GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At this early juncture, everything seems to be a fit for Adam Dunn. From the black and grey duds the White Sox don during their spring workouts (in his humble opinion, Dunn thinks they're quite flattering on his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame) to the prominent spot he'll hold in what figures to be a vastly improved offense. One thing, though, just isn't quite right. Locker placement.
"They've got me in-between two kickers," says Dunn, referring to Jake Peavy and Matt Thornton, who occupy the neighboring stalls at the Sox's Camelback Ranch facility. "I've never seen that before in my life." "Kickers," for those confused, is Dunn's term for pitchers, whose workouts in the initial days of camp are, shall we say, short and sweet. "We're out there running," Dunn says, "and we see them come in and then, two minutes later, come out with their golf clubs." He says this within earshot of Thornton, who obviously scoffs at the assertion. "Kickers," Dunn says. "That's what y'all are!" As 2011 rolls along, we'll see how well Dunn adjusts to designated hitter duties in his first exposure to the American League. But it can already be said with certainty that in a clubhouse notoriously full of characters (and kickers), "The Big Donkey" fits right in. "I think Adam was looking for a place that fit," says general manager Kenny Williams. "His desire was to be in a winning situation, and to be surrounded by people who like to have a little fun, too." Winning was largely elusive for the 31-year-old Dunn in the first decade of his career, but fun follows him around. And it's no secret that some folks in the game have taken issue with the laid-back, wise-cracking personality that is as much a part of Dunn's makeup as homers and strikeouts. The most well-documented critique of Dunn came from former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who once responded to a fan's question about the possibility of acquiring Dunn by ripping into the slugger, saying he "doesn't really like baseball" and "doesn't have a passion to play the game." Though Dunn says he's done referring to Ricciardi as a "clown" (mere seconds after doing just that), he has no doubt that those comments and that sentiment had an impact on his market value. "This dude, I had never heard of or seen him before," Dunn says. "For somebody to come out and say that, who doesn't know me, that's ridiculous." Fair or not, reputations precede people in this business, and Ricciardi, since cast out of Toronto and now an assistant to Sandy Alderson with the Mets, was probably not the only exec in the game who felt that way about Dunn. A former standout high school quarterback who landed a scholarship at his beloved University of Texas, Dunn was regarded by some as a football guy who stuck with baseball merely to earn a few big paychecks and then call it a career. "People get that impression of him, just because he's kind of silly and has fun," says Indians outfielder Austin Kearns, Dunn's good buddy and former Reds and Nationals teammate. "But he cares as much as anybody. You just have to be in a clubhouse with him every day to realize that. He's a good teammate. That's the best compliment you can give anybody." But a bad rep combined with Dunn's unwillingness to accept the DH slot, made Dunn's first foray into free agency, two winters ago, a disappointing endeavor. After an all-too-brief taste of playoff contention (ultimately unfulfilled) in '08 with the D-backs, who had acquired him midseason from the Reds, Dunn was right back to playing for a perennial non-entity when he signed a two-year contract with the Nats. "I'm always the guy that buys five scratch-off lottery tickets," Dunn says, "and the sixth one is the winner." Looking for a winner was Dunn's major motivation when he reached free-agent eligibility a second time. And this time, he wasn't going to let the possibility of DH'ing get in the way. The White Sox will be paying Dunn $56 million over the next four years to handle the bulk of their DH duties. Oh, sure, he'll spell Paul Konerko at first from time to time -- perhaps 25 games a season or so -- but for the most part he'll have to adjust to watching and waiting for each at-bat. "He never once made the DH thing an issue," Williams says. "Not once. I told him flat-out, 'I want to sign you. Right now, you'd be the first baseman. But my goal is to bring Paul Konerko back, and then you'd be primarily a DH. If that means I'm going to lose you, so be it, but you're not going to come here thinking it's one thing and then call me a liar.'" Dunn didn't care. In the Sox, he found a lot of coin and a lot of confidence. Put a guy who averaged 40 homers a season from 2004 through 2010 in a park like U.S. Cellular, and in a Chicago lineup that was desperate enough for power to pay an aging Manny Ramirez $43,465 per plate appearance last September, and it suddenly looks quite a bit more potent. "Everybody comes into Spring Training, says the right things, believes their team is going to be better," says Dunn, who doesn't pick up a bat all winter so as to go into spring feeling fresh. "Not many come in believing they can win the World Series. I know this team does that. And this is the first time in my career that I have that opportunity." He'll have a lot of laughs, too, especially when playfully arguing with Thornton about the difficulty of hitting vs. pitching. "Pitchers have all the advantages," Dunn says, drawing another scoff from his neighbor. "They can go watch video from all the way back to when I was 17 years old." The debate continues from there. It will probably continue all season. But if "The Big Donkey" is abusing opposing "kickers" and the Sox are winning big, it's going to be a fun year on the South Side. "I finally got lucky," Dunn says. "This is perfect."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.