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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Former Cat proves ace for ChiSox

    CENTER OF ATTENTION

    Of all the things Brian Anderson learned during his time as an Arizona Wildcat, he finds it easy to pinpoint the thing that stands out the most.

    “”College is a preparation,”” 24-year-old Anderson, now the rookie starting center fielder for Chicago White Sox, said of his three-year stint at Arizona from 2001-2003. “”They’re trying to prepare you for life as well as baseball.””

    It’s something Arizona head coach Andy Lopez often openly talks about with his team.

    “”I try to share with my athletes, ‘You’ll have some great moments out here – you’ll have some down moments – but it shouldn’t be who you are a human being. You are who you are, and you decide who you are.'””

    Lopez’s former player – one of 10 players he currently has in the Major Leagues – saw action in 13 games with the White Sox last season, hitting .176 with two home runs and three RBIs after two late-season call ups earned by tearing up the International League with the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate Charlotte Knights, hitting .293 with 15 round-trippers and 54 RBIs in 111 games before the first call up.

    Though short-lived, last season’s time in Chicago was a memorable one for the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Anderson.

    There was Aug. 16, his seven at-bat Major League debut against the Minnesota Twins that saw him get his first career hit off of Brad Radke – “”It took me a couple tries,”” he said -and then there was a game in Seattle 10 days later.

    Facing the Mariners’ 19-year-old phenom Felix Hernandez – arguably one of the toughest young pitchers in the game today – Anderson knocked two balls out of the park, proving to the White Sox’s organization that his potential was more than just hype and becoming the first White Sox player to hit his first two career home runs in the same game since Brian Simmons did it late in the 1998 season.

    “”It was amazing,”” Anderson said of the game. “”I’ve been milking that game for at least a year now, people have been asking me about it.

    “”I was ‘In the zone’ more than anything,”” he continued, visibly mocking the clichǸ.

    “”Just being able to do that, I couldn’t believe it rounding the bases. Running home, just thinking to myself, ‘Geez, this is almost surreal.'””

    Recently, as he sat in the White Sox media room on the second-to-last day of spring training, Anderson reflected on an offseason trade that sent center fielder Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia in exchange for first baseman Jim Thome, essentially clearing the way for Anderson to start in center this year.

    “”It’s more mixed emotions for me,”” Anderson said. “”You lose a guy in the clubhouse that you really enjoy hanging out with and watching him play, but at the same time, you see … a great career opportunity so you got to take advantage of it.””

    Which is exactly what he’s done – at least so far.

    This spring, Anderson hit .309 in 22 games with one home run, five doubles, two triples and 10 RBIs and continued it on Opening Day, going 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs against Cleveland in Chicago.

    “”In my eyes, I feel as confident leaving this spring training as I have in the past two previous spring trainings,”” Anderson said. “”I feel great at the plate right now. I just couldn’t ask for anything else.””

    A portion of his success this spring may be attributed to his housing, as he shacked up with a pair of current Wildcat infielders in Brad Boyer, a senior, and Brett Scyphers, a sophomore, in former Wildcat Trevor Crowe’s house this March.

    “”Having him come home all the time, he’s a guy that you can always look to for advice when you have a down day at the park,”” said Boyer, who played with Anderson his freshman year. “”Even when you have a great day, he’s a guy that tells you that you have to keep an even keel when you’re out on the field.

    “”You come home, and all of a sudden your mood’s changed just because his attitude is always a great attitude. He’s just carefree.””

    “”Whenever he’s around, you can always pick his brain a little bit,”” said junior shortstop Jason Donald. “”You can get an inside view of what (Major League Baseball) really is like.””

    But the graduate of Tucson’s Canyon Del Oro High School attributes most of his success to one person: Lopez.

    “”It’s tough to say that I would be where I’m at right now without him,”” Anderson said. “”He took a lot of man hours and took me in the cage … and wouldn’t let me settle to be mediocre because he just saw something I guess that I didn’t at the time.””

    Lopez remembers the first time he met Anderson in 2002, his first year as Arizona’s coach.

    “”He and (former infielder) Pat Reilly, his teammate at the time, were right there in right field, and I was going to work with the infielders,”” Lopez said from Jerry Kindall Field, gesturing toward right. “”They had a football, and I knew from past programs, guys rehab with a football sometimes when their shoulder’s banged up.

    “”So I’m working with the infielders,”” Lopez continued, “”and the next thing I hear is a big thump. I look over, and the ball’s in the air, and I’m going, ‘What the heck?’ So I stopped working with the infielders and I look, and they’re punting the ball and fair-catching.

    “”So Brian and Pat and I had a good discussion about work ethic and what we wanted to accomplish here in this program,”” he added, beginning to laugh. “”So that’s how our relationship started.””

    Eventually, Anderson got the hint – “”I’m probably such a pain to have on the team,”” he reflected – and in his junior season, his final as a Wildcat, Anderson hit .366 with 14 home runs, 62 RBIs, 12 doubles and eight triples in 57 games, eventually becoming a first-round draft pick, 15th overall.

    And he hasn’t slowed down since, from rising to the professional ranks in just over a year and a half to now starting for the defending World Champions.

    “”I always dreamt and believed that I could play at this level,”” Anderson said, “”but I think that (Lopez) really wanted to pull me aside and let me play to the best of my ability.””

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