Robin Ventura was kind enough to answer a few question last Thursday (6/16) as part a tour promoting the Capital One Cup -- an award honoring the nation’s top mens and womens collegiate athletic program across 13 different sports. Along with taking home the Cup, the winning school will also get $200,000, earmarked for student-athletes going on to graduate school. The Cup will be handed out July, 13 at the ESPYs. SB Nation Chicago folks can follow the standings by going to capitalonecup.com or facebook.com/capitalonecup. Now, on to the "Juicy" stuff.
Z.W.: First off, since I might not have this opportunity again, we are going to have to talk about Nolan Ryan. How did that incident change your perception of fighting in baseball -- granted that player policing is a very important part of the game -- is there something else a player can do besides that -- particularly in the A.L. -- or is that that what needs to be done?
Ventura: I think in the A.L., obviously, it is different. I think even back then, that's what makes it different in that league. Players policing that. I don't know if it has really changed that much as far as the players view it. Obviously in the National League with the pitchers hitting, it is different. But in the American League that is probably still the case.
Z.W.: Looking back is there anything you would have done differently during the altercation [with Ryan]?
Ventura: No. I mean, it is what it is. I'm not necessarily a big fighter. It's more of kind of the way the teams were playing and what was going on at that time.
Z.W.: Is Nolan Ryan a good fighter or the greatest fighter?
Ventura: He's pretty good.
Z.W.: Was the "Batman and Robin" nickname given to you and Frank Thomas strictly a baseball thing or also reflect your relationship off the field too?
Ventura: I think it was on-field stuff. We would go to dinner or whatever. But I don't think we took those nicknames to dinner. But, as far as just playing, it was fine.
Z.W.: How did the "White Flag Trade" affect you personally during the 1997 season?
Ventura: It was hard. I was hurt most of the year and, I think, I was back for about a week before they started trading everybody. We lost some good pitching and they had traded Harold [Baines] at that time. So it was tough.
Z.W.: I personally consider you the greatest college baseball player of all-time, -- the thing you did were just ridiculous -- yet, somehow, you weren't drafted out of high school. Was that a blessing in disguise and how do you think your career would have been different if you had been signed out of high school?
Ventura: I think, definitely, it was a good thing for me. I went to a great school (
Oregon Oklahoma State) and got to develop and become a better player. You never know what's going to happen when you go into the minor leagues, especially low in the minor leagues. It is a tough road for a lot of kids who think just because they are in professional baseball they are going to move up. The reality of it is a little twisted. It is very difficult to make it from low in the minor leagues to all the way up.
Z.W.: A kid I coach, Charlie Tilson, was drafted 79th overall by the Cardinals this year. He also has a scholarship to the University of Illinois. What advice would you give him as he makes his final decision?
Ventura: I am obvioulsy a proponent for college baseball. I think there are a lot of thing to it. There are still a lot of team work issues that still happen -- community involvement and just being part of something other than just your own statistics. I think, sometimes in the minor leagues, it kind of become just what you're doing and not necessarily what your team is doing.
It is something you can follow the rest of your life too. I mean, I just always remember being in the [White Sox] clubhouse during the College World Series and it was on TV and guys that didn't go to college kind of felt left out because they just don't understand what it feels like.
Z.W.: What was the most special moment in your playing career -- professional or amateur?
Ventura: I was on the Olympic team in
1980 1988. We won the gold medal. That's just the highlight I think for anybody growing up during my era. The Olympics was just a cool deal. At that time when it wasn't really even about baseball that mattered as a kid. Just the opportunity to play in the Olympics and win the gold medal was definitely the highlight. Wearing "USA" across your chest.
Z.W.: Outside of the $200,000 in scholarship money, what does the Capital One Cup mean to you?
Ventura: There are a lot of things that go into it. They don't all go into professional baseball. This money will go to post-graduate stuff. But, teamwork and commitment and integrity and things like that that you expect out of college sports. I think it is really cool that they do that.
Z.W.: It will be announced at the ESPYs. What will you be wearing?
Ventura: I will be wearing something very sharp, I'm sure.
Z.W.: On that note, my friend Angela would like to know if you're single?
Ventura: I am married. I have four children.
Z.W.: I will let her now. She will be saddened. Moving on. You will be broadcasting the College World Series -- who you got?
Ventura: The fist game is Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina. I think Vanderbilt is a well rounded team. Them and Florida, for me, are the two favorites. WIth the college bat this year, not as explosive, pitching and defense is more important as well as having a well rounded team. I think they have both.
Z.W.: CWS participate, Cal, would not exist without private funding. Schools like Vermont have already lost their teams. What does this tell you about the state of college baseball and its priority in the college athletic ranks? And what should be done to change this trend?
Ventura: Obviously, you have to be efficient. You cant just throw money at something that cant maintain itself. In your athletic program most of the money is going to come from football and basketball, but these SEC schools are starting to get themselves in situations where baseball programs are starting to pay for themselves. They have these nice stadiums and get great attendance. When you get support like that, obviously things run better.
Z.W.: At LSU, the A.D. was the old baseball coach. He made baseball a priority with a new field, coach and more funding. Do you think there will be a move like this to make baseball more of a priority?
Ventura: I don't know if it is a priority, but it becomes more important. There are places and situations where baseball definitely works and can support itself.
Z.W.: Moving onto the White Sox, you were just named a Special Advisor to Director of Player Development Buddy Bell. What will be your main role?
Ventura: I wil ltravel to the minor league affiliates, maybe four or five days at a time, and coach, observe and basically anything they ask me to do and report back to Buddy, basically, what has been going on.
Z.W.: Is there anybody from the recent draft or in the system that you have an eye on?
Ventura: Not yet. I start late July, so, I will have a better idea then.
Z.W.: Have you watched much of Brent Morel yet? What's your take on him?
Ventura: I like him. He does a great job defensively. He has a great arm. Strong kid. They say emotionally doesn't get too high or too low. He comes to the park ready play hard everyday. That is really a great attribute.
Z.W.: Garett Wittels' consecutive game hitting streak ended at 56. Yours is 58. Will your D-1 record ever be broken, considering the new, "deader" bats?
Ventura: I think it will be more difficult the way the bats are, but eventually it will be broken. I don't know when. Someone like Garett, obviously, got pretty close, but eventually it will go down. I don't think [Joe] DiMaggio's will go down, however. I think mine will go down eventually.
Z.W.: More interesting Ventura: Jessie "The Body" or Ace?
Ventura: More interesting? I will go with Ace.
Thanks to Robin for taking the time.