Back At Wrigley Field, Rick Renteria Embraces Challenge With White Sox

By Chris Emma—

CHICAGO (CBS) – Baseball can be a funny game sometimes. A hitter can line a ball right at a glove one at-bat and then roll one through for an infield hit the next time up. A pitcher can throw a mean hook and have it blasted to the bleachers, then leave a pitch up in the zone and have it popped up for a routine out.

The game often has a way of evening out. White Sox manager Rick Renteria knows well how this works.

Renteria walked out of the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field on Monday morning with the sight of the Cubs’ new championship flags blowing in from the lake. These are the banners to commemorate a long process that culminated in a 2016 championship – something Renteria wasn’t around to see through after his sudden dismissal as Cubs manager after the 2014 season.

The Cubs believed their championship chances were better led by Joe Maddon. Fate was cruel to Renteria, a good man who got his chance and had it suddenly stripped away. Now three years later, his baseball fate has started to even out, as it so often does. Shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 season, the White Sox hired Renteria as manager to lead their rebuild.

With the Cubs, he oversaw the development of Anthony Rizzo into a young star and the growth of Jake Arrieta into a front-end starter, all knowing well the prospects were on the way. Now, Renteria is aiding the big league entrance of prized prospect Yoan Moncada while helping Carlos Rodon become the pitcher the White Sox hope. There’s no ill will for Renteria, who has handled the uniqueness of his situation with grace and class. On Monday, he described the Cubs as “really gracious” and spoke highly of what Rizzo has become.

The White Sox enter Monday with the American League’s worst record at 38-57 and nine consecutive losses. They look every bit of a rebuilding team, as to be expected. The job for Renteria is difficult because losing takes its toll on everyone – even if it’s an intended consequence. His agenda is to keep the team playing inspired baseball.

“The world keeps turning,” Renteria said. “Nobody’s going to stop. We got to keep playing. I keep talking to them about just fighting. That’s all we can do. At the end of the day, the results take care of themselves. You have to execute. Everybody has to execute. You have to learn from your failures, come back and respond to the next opportunity that you get.

“You’re trying to create an environment where these guys understand that they’re professionals. They owe not only the fans but the game of baseball some respect. Part of that is grinding through anything that’s going on in that particular time. That’s really, really important.

“We’re not trying to lose. We’re doing everything we can to try to win a ballgame. You put those guys out there to do what they do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But these men aren’t coming out trying to lose.”

Losing has come frequently for these White Sox, but that isn’t the bar by which Renteria will be measured. The organization can hope that he’s instrumental in the growth of their young core, which will see more prospects reach the big league level in the coming years.

When the Cubs hired Renteria to replace Dale Svuem, they did so to prioritize the development of players like Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Javier Baez. Then came Maddon, a manager touted for his ability to build a winning culture.

Renteria was the logical replacement to Robin Ventura for a handful of reasons reasons. For one, he’s bilingual and able to serve as an influence for the young Latino players in the organization – a group that now includes prized prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in addition to Moncada and veterans like Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera. Another factor that was paramount is Renteria’s ability to hold players accountable.

There’s no quit in Renteria, whose fighting spirit is what can help foster along this rebuild.

“He’s been not only positive in terms of high energy and optimistic force, but he’s also been a stabilizing force for these guys,” general manager Rick Hahn recently said of Renteria. “You see the fight in this team. On any given night, you see this team out there — all 25 guys, the manager and coaching staff — fighting to do everything in their power to win.

Added Rodon: “No matter what the score is, (he is) a guy that never gives up. That kind of gives us that feel not to give up and play every pitch, even if we’re losing 100-0 or whatever it is.”

What happened with the Cubs is buried away in the past for Renteria. They enjoyed triumph with Maddon, and the White Sox laid out their blueprint with Renteria at the helm. Perhaps in the years to come, they’ll meet with a greater prize than the Crosstown Cup on the line.

Heads are still held high and spirits are good despite these White Sox struggles. That much is a credit to Renteria, whose task the rest of this season will be creating a positive culture for the major league development of Moncada and those prospects to follow later on.

If the fighting culture of Renteria prevails, he will be the man leading as the White Sox’s push for championships of their own.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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