really part of my game."
Finding fun when the fans are seemingly crushing your almost every move can't be easy. But as Dunn has said countless times since SoxFest, that season is history.
Friday continues his new start, with renewed White Sox hopes. Maybe the U.S. Cellular full house will give Dunn a standing ovation, showing it believes 2011 was a blip on a widely successful radar screen.
If the reaction is mixed, Dunn will still be ready to play with a smile on his face. He didn't need last season's struggles to reinforce how much he enjoys competing every day, enjoys being around his teammates and enjoys people counting on him.
"Last year didn't change me as a person," Dunn said. "The best thing it did was you kind of realized how other people, the people you are surrounding yourself with, are they in it for the right reason or not? That was probably the best thing I learned."
"When he got a base hit against a lefty, there was a mockery cheer," Thornton said. "And it must have been 70 of the 81 home games where he got booed. You can't put into words what it must have felt like, but for what he went through, he handled it like a true professional. Hopefully, he gives them a whole lot to cheer for this year."