Rowand's connection to White Sox unbroken
All-out style of play, 2005 title endeared outfielder to South Siders
CHICAGO -- Aaron Rowand leaned against the wall in a corridor just a few feet from the Palmer House Hilton's Red Lacquer Room in downtown Chicago and thought for a moment.
The question put forth to the one-time White Sox center fielder and member of the 2005 World Series champions dealt with how he would be remembered for his time spent in Chicago. The eloquent and frequently passionate player couldn't come up with a definitive response.
"I'm not sure," said Rowand, who returned to Chicago last month for SoxFest. "I had some good offensive years. I had some average offensive years. I had some great defensive years. I would say winning a World Series."
Playing a major role in the four-game sweep of the Astros, the historic 11-1 postseason run and the 99-win effort that had the White Sox in first place from Day 1 in 2005 still resonates greatly with the fans. That truth was evident during a capacity SoxFest seminar featuring Rowand, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede, which had a line waiting to get in that ran the length of the connecting hallway.
But a more accurate way to describe Rowand's impact is Chicago tough, a man that embodies the popular Grinder Rules advertising campaign.
Grinder Rule No. 1: Win. Or die trying. It's Rowand.
Grinder Rule No. 10: Only one statistic matters: W. That's Rowand, again.
He's the embodiment of the prototypical gritty White Sox fan.
"Well, I always played one way and that was hard and to win, the way the game was supposed to be played," Rowand said. "I said it when I was a player and now that I'm not playing, I still think the same thing. I played hard and I wasn't afraid to go in and break up a double play and sacrifice myself for the better of our team or for my teammates."
Rowand wasn't afraid to run into a wall or two, as he showed on numerous occasions during his five seasons in Chicago. It was a trait that earned him cult-hero status in Philadelphia on May 11, 2006, when Rowand broke multiple bones in his face after snaring a long drive and smashing into the fence at Citizens Bank Park.
His spectacular play prevented the Mets from scoring in a two-out, bases-loaded, first-inning situation and bailed out Gavin Floyd, who threw a five-inning shutout on that day and now pitches for the White Sox. It was business as usual for Rowand.
White Sox broadcasting legend Ken "Hawk" Harrelson introduced Rowand for the SoxFest seminar by mentioning a series at Yankee Stadium in 2005 that Rowand's spectacular defense almost single-handedly won. The White Sox outscored the Bronx Bombers, 6-5, and still took two of three because of Rowand's runs saved. It put the soon-to-be world champions at 74-39 on Aug. 10 and left them with a 12 1/2-game lead in the American League Central.
SoxFest gave a small sector of this special group a chance to reunite.
"Like they said up on stage, we were a family," said Rowand of the '05 team. "Jermaine said it right: Just like a family does with brothers and sisters, you are going to fight and we did over the course of a season. But then everybody makes up and you become stronger and your relationships become stronger.
"There's not one guy on that team who anybody else wouldn't go out of their way to help or do something for or pick up the phone and call or go see. It's not just playing friendships or when you retire you stop talking to so and so. It's lifelong.
"You haven't seen Joe or you haven't seen JD for a long time," Rowand said. "But when you get back together, it's like you hadn't missed a beat."
Diving catches in right-center or key two-out hits for Rowand have been replaced by coaching his 8-year-old son's baseball team or watching his 11-year-old daughter in competitive cheer and club volleyball. There's some golf and hunting mixed in for Rowand, who could end up coaching with UNLV's baseball team in his Las Vegas hometown.
At 35, it appears Rowand is retired.
A stellar career covering 11 years ended last spring for Rowand with a .273 average, 136 homers, one Gold Glove and two World Series titles. The Marlins, then managed by Ozzie Guillen, released the 34-year-old near the end of Grapefruit League play after the non-roster invite hit .128 in 15 games and was beat out by Austin Kearns.
Falling short wasn't tough for the ultra-competitive Rowand, who felt as if he swung the bat well but couldn't get anything to fall in. Rowand added that he had fun with baseball again, something missing during his 2011 season with the Giants, when he was designated for assignment on Aug. 31 in the fourth year of a five-year, $60-million deal.
That rough campaign, spurred by "a conflict of opinions on different things" with Giants manager Bruce Bochy, according to Rowand, didn't lessen Rowand's great enthusiasm for the entire Giants' team, front office and fan base over their 2012 championship. His praise extended to Bochy.
Although he's appreciative of the opportunity given to him by the Giants and the title he won in 2010, Rowand belongs to the White Sox. It was a sentiment fans shared with him while signing SoxFest autographs.
"I told my wife when we landed here, every time I come back here as a visiting player or come see a Bears game in the offseason or come back for this, I land and when I'm driving, I feel like Chicago is my home," Rowand said. "I grew up in this organization. I grew up as a baseball player in this city. I love this city."