Sox infielders DeJong, Lopez glad to be back home

Chicago White Sox's Nicky Lopez forces out Milwaukee Brewers' Joey Wiemer but can't turn a double play on Andruw Monasterio during the second inning of a spring training baseball game, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) AP

The day before the season opener, first-year White Sox general manager Chris Getz mentioned his desire to improve the team's defense up the middle.

That's why the Sox came up with their all-suburban double-play combination. Antioch's Paul DeJong started at shortstop with Naperville Central's Nicky Lopez at second base on Thursday against Detroit.

Lopez, the team's 12th Opening Day second baseman in 12 years, was put to the test right away. The second batter of the game lifted a pop up into short right field, forcing Lopez to make the catch at a full sprint. In the third he saved a bad-hop grounder that nearly went over his head. The defensive play saved a run at the time, though the next batter hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Javy Baez with the game's only run.

“That's my bread and butter,” Lopez said after the game. “I hang my hat on that, just being a really good defensive player. Those aren't normal plays, but sometimes you have to make those plays for your pitcher.”

Both players are MLB veterans who started their careers in stable situations, then had to move around. DeJong spent seven years in St. Louis and was an all-star in 2019. Last summer he was traded to Toronto, spent most of September with San Francisco, then signed with the White Sox as a free agent.

Lopez was in his fifth season with the Kansas City Royals when he was traded to Atlanta at last year's deadline. In November he was one of five players sent to Chicago in the deal for pitcher Aaron Bummer. Lopez found out he'd been traded to the White Sox the day before his wedding.

The two infielders have been to both sides of Chicago as visiting players and appreciated the chance to finally play for the home team.

“It was great,” DeJong said. “Kind of the first-day jitters and extra energy got spent today, so now it's back to baseball.”

Lopez has an interesting family connection to the White Sox. His father, Bob, is a member of the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame. Two frequent softball teammates were longtime White Sox employees Mike Mazza and Mike Spidale, giving the family an inside track on tickets.

“Coming to Game 2 of the World Series, I remember that,” Nicky Lopez said. “Field trips, skipped school once when I was in elementary school to come to Opening Day. I just remember all those times.

“My dad was a White Sox fan growing up. He grew up in the Cicero-Berwyn area, went to Lyons Township (High School). So he was down here a lot. I was a Derek Jeter fan, so I watched a lot of Yankee games. The other side of my family were Cubs fans.”

DeJong also had a favorite player who guided his rooting interest as a kid. His family lived in Orlando before moving to Antioch in sixth grade.

“Chipper Jones was my favorite player, and Rafael Furcal, I loved watching him play,” DeJong said. “Seeing them in spring training, on TBS, that's why I liked the Braves.

“My dad grew up in Michigan, so did my mom, so he's always been a Tigers fan. A lot of times we would go to White Sox games when the Tigers were in town. I always enjoyed coming here more (than the North Side) because I felt like we could watch the game a little bit better, as opposed to the party scene at Wrigley.”

You can't really call this a rebuilding year for the White Sox. The Opening Day lineup was essentially the key players from the last rebuild, like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada, plus an assortment of veterans such as DeJong, Lopez, Andrew Benintendi, Kevin Pillar and Martin Maldonado.

It will take time to build up the farm system. The team's top prospect, shortstop Colson Montgomery, made his Triple A debut for Charlotte on Friday.

At least Lopez and DeJong represent a connection to the 2005 World Series champions, since both were fans.

“I remember that team — Joe Crede, Mark Buerhle, Bobby Jenks and all those guys,” DeJong said. “Aaron Rowand was actually my fall league manager (in 2016), so that was quite a thrill.”

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