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Waltrip's crew warms up with White Sox
When Chicago White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen announces “the rednecks are here” you know it’s NASCAR day at Camelback Ranch, the club’s spring-training facility.
Michael Waltrip, along with his drivers David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Truex suited up with the White Sox Saturday for a little warm-up before qualifying for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 (Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
Prerace coverage from Kansas begins June 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Waltrip was already in pinstripes when Reutimann and the Truex brothers arrived at the clubhouse.
“You missed me in my underwear,” Waltrip says, before describing his Little League adventures.
“It didn’t go well for me. I played third base. Everyone in the infield made the all-star team except me. I determined early it was probably better for me to make a living sitting on my ass.”
Waltrip spoke of being an Atlanta Braves fan and remembering where he was when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
“This is the first time I suited up since I missed the all-star team when I was 12,” Waltrip said. “I’ve played crappy golf at a bunch of nice courses, now I’m fixin’ to bring that same level to the baseball field.”
As Ryan Truex fought a migraine, brother Martin quickly bonded with the White Sox’ own ‘Redneck Row’ locker section — newly acquired Adam Dunn along with Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Jake Peavy — who took his two oldest sons to Phoenix International Raceway Friday.
“The folks from Toyota offered us suite passes,” said Peavy. “But my daddy would whip my ass if he knew I’d brought his grandsons to their first NASCAR race and didn’t sit in the grandstands.”
After the meet-and-greet, the racers take the stroll out to the practice fields but stop to sign autographs on the way.
Truex Jr., asks Waltrip if he played baseball as a kid. Truex begins to brag on his game, “I was pretty good. I can throw a mean curve ball,” — then has a moment of clarity as he watches the competition. “Maybe I wasn’t that good.”
Reutimann prepares bystanders to lower their expectations of his playing prowess.
“I haven’t played since the Carter administration,” quips the 40-year-old racer.
“I wasn’t even alive for the Carter administration,” Truex Jr. replied.
As the team lines up before stretching, Guillen grabs Ryan Truex and introduces him as the Sox’s latest addition from the Dominican Republic. As the younger Truex hangs back to do a stand-up with FOX Sports, Guillen watches the other three drivers run sprints with the team.
“They can go 200 miles per hour and they can’t run a lap,” Guillen said.
Assistant coach Joey Cora asks why Ryan Truex isn’t running with the team and is told the driver “has a headache.” Guillen then moves over to where Ryan Truex is being interviewed and snipes, “They told me the NASCAR people were coming and then Justin Bieber shows up.”
“I’m not happy being called Justin Bieber,” says the diminutive driver.
Guillen tells a tale of the Petty family attending a Braves game where he was the catcher as Richard Petty threw out the first pitch.
“It was amazing — I don’t know auto racing in Venezuela — I know who the old man was because of the hat — but it was amazing because of the standing ovation (the Petty family) got,“ Guillen said. They were legends. They had the four generations together. To meet those people was a great experience.”
After warming up, the drivers move to another field for batting practice. Waltrip, Dunn and Paul Konerko practice catching drills around first base. Waltrip isn’t afraid to show off his skills while the other drivers wait to bat.
Before Peavy excuses himself to return to the complex for cardio, he speaks passionately of being a lifelong NASCAR fan.
“I’m from Alabama,“ Peavey said. “I don’t want to be jumping on the bandwagon but who wasn’t a Dale Earnhardt fan? When Dale Jr, jumped in, who down South doesn’t pull for Dale Jr.? Getting to play out in San Diego, I got to meet and hang out with Jimmie (Johnson) a lot. Got to meet (team owner) Rick Hendrick, so I pull for those guys.
“I’m just a fan of the sport in general. When you’re raised down South, you just grow up appreciating the sport and everything that goes into it behind the scenes. And over here at the White Sox, we have quite a few country boys that enjoy NASCAR. Ozzie tends to give us a hard time, but on Sundays in the clubhouse we always have a TV or two on the race. It’s just good fun. We pick a couple of drivers each week. And after meeting these guys, we’ll be pulling like hell for them tomorrow."
Guillen talks about the concentration level of race car drivers — a profession the former catcher acknowledges is not for him.
“I’m too hyper to be in a race car for two hours,” Guillen said. “I no like speed. I only do speed with my wife — very quickly. I drive a BMW. I’m the only one that has a Porsche — and drive it 60 mile per hour. I have a 911 Porsche.
“Those guys (drivers) are amazing. Those guys can hit, but I don’t know one of my players that can drive a car fast. That takes a lot of guts. I’m very mellow guy. I went to Daytona when I was with the Braves. They took me on two laps, and I was like, “Hey, hey, hey easy, I can’t do this.” It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of your body. The concentration it takes — it takes a lot out of you. That practice — it takes a lot out of you. Mentally you have to be a badass. (Forget) that. Give me a Coors Light.”
As the drivers prepare to bat, hitting coach Greg Walker gives this advice, “Choke, poke and hope.”
Waltrip enters the cage first. Bryan Little is on the mound. Waltrip makes decent contact and elects to leave on a high note. Truex struggles at first and asks for pointers.
“C’mon coach,” Truex said. “What am I doing wrong? I suck.”
He makes a correction and the balls starts flying.
“I used to be pretty good at this,” Truex said.
Reutimann finds a bat and approaches the cage as if he was attending his own execution.
“Make Florida proud,” says catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who, like Reutimann attended high school in the Sunshine State.
“This is dangerous,” Reutimann said. “You tired?” He asks the pitcher. “I know I am.”
After missing several balls, Reutimann asks for two more pitches.
“I can’t go out like this,” he said.
Reutimann smacks one to the outfield and knows when to stop. “The problem is these guys don’t miss,” Reutimann said.
“Dude, it would be like, ‘here, go get up to speed in my race car,” Truex said doing his best to console his teammate.
“Yeah, but they don’t miss,” Reutimann replied.
The drivers say their good-byes and round up Waltrip, who has made his way to the outfield to shag balls.
"All the guys from redneck row were cool as hell," Truex said. "They're guys you'd want to hang out with at a bar. These guys were interested in NASCAR and fishing and hunting. They talked about hanging deerheads from their lockers. There definitely was a connection.
"I think I'll have to make the White Sox my (American League) team. I'll have to pull for them now."
On the way back to the complex, the drivers sign autographs once again. A young fan hands Truex a baseball to sign.
“You know I’m not a player, right,” Truex asks.
And the boy retrieves the ball as quick as Truex’ dream of being a player evaporates.
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