February 20, 2011
After Dunn took batting practice with his new team for the first time Saturday, a reporter asked him at what point during the offseason did he first pick up a bat to work on hitting.
Was it around Thanksgiving? Mid-December? New Year's Day?
"Twenty minutes ago," Dunn deadpanned. He was being funny, but also earnest. It really had been 20 minutes. Before that, it was October and Dunn was still playing for the Washington Nationals.
"But this is not my first year to do that," Dunn said. "I've probably done it [that way] since '05 or '06. It just seems to work better for me."
That's right. Dunn doesn't need no stinkin' offseason to get ready. That's what spring training is for — or used to be, until players built batting cages in their homes and teams had minicamps in January.
Back in the day, the likes of Stan Musial and Ted Williams would work offseason jobs hauling thousand-pound blocks of ice uphill both ways to pay the bills and bide their time in the winter months. Come February, they'd arrive at camp and get ready.
Even the biggest, scariest bears need to hibernate.
Dunn's spartan approach to the offseason, I have a feeling, is what led certain baseball people such as J.P. Ricciardi to conclude Dunn plays baseball without passion.
"I've tried it both ways," Dunn said. "I've started hitting around Thanksgiving [in other years] and I just felt like it works better for me ... because I'm going to get into bad habits if I'm hitting by myself."
And so he arrived at Camelback Ranch a few days before the club's first scheduled full workout and got busy.
"It's good to come a few days early and lube it up," said Dunn. (He really said "lube it up." I checked my recording several times). "I mean, you've got 40 days down here. It usually takes a hitter about two weeks."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has no objection to Dunn's ways. Quite the opposite, actually.
"I like when the players do that," Guillen said. "They don't do as much in the offseason, then come to spring training ready to work. I think that's the way I did it. I think it's easier, because you have here — what? — a month and a half to get ready and sometimes you overdo stuff."
Well, at least they're in sync.
One thing does concern Dunn: What to do when he's the designated hitter instead of playing the field. Those stories about him being hesitant to come to the AL to DH were not without merit.
"That's going to be something that's going to be my biggest challenge in spring: To find out how I'm going to keep myself warm and ‘in the game' not being in the field," Dunn said. "It's definitely going to be an adjustment.
"I'll talk to some people who've done it. We'll figure it out some way. If I have to put a bike in the dugout, I will. I don't know how to go about it. I don't know what other people do. We'll see."
(I can just imagine Dunn pedaling up and down the bench in the third inning. Oh, maybe he means a stationary bike.)
"I don't think he's going to touch the outfield," Guillen said. "I don't think it's a risk [to play him there], but you have to get into a different kind of shape."
Speaking of shape, Dunn appeared to be in good condition; possibly a little leaner.
Dunn has logged more than 9,100 innings in the outfield during his career, though none last season. That's OK; Dunn is being paid to get on base and hit the ball out of the park. A lot.
"I embrace it," Dunn said. "I have extreme high expectations for myself. If people don't have high expectations for me, then I'm not doing something right. I embrace the pressure, I embrace that role and I'm definitely going to put a lot of pressure on myself."
Just not during the winter.
Follow Dave during spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave