Alex Rios has been impressive on the field throughout the 2012 season.
His 2 home runs Wednesday won another important game for the White Sox. His 6 runs batted in were all they needed in a 6-2 victory over the Twins.
Rios has had good seasons before, but at age 31, this appears destined to be his best. His 22 homers and 82 RBI are approaching career highs.
Still, the Sox' right fielder has been more impressive off the field. All season I have watched Rios in the clubhouse, observing how he interacts with the media.
Rios has been courteous, cordial and cooperative. He smiles a lot, which you might suggest is easy considering how well the season is going for him and his team.
But take nothing for granted in the tenuous relationship between players and outsiders.
Stop for a moment to recall how many athletes are criticized one time -- regardless of whether fairly or unfairly -- and never forget it.
Few were disparaged as persistently and harshly as Rios was last year for not only his production but for his demeanor.
Being reminded how badly you're playing is one thing. Hearing suggestions that you're not hustling, you're moody, you're sulking and you're essentially a waste of money ... well, that's something else altogether.
Rios experienced that rough ride all last year mostly for not living up to what many believe is one of the great potentials in baseball.
Yet this is one guy who understood it then and gets it now.
"You're expected to play well," Rios said Wednesday. "When things are not going the way you want, it's not anybody else's fault. Don't blame anyone. Wear it."
How refreshing is that? Instead of blaming somebody else or circumstances or whatever, Rios blames himself.
Rios wore it last year with a dignity few of us cared to recognize and is wearing out pitchers this year to the praise that all of us are eager to bestow upon him.
To some, Rios is a different guy. To those closest to him, he's the same guy only with a different mindset at the plate leading to far better results.
"I don't know about last year," Robin Ventura said when asked whether Rios was misunderstood.
The rookie manager wasn't anywhere near the Sox a year ago to witness the abuse dealt to Rios.
"All I know," Ventura continued, "is this year (Rios is) a great player and great team guy. That's not just since he's going well but since the first day of spring training."
Rios is the player whose large contract the Sox picked up on waivers in 2009 and general manager Kenny Williams must be relieved that the move is being validated.
My goodness, Rios is playing right field like some of the best that ever roamed the position. He's batting .298. He's stealing bases. He's hitting behind and protecting Paul Konerko in the lineup.
Overall, Alex Rios is as good a reason as any for the Sox being in first place the first week of September.
When asked about his 2-homer, 6-RBI game, Rios responded by mentioning starting pitcher Jake Peavy and the Sox' bullpen.
But how about your day and your season?
"If we win (the division and more)," Rios said, "it'll mean a lot to me."
It already should mean a lot to Sox fans and the media that Alex Rios doesn't hold a grudge.