3/5/2014 3:08 P.M. ET
Sale getting used to growing intensity of spotlight
Left-hander has quickly assumed leadership role on and off the field
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The area in front of Chris Sale's locker at Camelback Ranch has been a popular stopping point during the first three weeks of Spring Training.
It doesn't hurt that Sale's is situated on the same bank as Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, John Danks and Adam Dunn, who are frequent interview topics themselves. But people want to know about the White Sox ace on a daily basis.
Sometimes two or three times daily.
Cy Young-caliber performances during the 2012 and 2013 seasons coming at the top of the White Sox rotation, coupled with an intelligent, outgoing demeanor, have thrust the 24-year-old into the spotlight. Overwhelmed doesn't quite describe how Sale has felt during his fourth stint in Arizona, although it's part of the descriptive picture.
Sale readily admitted to noticing the change when he sat down recently for a conversation with MLB.com.
"You come and bother me a little bit more now," said Sale with a laugh. "My first two springs, I was over in the corner, minding my own business, getting my shoes laced up and going to work.
"Now, everyone wants to know what I'm doing, how I'm doing, how I tie my shoes or whether I'm playing golf or not. This Spring Training was a little overwhelming the first week or so. The first day I walk in and there's a bunch of people lined up. It's overwhelming, but it's something that comes with the territory.
"Obviously leaning on guys like Paul and Adam, they've done that kind of stuff before," Sale said. "Just handle it the way I've always handled it. Try to be the same person and not change at all with this and that. Play the game the way I've always played it."
Let's move away from the baseball side of Sale for a moment, because to be honest, people have grown familiar with his high level of accomplishments in just a short time. Here's a quick refresher for those who have forgotten.
Two All-Star appearances. A sixth- and fifth-place finish in Cy Young voting. A fourth- and second-place standing among American League WAR for pitchers at 5.9 in '12 and 6.9 in '13. In 405 1/3 innings as a starter, Sale has fanned 417, walked 96, allowed 350 hits and produced a 3.06 ERA.
That's certainly nothing to overlook for a southpaw with one of the funkiest but effective deliveries in the game. So what about Sale the person?
Married to Brianne and with a son, Ryland, this native of Florida also is devoted to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, which won its opening game of the Atlantic Sun conference tournament on Tuesday. That devotion runs so deep that when Sale was asked to pick between taking a perfect game into the seventh and finishing with a one-hitter on May 12 against the Angels last year or FGCU men's basketball stunning NCAA Tournament run, Sale easily picked FGCU basketball.
"FGCU without a doubt. That was so out of the blue. You are talking about even a bigger underdog story than anything that ever happened to that school," Sale said. "What that brought to our community, what that brought to our school. You are talking about enrollment going through the roof.
"People trying to get into that school and the community growing. You are talking about selling out our arena now, and we couldn't have sold that out six or seven years ago if we gave away tickets. It's fun and exciting and something that was great for our community.
"Everyone is like, 'Where did you go to school? Where is that? Where's Ft. Myers?'" said a smiling Sale. "That will be a fun story to tell down the road to my kids or grandkids."
FGCU's underdog status first belonged to arguably its most famous athlete.
There was no Draft selection out of high school for Sale. He carved a niche at a small, unknown institution baseball-wise that ultimately left him as the 13th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and in the Majors as a reliever two months later.
His talent caught the eye of scouts. His desire has made him one of the game's best pitchers. It's a desire even seen in hobbies such as ping pong, video games and golf.
Jesse Crain humorously talked about Sale's anger over losing a ping-pong battle between the two at the end of the '12 season. Sale won't deny reports of his need to succeed.
"Without a doubt. There have been a couple of times where there's almost been an Xbox controller through the TV playing Call of Duty," Sale said. "Getting quick sniped or something stupid like that, they throw some C4 on me.
"John [Danks], playing ping pong, there's a lot of competitive heat going on there, a little bit of trash talking. It's always fun."
Ryland understands that dad plays baseball, and loves the clubhouse, according to Sale. He just doesn't understand the grand scheme of things, such as the White Sox moving from Konerko's team to Sale's team in the estimation of many.
That point in particular evokes a laugh from Sale, who knows what Konerko has meant to the franchise and knows he has just begun. Ten years from now, he just wants to be part of a championship like the captain.
"This is a sports city," Sale said. "You are talking about the Bulls in the '90s, the Blackhawks now. Holy cow. The history with the Bears.
"We won't talk about the North Side. But with the history of the White Sox in '05, it would be nice to almost do our city a service and do it justice and bring another championship back with baseball."