03/30/07 10:44 PM ET
Notes: Darin rarin' to go
Lifetime professional happy to be back home in Midwest
By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
Following a frustrating 2006 season, that saw him limited to a career-low 40 games due to recurring right ankle problems, culminating in offseason arthroscopic surgery, the versatile Erstad -- the only player in Major League history to win a Gold Glove on the infield (at first base in 2004) and in the outfield (2000 and 2002) -- was allowed to walk away by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The White Sox knew better, signed him to a one-year free-agent deal and the rest is history. While leaving the first and, in this case only, organization you've ever known can be traumatic, Erstad believes coming to the South Side has all the makings of a happy ending.
"It's a great group of guys," said the Sox starting center fielder. "The transition was pretty easy. They made it very easy.
"I grew up in the Midwest and I've always loved it there," he continued. "Chicago is one of my favorite cities to play in, so it's going to be exciting."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is certainly excited at the prospect of having the veteran in his lineup and believes he'll bounce back to form now that he's healthy.
"Oh my God, yes," said Guillen when asked if Erstad had lived up to his expectations. "When you get a professional player, who had a season the way he had last year, he was injured and sore, come down and play the way he played, he came out and chased some balls in the outfield and was running hard everywhere. He was in great shape. He was a plus. We have to keep him the same way all year long. I was impressed with the way he showed up. He was outstanding from the first day."
Erstad entered Friday night's exhibition game with the Atlanta Braves with a .303 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage, with four doubles (two off Joe Crede's team high), three homers (one off Jim Thome's team lead), and 30 total bases (three off Paul Konerko's total).
So confident is Guillen that he has no hesitation in starting Erstad in the two-hole Opening Day against Cleveland's tough lefty C.C. Sabathia. Erstad's career .333 average (7-for-21), .364 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage may have made that decision a little easier. His work ethic certainly had a hand in the decision to pencil him in Opening Day and every day.
"I think this kid will make a lot of people better," said Guillen. "He's going to push a lot of players to be better and to play the game the way they should be playing the game."
What's Left? About the only suspense remaining regarding the Sox Opening Day lineup is who will start in left field.
"The decision is going to be between [Pablo] Ozuna and [Scott Podsednik]," said Guillen prior to Friday night's exhibition game. "That's the only decision we have to make. We're going to sit with the coaching staff and this is an important day for everyone. 'Pods' is our everyday left fielder and we're going to make a decision if we go with Ozuna or we're going with Podsednik.
"It depends on how 'Pods' swings the bat the next two days and how he feels," added the Sox skipper. "I like to go with the guy who is going to play every day. The way Ozuna is swinging the bat right now is making it tough."
Podsednik, who last season became only the fourth player in franchise history to record back-to-back seasons with at least 40 steals, has hit .267 with one RBI and is 2-for-4 in stolen bases during the spring, following January surgery for a sports hernia. Ozuna finished Friday night hitting a hefty .370, despite going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts against Atlanta, with three doubles, a triple and three RBIs.
On Deck The White Sox conclude their brief two-game visit to Atlanta and their 2007 exhibition season Saturday afternoon, with a matinee at Turner Field. Right-hander Javier Vazquez, who was 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in five Cactus League starts, looks to end on a high note. Lefty Mark Redman (0-0, 4.50 in three Grapefruit League starts) takes the ball for Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.