Hired to replace Ozzie Guillen just 10 days after the White Sox completed a forgettable 79-83 season, Robin Ventura has spent the better part of the last three months shuffling through player evaluations and anxiously awaiting his new baseball life.
It has arrived -- finally.
Ventura has been in town all week and he's been busy doing the official meet-and-greet in advance of this weekend's SoxFest gathering at the Palmer House Hilton.
On Feb. 23, White Sox pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz., for the first day of spring training.
"I'm ready to get a feel to see people do things rather than look at some sheets of paper," Ventura said Thursday on a conference call with Sox beat writers. "Kind of looking back, you get the job and there's the hoopla and then there's nothing for a long time. It's going to be nice to get on the field and let people do baseball things."
The White Sox will be dealing with some low expectations when they do hit the field for real in April, and the Tigers became an even stronger favorite to repeat as AL Central champions when they officially signed Prince Fielder on Thursday.
"He's a good player, obviously, and he deserves what he got," Ventura said. "For us, we're still going to play baseball."
And, believe it or not, Ventura thinks the Sox are going to play a lot better than most people think.
Key players like Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos are gone, but Ventura said plenty of talent is coming back.
Even better, Ventura can already tell his players are motivated to perform after a dismal 2011.
"Having had good years and bad years when I played, when I had a year that I didn't feel was my best I felt obligated in the off-season to do things differently," Ventura said. "You come in with a different mindset than in other years. These guys are competitors. I've been around baseball enough to see that they come in with their backs against the wall out of gate rather than waiting to ease into it."
If Adam Dunn follows Ventura's lead, maybe he'll win American League Comeback Player of the Year honors.
Last season, Dunn batted .159 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI while striking out 177 times, a club record.
"People focus on Adam, but I don't see Adam repeating what happened last year," Ventura said. "I've played against him and saw what he's capable of doing. That's what I'm excited about. If you get off to a good start, that momentum can carry you in the right direction."
Ventura will make most of his lineups decisions later in spring training, but here is what he's thinking now:
•Alejandro De Aza is a near lock to replace Juan Pierre in the leadoff spot, but Gordon Beckham is a possible option.
•Matt Thornton heads into camp as the probable closer, but keep a close eye on top prospect Addison Reed.
•Ventura wants Alex Rios to "be in the middle of things." Rios could move from center field to left, trading spots with De Aza.
•Eduardo Escobar is positioned to replace Omar Vizquel as the Sox' utility infielder, but Brent Lillibridge might play the infield and outfield.
•Phil Humber is the odds-on favorite to be the No. 5 starter behind, in no particular order, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.