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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Make or break spring for Anderson

    Chicago White Soxs Brian Anderson signs autographs for the fans before the start of a game against the Texas Rangers at Tucson Electric Park in a spring training baseball game Sunday. Anderson, a former UA star, is batting .279 so far in spring training and is battling for his job in the majors.
    Chicago White Sox’s Brian Anderson signs autographs for the fans before the start of a game against the Texas Rangers at Tucson Electric Park in a spring training baseball game Sunday. Anderson, a former UA star, is batting .279 so far in spring training and is battling for his job in the majors.

    Before the Chicago White Sox hit Tucson for spring training earlier this month, Brian Anderson ditched his home in Oro Valley for a two-bedroom condo owned by former UA teammate John Hardy.

    Situated off North Campbell Avenue and East Grant Road – miles closer to Chicago’s satellite venue, Tucson Electric Park – the place had its perks.

    The sleeping arrangement wasn’t one of them. Also in the roommate mix was former UA pitcher Joe Little. And the second bed was his.

    So Anderson, the starting center fielder for Chicago last season, dragged a foam pad into Little’s room and bought some cushions for body support.

    “”I’m like, ‘Brian, I’m counting on one finger the number of major leaguers sleeping on the floor,’ “” Hardy said.

    Yet Hardy’s finger may soon turn to a fist. Anderson, a 2003 first-round pick, might not make Chicago’s opening-day roster.

    Anderson batted only .225 last season, and Chicago signed veteran outfielder Darin Erstad to a one-year, $1 million deal this offseason to have him push for the starting job.

    Last week, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that if the regular season started then, Erstad would top the depth chart. That would leave Anderson, who made $330,000 in 2006, either on the bench or, more likely, with Triple-A Charlotte.

    As of yesterday, Erstad is hitting .303 with a team-high 66 at-bats, while Anderson’s average is .279.

    The last time Anderson had to fight for his job was five years ago, when then-new UA baseball head coach Andy Lopez used incoming freshmen Trevor Crowe and Chris Frey to motivate a hometown sophomore coasting on his physical gifts.

    “”Coach Lopez saw my potential and what I was capable of doing,”” Anderson said. “”I think he, in a negative way trying to turn it into a positive, brought in a couple of guys who were studs to help and kind of motivate me. It did the trick.””

    Anderson started 40 of 55 games, though his average dipped to .275 from .370 his first season.

    The next year, he bounced back to hit .366 in 56 starts and became the 15th overall pick in the June amateur draft.

    Lopez said he sensed from the start that Anderson was a rare prospect. He was the prototypical five-tool player, a 6-foot-2 on-field prodigy who could also dunk a basketball with ease.

    “”Sometimes, guys like that don’t understand how important it is to work every day at a level that helps you be consistent in your excellence,”” Lopez said. “”That’s OK. That happens to a lot of guys. … It’s not that they have bad work habits. It’s just that everything comes easy.””

    Anderson breezed through Triple-A ball, hitting .295 with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs in 2005. That led to a 13-game stint with the White Sox in August 2005, two months before Chicago won the World Series.

    Although he batted only .176, he went on to play in 134 games last season. His strong defense, plus a jester’s countenance and panache that earned him the moniker of “”Sexiest Athlete in Chicago,”” endeared him to teammates and fans.

    But he struggled at the plate, and the White Sox missed the playoffs. In January, the White Sox signed Erstad, a former batting champion who won a Series with Anaheim in 2002.

    “”Brian’s in a different world. He’s in an organization where, hey, you know what, they are definitely, definitely in a ‘win’ mode,”” Lopez said. “”When you’re in that type of environment, there’s not a lot of patience. It’s basically, ‘We’re going to win, and we’re going to win today.’ “”

    Anderson acknowledged he had a “”horrible year”” but said he’s made the proper penance. Most crucially, he’s tuned up his “”raw”” swing with the help of batting coach Greg Walker.

    As a Wildcat, Anderson kept his bat speed consistent, an important skill, Lopez said. But as pitchers would begin their windups, Anderson struggled to position his hands before he stepped forward to swing.

    Sometimes he moved his hand too far back and was late on his swings. Other times, he didn’t push them back far enough and swung too early.

    “”His rhythm was really poor,”” Lopez said. “”We did some things with his feet, and he adapted to it very well.

    Said Anderson: “”When I got here, I think I probably had to make adjustments, because those pitchers see when your mechanics may not be correct and when you’re mechanically out of whack. You can tell; they start pitching to you differently. Now, I can hit any pitch from any pitcher in any location. Right now, I feel the best I ever have.””

    Characteristic of preseason position battles, the combatants are guarded with their comments. Erstad would only volunteer that he’ll accept whatever lineup decision Guillen makes.

    Would he accept a platoon job, whereupon he and Anderson would share starts and at-bats?

    “”Again, whatever Ozzie says is going to give us the best opportunity to win on a given day, that’s what I’m all for,”” Erstad said.

    Hardy, who spent two years as a Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer before returning to Arizona to finish his degree, said he and Anderson just started talking about the competition last week. They discussed the possibility of Anderson starting the year in Triple-A.

    “”He jokes around a lot, (saying), ‘I’ll ask for a release in a second,’ “” Hardy said. “”He’s just joking. We don’t really talk about it. We want to talk about the positive. That’s how sports are. You only talk about the good things.””

    Anderson said he has no plans of being a minor leaguer again, adding, “”I’ll cross that road when I get there.””

    In the meantime, he has an old college motivational ploy to think back on.

    “”It’s pretty close to the same situation,”” he said. “”The job’s still up for grabs. I just plan to go out there and do the best job I can.””

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