As the only veteran in the Chicago White Sox bullpen, a lot of responsibility falls on the shoulders of 35-year-old Matt Thornton. But hey, at least after we know after Friday night that he takes his role as father figure — or a grandpa figure, as manager Robin Ventura and others like to joke — mentor and leader quite seriously.
We know this because prior to their 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Thornton lined up his bullpen mates, which include 23-year-old closer Addison Reed, 24-year-old Hector Santiago, 26-year-olds Leyson Septimo and Nate Jones, and 27-year-old Brian Omogrosso — all rookies. He then attached them together with a rope and, in mother duck like fashion, walked them all the way across the field in a perfect single file line before arriving safely at their destination, the White Sox left field bullpen.
Have a look at the White Sox walk in the park:
It was a hilarious scene that symbolizes perfectly what pitching coach Don Cooper wants out of Thornton. He doesn't want vocal leadership — that doesn't suit Thornton's personality anyway — he simply wants him to lead by example and by performance.
"It's much more important to get the job done on the field and to lead the way that way and he has done a great job for us all the years he has been with us," Cooper said. "The work on the field is what really matters (in the pennant race) and that's where I'd like him to lead the way."
Thornton has done exactly that all season, and he continued to do it again on Friday, striking out the only two batters he faced in relief to set up Reed for the save. But if you ask him, there's really not a lot he needs to do to light a fire under the inexperienced crew that totaled only 51 service days combined at the beginning of the season. They all want to be successful. They all get what it takes.
"We have a great group of kids out there. They go about things the right way. They continue to work hard, to continue to improve their craft. (The nickname) is okay," Thornton said with a laugh. "They're all doing good. They all do things right. They just need to keep going out there and attack the strike zone. That's all I tell those guys is 'Just go after it.' "
Sound advice. But every now and then it's not a bad idea to remind the inexperienced crew that should any of them ever get lost or fall out of line, Thornton will be there to put them back in their proper place. Well, that's one side of the message at least. The other is a reminder that coming to the ballpark everyday is a pretty fun gig, and to allow yourself to have a little fun along the way.