Wild swings don’t weigh on White Sox’ Alex Rios
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com March 2, 2013 1:16AM
Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians
Updated: April 4, 2013 6:33AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Rios knows — perhaps all too well — the ups and downs of the baseball life.
He got off to a bad start with the White Sox (.199 average in 41 games) after then-general manager Ken Williams claimed the All-Star outfielder on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays in August 2009. In 2010, he bounced back with a solid season, hitting .284 with 21 homers, 88 RBI and 34 stolen bases.
Then came 2011, Rios’ worst year in the majors. He had to finish strong to hit .224, getting booed along the way. But boos were out and applause was in during 2012, when he generally was viewed as Sox’ most valuable player. He was the only American Leaguer and one of two in the majors along with Ryan Braun to hit .300 with 30 doubles, 25 homers, 300 total bases, 20 stolen bases and 90 RBI.
At 32, Rios has mastered the necessary survival tool known as the even keel.
‘‘With anything in life, as you mature, you learn how to deal with stuff in different ways, hopefully in ways that will make you better,’’ Rios said. ‘‘You learn how to deal with success, and when things aren’t going the way you want them to.’’
Teammate Gordon Beckham, who shares the same corner of the Sox’ clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field with Rios, has been around him through thick and thin.
‘‘He might be upset, he might be mad at baseball and not want to play, but he never shows that to his teammates or brings other people down,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘There are a lot of people who want other people to be bitter when they’re struggling and want other people to struggle. But he’s not that way. There’s no difference.’’
With experience, Rios has learned how his body works, what it needs and how to get the most out of it while keeping his mind in a good place.
‘‘The longer you play the game, you understand why things happen,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve learned that it’s not always about the results — it’s about the approach you take in all situations. Approach is more important than anything else. If you do the things you have to do and stick to a plan, in the end, the result will be in your favor. Those are things I’ve learned in my career.’’
Scuffling through the 2011 season, Rios reached personal lows because, all at once, he wasn’t playing up to a $12 million-a-year contract (he’s signed through 2014 at $12.5 million with a $13.5 million club option for 2015) and the team wasn’t living up to its preseason expectations. As the second half wound down, it became pretty evident that manager Ozzie Guillen and most of the coaching staff were playing out the string in Chicago. Through all of that, one of Rios’ biggest concerns was his father back home in Puerto Rico. He knew his dad was aching through his son’s slump, too far away to be of much assistance.
A father of two, Rios understands what he was going through.
‘‘When you’re a dad you’re concerned about your kids, probably more than your kids are [concerned about themselves],’’ he said. ‘‘I thought about it. He didn’t know what was going on. You know what you have to do, but they don’t know.’’
Rios was scheduled to go home Sunday, not only to be with wife Carla, son Alex and daughter Alessandra, his parents and his teenage brother but to play for Puerto Rico in his third World Baseball Classic.
‘‘When you represent your country and the name of your country is across your chest, it really means a lot,’’ he said. ‘‘And it means a lot to the fans because they don’t get to see this playing level every year. So when you get a chance to perform in front of them, it’s special.’’
Beckham expects Rios to break the yo-yo trend and repeat an All-Star-caliber season.
‘‘He’s comfortable in what he’s doing now. He’s around people he wants to play with and play for, and that’s important,’’ Beckham said.
Said Rios: ‘‘When you age, you see things in a different way. You don’t worry about things you worried about as a younger player that you didn’t have to worry about. I’m able to understand things better. I’m in a good mental place now.’’