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02/29/12 9:13 PM EST

White Sox help out Northern Illinois team

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Northern Illinois University baseball team took in White Sox practice at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday, and then went through one of their own workouts at one of the complex's back fields. The Huskies were in town to take part in a tournament involving Arizona State to be played starting Friday in Surprise.

Watching the White Sox in action was not only entertaining for the collegiate players but also a bit of a learning experience.

"We contacted them and they said, 'Yeah, you can work out on our field once the big league club is done,'" NIU baseball coach Ed Mathey said. "The White Sox were great in accommodating us."

White Sox eager to prove naysayers wrong

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox players have a message for any fan or pundit who doesn't believe this 2012 team can contend for the American League Central title.

Don't give up just yet on this team, and don't base this year's outlook on last year's disappointment.

"Fans shouldn't be upset because I think we have a great team, I really do," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, taking the purely optimistic viewpoint. "If we do what we are capable of, which is easier said than done, but if we do that, the sky is the limit for this team. We can compete and compete with the Tigers and give them a run."

"Every year there are teams that aren't expected to do anything, but they have great years and get in the playoffs," starter John Danks said. "I don't think anyone saw the Cardinals winning it all [in 2011] after losing [Adam] Wainwright."

Skepticism pushed toward this particular group comes from key team members such as Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos all departing from last year's squad, and reserve outfielder Kosuke Fukudome standing as the lone Major League free-agent addition. Comeback questions surrounding Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy and Beckham all have to be answered in the affirmative for the 2012 squad to take a major step forward.

They are trying to erase three straight disappointing roller-coaster rides produced since the White Sox last division title in 2008. This group has no intention of reliving the past, but it shares in the fans' overall frustration. The White Sox also hope the fans will soon share in their excitement for the upcoming campaign.

"We understand there aren't a whole lot of expectations, but if we get off to a good start and if we have a good year, people will follow us," Danks said. "If we do what people expect us to do right now, then the season will go like people are planning."

"When you are throwing the junk we've been throwing out there, with last year how bad we played at different stretches of the year, I wouldn't want to watch that either," reliever Matt Thornton said. "But our fans are great. They are passionate. They want to see a good product."

Sale keeps focus squarely on baseball

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Sale didn't pay much attention to the previously ongoing reports of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, his successful appeal or the fact that confidential information went public. The slender 6-foot-6, 180-pounder has a unique view on the situation as a whole.

"I can't speak for everyone in here, but that's an issue I don't even pay attention to," said Sale, who was part of the White Sox hour-long meeting with officials from the Major League Baseball Players Association on Wednesday before workouts. "My father said it best: It's the only test you don't have to study for. You shouldn't fail it.

"As far as all that stuff goes, I mean, obviously you need to look what you are putting in your body, and we have guys in here that are good at that and know everything you can and can't do. Lean on them. I'm more worried about getting work done and starting the season more so than I am all that other stuff."

Third to first

• White Sox manager Robin Ventura wasn't surprised by Boston manager Bobby Valentine's clubhouse ban on alcohol. But he doesn't intend to follow suit.

"Bobby has always done that, even when I played for him with the Mets. I don't see it as him changing it," Ventura said. "For us, right now we're fine. If it needs to change, I'll change it."

• The White Sox and the University of Illinois have formed a cross-promotional relationship in which Illini fans will receive special offers to selected games, suites, group sales and patio parties. There also will be an "Illini Day" on Friday, June 1, at U.S. Cellular Field for the White Sox game with the Mariners. Fans can take part in a pregame parade and wear their orange while enjoying fireworks after the game. White Sox fans will receive special offers and incentives for Illini sporting events.

• Look for Ventura to get closing candidates Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain more ninth-inning work with a lead as the Cactus League schedule progresses. Veterans usually avoid pitching the late innings in Spring Training games, with numerous Minor Leaguers in the lineup at that point.

• Potentially adding a second Wild Card team doesn't change the 2012 White Sox mind-set, according to starter Chris Sale.

"They said it today: You are not playing for second place," Sale said. "It would be great if that [second Wild Card] did happen, but from here on out, we are going for that No. 1 spot."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.