Quentin is hard-nosed and driven

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

BALTIMORE – Three minutes until batting practice. Carlos Quentin's eyes flit about the Chicago White Sox's clubhouse. They scream with purpose. He needs his drink.

Quentin hones in on teammate D.J. Carrasco's locker. From it he pulls out a canister of protein powder and drops a few scoops in a bottle of red Gatorade. Quentin returns to his locker. He adds two more supplements to the bottle. Two minutes left. His look deepens.

It's not exactly Medusa's, though Quentin wants to conceal his glance before he goes out so, with one minute remaining, he reaches for his sunglasses.

And now he's ready to talk. This is typical. Quentin has perfected the art of dodging inquisitors, no small feat considering the fervor surrounding him. Pegged as a fourth outfielder entering the season, he has vaulted himself to the front of American League MVP chatter with his major-league-leading 36 home runs.

Quentin, who turns 26 on Aug. 28, has absolutely no interest in discussing it. To do so would go against everything he stands for. He is who he is and where he is because of what he is, and that is focused, indomitable, tunnel-visioned – and, as his stare attests, intense.

"It's a good word," Quentin says. "I like to do my business, get stuff done and prepare myself to succeed. This is Major League Baseball. Anything I can do to better myself out there, I'd better take advantage of it.

"I appreciate my teammates saying that. I think it means they have a respect for how I carry myself."

With that, it's time for batting practice.

Quentin lunges out of the locker room, his silhouette more linebacker than left fielder. He stands 6-foot-2 and packs 225 pounds onto his frame. He even walks angry. Among a peer group featuring so many of a certain type – in Latin, jokerus moronus – Quentin is the rarest of breeds: the no-nonsense baseball player.

"He's able to mesh the intensity of a football player into a baseball player," says White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, himself a football player at Stanford, where Quentin also went to school. "And when you can do that, take that aggression and control it, it means you're a dangerous player."

Williams didn't figure Quentin this dangerous when he acquired him from Arizona for first base prospect Chris Carter on the first day of the Winter Meetings. The trade made all the ripple of a pebble in the ocean, Quentin coming off a horrible season in which a shoulder injury wrecked his swing.

In the offseason, he underwent surgery to repair his rotator cuff and labrum. Williams knew what a healthy Quentin looked like, having seen him so many times during spring-training games at the complex Chicago shares with the Diamondbacks, though Arizona had rebuffed previous overtures.

With the Diamondbacks' outfield overcrowded, Williams, perhaps the game's most aggressive GM, honed in. When White Sox doctors examined Quentin's medical records, Williams forged ahead with the trade, figuring Quentin would be back by May and play behind Nick Swisher, Jerry Owens and Jermaine Dye.

Well, Owens got hurt. And Alexei Ramirez, the Opening Day replacement in center field, fared better as an infielder. So with Swisher sliding to center, left field opened up for Quentin, and by the end of April, he'd hit seven home runs.

"They gave me an opportunity to earn a job, and that was something I appreciated," Quentin says. "That's the thing: It wasn't like they were going to give this to me. That's how it should be. You should have to earn it. I had a tough season before. There were a lot of good players competing. Things just happened to work out."

Had they not, Williams shudders to think where the White Sox would be. Certainly not in first place in the AL Central with the best run differential in the league. It's not just the home runs and RBIs. Quentin walks nearly as much as he strikes out, and his .395 on-base percentage ranks seventh in the AL.

Much of that number stems from Quentin's unique ability to get hit by pitches. Actually, it's not so much unique as it is masochistic. Quentin's batting stance is a marriage of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Conan the Barbarian. He crouches over the plate, his bat waggling like he wants to pummel something, and practically invites pitchers to hit him, which they've done 20 times. The bruises are tattoos of honor.

"Lost in all of the home runs and RBIs," Williams says, "he's a hell of a baserunner going from first to third, he breaks up double plays as well as anyone in the league, he runs pop-ups out, he respects the game, plays good defense, gets on base. There are peripheral things that help the team win that supersede the raw numbers."

Like his persona. It's everywhere with Quentin. When he hits the ball, he doesn't drop his bat and run. He wings it toward the first-base dugout, a black propeller. Quentin roams the outfield with such tenacity that a few days ago, Ken Griffey Jr., the White Sox's new center fielder, needed to crack a ribald joke just to make sure Quentin knew how to smile.

He did.

"It's fun," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says, "to see a kid with that mentality."

Granted, it might not play so well were Quentin not playing so well. So long as he hits home runs and gets on base, the White Sox will oblige Quentin in any way he pleases.

"He's definitely throwing up those types of numbers worthy of a certain award," Griffey says. "I know he doesn't like to talk about it, so that's why I phrased it like that."

The letters MVP resonate with Quentin like IRS does with a tax delinquent. He doesn't think about it, doesn't talk about it, doesn't even acknowledge it, even though its likelihood increases with each big night and each White Sox win.

Quentin instead stays his regimented self, his schedule at the stadium rationed to the minute. He eats his fruit, lifts his weights, stretches his muscles, works in the batting cage, takes more practice swings, crushes BP pitches, shags balls and then heads back into the clubhouse.

"I love playing this game, and I want to play it at the highest level I can," Quentin says. "And some people mistake the intensity for something else."

He stares ahead, his eyes, for a moment, awash in self-awareness. Quentin knows exactly what he is, and it's working just fine.

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