Rowand returns to Tucson a Giant
Center fielder candid about offseason negotiations
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The pitch from John Danks carried off of Aaron Rowand's bat on a hard line to left during the first inning of Saturday's Cactus League matchup at Tucson Electric Park, and the White Sox southpaw thought he had been touched up by Chicago's favorite son.
"I didn't want to give up a home run to a Chicago icon like that," said Danks with a laugh, talking about Rowand's lineout to Brian Anderson. "I'm glad BA made that good play because [Rowand] hit that ball on the nose."
Rowand added a fly ball to right fielder Miguel Negron in the third inning before exiting for the day. But his results on the field weren't as much the story Saturday as Rowand making the 2 hour, 30 minute trip from Scottsdale to see his friends and former teammates in Tucson.
Although Rowand stands two teams removed from his halcyon White Sox days, traded to the Phillies after the 2005 World Series championship and having signed on as a free agent with the Giants this past offseason, his work in Chicago has not been forgotten. And it probably never will be forgotten.
As one reporter joked with Rowand prior to Saturday's game, the White Sox actually play with four outfielders at U.S. Cellular Field. There are the three who suit up, joined by the specter of Rowand hovering over the center-field grass he once patrolled so effectively. The desire to have Rowand return to Chicago still is spoken about with passion on talk radio and message boards, leaving the good-natured 30-year-old almost speechless by the love he continues to receive from the ardent White Sox fans.
"It's very flattering," said Rowand, speaking to the Chicago media following batting practice and prior to signing autographs for a number of White Sox supporters in Arizona. "I can't tell you how it really makes me feel.
"To know that the years I spent there, the effort I gave in my time there, didn't go unnoticed. I thank the fans and the organization for giving me the opportunity. I can't even put it into words how flattering it is that people enjoyed watching me play."
Many of those same White Sox faithful clamored for Rowand's return to the team in 2008 and beyond. He was a free agent, following an All-Star effort with the Phillies in 2007, during which he hit .309, with 27 home runs and 45 doubles, scored 105 runs and drove in 89. All of those numbers but the average stood as career highs for the man whose hard-nosed style of play served as the prototype for the White Sox famous 'Grinder Rules.'
He was the preferred free agent choice, over Torii Hunter and Kosuke Fukudome. The White Sox talked to him at the outset of negotiations, expressing their strong interest, but also informing Rowand how they weren't prepared to go more than four years.
That forthright approach from general manager Ken Williams was truly appreciated by Rowand, even if it meant him eventually agreeing to a five-year, $60 million deal with the Giants.
"Kenny said it wasn't in their plans, so ... I understand the business side of things and they have constraints as far as what they can do," said Rowand, as to why he wasn't offered a fifth year by the White Sox. "I would have liked for them to [add the fifth year], because God knows I would have liked to have gone back to Chicago. I mean, I love the fans, love the city and the organization.
"The organization has been great to me, Kenny, [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], Ozzie [Guillen], all the way down. It would have been a very comfortable situation. Kenny said if you can get five years, he said I hope you get five years and I hope you can get as much money as you can because you deserve it. He was very open and honest from the beginning.
"We were trying to get a five-year deal done where I wanted to go," Rowand added.
A little piece of Rowand always will be in Chicago with his beloved Bears and the 2005 World Series memories, even though he called the Giants a place where he hopes to finish his career. He requested to be part of Saturday's trip to Tucson Electric Park, although he played eight innings in Friday's victory over Oakland.
"Sure. Boch asked me what I wanted to do and what better team to play against than these guys," Rowand said. "I'm glad I got to make the trip today, so I can come and say hello. I have a lot of close friends here, and close friends that the more I see them, it makes me miss them that much more. It's a little odd being in the other dugout."
"Ro is special," Guillen added. "You ask anybody in this clubhouse about him and you're going to have the same answer. It's nice to see him have a lot of success and I feel proud for him because he works hard, and when you work hard, you deserve what you get."
Rowand left without any White Sox accompaniment on Saturday, but he continued to back the Giants acquiring Joe Crede to play third base. Rowand said he already was approached for a Crede character reference, of sorts.
There's no official recruitment being done on Rowand's part. But he certainly wouldn't mind having an important part of his Chicago past merge with his San Francisco present and future.
"I know I keep saying it over and over again, and I'm biased," Rowand said. "It's not like I'm going to [the front office] and saying, 'Get him.'
"They asked me and obviously everyone knows what he can do on the baseball field. I told them, 'You're asking a guy that is biased, but I'll give you my answer.' God knows I want to play with Joe again."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.