Saturday, March 13, 2010

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recalls minor league days in Las Vegas

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, March 13, 2010 | 3:12 a.m.

Friday afternoon, Ozzie Guillen sat on a dugout railing at Cashman Field, fiddling with a fungo bat as he overlooked a familiar place.

“The walls are a little higher,” he said, pointing to left field. “The scoreboard is different. I broke a couple of lights out there a couple times.”

This weekend, the Chicago White Sox manager is back for Big League Weekend in Las Vegas, where he played as a 20-year-old shortstop with the Las Vegas Stars in 1984.

“Yeah, I’m excited to be back here,” he said. “I think it’s great to be here. I love it.”

And while the Guillen of 26 years ago has changed in some ways, he is, in many ways, the same.

He’s a little heavier, a little older. But the infielder-turned-World Series champion manager always had a head for baseball, and that hasn’t changed.

“His baseball knowledge was way ahead of his chronological age,” said Bob Cluck, who managed the Stars in 1984. “He was mature beyond his years. He was the smartest player on the club and the youngest. It was like having a coach on the field.”

And little did Cluck know at the time that there really was a coach on the field — two, actually, as catcher Bruce Bochy has managed in the major leagues for 15 years.

“The first thing on my mind was a 15-year career for him,” the recently retired Cluck said of Guillen from his home in San Diego. “But as I look back on the guys I managed, the guys that have become managers do stick out, particularly Ozzie and Bruce.”

The 1984 Stars of the Pacific Coast League, which also included future Philadelphia Phillies slugger John Kruk, went 71-65 and advanced to the playoffs before losing to the Hawaii Islanders.

“It was such fun,” Cluck said. “The camaraderie and chemistry really blossomed with those guys. Ozzie really could make anyone laugh. On the field, we had fun and worked hard.”

Guillen hit .296 with six home runs that season, his last with the San Diego Padres organization, before being traded to Chicago the following winter.

“It was an awesome team,” Guillen recalled. “We had a good team, went to the playoffs, a few guys made it to the big leagues and two guys were managing.”

“I was the kid. I was the baby,” he said.

During that season, the baby of the team had a baby of his own. Guillen and his wife, Ibis Cardenas, had the first of their three children, which could help explain why, he said, he never lost any money at the casinos.

“I didn’t have no money,” he said. “I just got my first baby, and I couldn’t gamble because I work too hard for my money to lose it that way.”

Guillen said he has one rule for his players in Las Vegas. “I don’t care what you do at night, just make sure you don’t call me doing something stupid out there. Be here at 10, ready to play,” he said.

This series marks the second consecutive that the White Sox and Cubs have traveled north from their Cactus League homes in Arizona.

“It’s too bad we only play two games,” he said. “When you come to Vegas, you just want people to show up because that’s what we come here for, is the fans.”

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