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Even-keeled Ventura thriving in first season

Even-keeled Ventura thriving in first season

Even-keeled Ventura thriving in first season
CHICAGO -- To find out the secrets of Robin Ventura's success as White Sox manager -- or the true glory of the American League Central leaders under Ventura's guidance -- well, don't go to Ventura in search of self-aggrandizing pats on the back.

During last week's four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field against the Tigers, which was extended to Monday thanks to a rainout on Thursday, Ventura was asked in a pregame session about the possibility of winning the AL Manager of the Year Award. The team's surprise managerial choice back in October forced out a half-smile and quickly deflected the question, like Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi turning away a slap shot during the team's run to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship.

Eliciting a response as to who Ventura is voting for in the upcoming presidential election might have been an easier task. So, if Ventura won't talk about his virtues in this standout season, allow those who work for him and against him to pick up the slack.

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"Every single one of us loves playing for him," White Sox closer Addison Reed said. "I can't see how somebody wouldn't like playing for a guy like him. When you are playing bad, he doesn't get discouraged. When we are playing good, he doesn't get too high."

"I just like the way he communicates and treats people," White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto said. "He treats every one of us, players and coaches and our families, as if we are a very important part. There's a sincerity about him."

"Like they say in football, some guys have a nose for the football. Some guys have a nose for managing. I think he does," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. "He really has done a terrific job."

Ventura has made the phrase "one day at a time" a talking point for the organization and the fan base, helping produce the White Sox first-place standing for 106 days this season and every day since July 24. It became a necessary mantra, considering Ventura's first year at the helm has not exactly been without perils and pitfalls -- including a recent 1-9 stretch vs. the second-place Tigers.

Opening Day starter John Danks was officially lost following successful left shoulder surgery on Aug. 6, after making his last start on May 19 at Wrigley Field. Chris Sale, who is in AL Cy Young consideration via his 17-6 record and 2.78 ERA, became the team's closer for one appearance on May 8 to combat the first-year starter's left elbow soreness, but he quickly returned to lead the rotation.

A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Alejandro De Aza, Gavin Floyd, Adam Dunn and Jesse Crain have missed chunks of time due to injury. The White Sox have rebuilt their roster throughout the year where improvements were needed, while employing 10 rookie pitchers and 12 rookies overall.

All the while, Ventura has stayed as the steadying force for this playoff contender. His leadership and success have not been a surprise, even entering the job without prior managing or coaching experience.

"We expected more growing pains than there have been," said White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn. "With any young manager or any new manager, regardless of the environment, there would be a few things where he didn't quite handle that situation the right way, whether it's on the field or in the clubhouse.

"Really in a testament to him and his coaching staff, since the start of Spring Training, they've set the same tone and nothing really has caught them off guard. They've been extremely prepared and adaptable, and the one thing that perhaps surprised me is the lack of surprises along the way."

Leyland spoke of how Ventura has made managing "look easy," an assessment Ventura quickly chalked up to the Detroit manager's attempt at being humorous. In reality, Leyland was pointing up Ventura's vast baseball knowledge and leadership as a player adapting to the managerial role within a comfortable environment such as the White Sox.

When Ventura was first approached about taking over for Ozzie Guillen, his friend and successful predecessor, the first image Ventura had wasn't of the White Sox making the playoffs or sitting in first place in late September. As Ventura recently told MLB.com, his mind immediately moved to how he would handle the job.

"You are just sitting there and trying to figure stuff out and not thinking about wins and losses," Ventura said. "'How are you going to do this? How do the pieces all fit together in doing stuff?' Figuring out a staff, and who you want to work with -- all that kind of stuff.

"Not having done it before, you make sure you are thinking everything through of what you want done and how you are going to do it. It was more if you feel comfortable with the huge challenge. Then you just kind of jump in and do it."

Almost all of the talk this year centering on Ventura has been filled with praise. As the season reaches its final stages, with every pitch meaning so much in this tight division race, critics have popped up more frequently in regard to in-game strategy. Ventura understands and expects the second-guessers.

After all, they were there when he played. The late-season pressure hasn't changed the person or manager that is Ventura.

"He's the same guy and hasn't wavered one bit," Manto said. "Tomorrow's a new day. Today we play a game, and tomorrow we play another one."

"Just looking at him, the way he acts and walks around, he looks nonchalant and relaxed all the time," Reed said. "But at the same time, he's 100 percent hard-nosed, has a lot of fire to him and is ready to get after it every day."

Managing the White Sox has been about what Ventura expected, although he joked that talking about the same things every day, in a different way, "isn't always the best." As a player, Ventura just worried about his own stuff in relation to the team. As a manager, everything is Ventura's stuff.

Sharing the players' success through the 162-game journey, as they fight through the ups and the downs, stands as the greatest part of his job. It's a fun chapter for Ventura, especially working for people he respects and enjoys.

Ask Ventura if he sees this role becoming a long-term vocation, though, and he returns to the same basic demeanor when asked about the AL Manager of the Year.

"I'm not worried about that," Ventura said. "If it happens, then great. If not, you know, even if they told me tomorrow it's over, I'm gone.

"Part of the enjoyment factor is that I enjoy being here with the White Sox. I don't know if it would be as enjoyable somewhere else to just do the job."

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.

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