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Columnist
Don't Nix his chances at second base just yet
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/2/2009 12:05 AM

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There's little doubt that as SoxFest ends and February begins, Brent Lillibridge is the favorite to win the second base job on the South Side.

But that doesn't mean the White Sox don't still think a lot of Chris Getz, who figures to be the main competition for Lillibridge.

However, there is a sleeper in this battle who's been mostly forgotten since Lillibridge arrived from Atlanta in the Javy Vazquez deal, though it doesn't mean GM Kenny Williams has forgotten Jayson Nix.

The 26-year-old Nix is a former Colorado first rounder whose filthy uniform and solid defense fits the Sox' style like a glove.

This is a player who was supposedly ruled out of the Olympics in Beijing after he was hit above the eye attempting to bunt a pitch thrown at his head, during a game vs. Cuba.

Nix had a 2-inch gash above his left eyebrow, penetrating to his skull, requiring interior and exterior stitching, and microsurgery for multiple lacerations.

Due to the swelling, he was forced to sleep at a 45-degree angle in his bed with eyes bandaged, as doctors monitored the blood massing behind his left eye.

Once pronounced finished for the Games, Nix played eight days after the incident and helped Team USA capture the bronze medal game against Japan.

"If it were up to Jayson, he would have been back in three days," said former Cubs trainer John Fierro, who was the Team USA medic in China. "The best way to put it is you wish you had 24 more like him.

"You better kill him if you go after him because he'll be back for more."

Fierro also saw Nix win the MVP of the World Cup when the U.S. upset Cuba for the gold medal in 2007, on a roster that included Evan Longoria and a couple other monster prospects.

"You can't help but love this kid," Fierro said. "He's a leader, he's tough, and he's respectful. He just wants you to plug him in and let him play.

"He's got a hockey mentality. What else can I say? He's a hockey guy on spikes."

After missing six games with that eye injury, and returning against Japan, Nix went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run. Defensively, he made a play deep in the hole to his right, and turned 2 double plays.

"Guys like him, that kind of grinder, he's the kind of dirty such-and-such you want to see succeed,'' Williams said. "They just want it more than anyone else.

"Our scouts liked him but saw him needing a change of scenery. He's a good ballplayer. He's Getz, but right-handed, and they're both regulars, so we'll see how it works out.

"I'm anxious to watch him compete."

Fearless forecast

During a Q&A session, Ken Williams was reminded of something he said at the Palmer House Hilton a year ago.

Williams' forecast back then was that of all the newcomers, fans would be most surprised by Carlos Quentin, and that by midsummer, Quentin's jersey would be showing up on the backs of Sox fans all over the South Side ballpark.

A fan asked Williams for this year's prediction.

"Josh Fields,'' Williams said without a split-second's hesitation.

No average Joe

On the other hand, one of the few times Williams came close to losing his temper over the weekend was when a fan thanked Williams for getting rid of Joe Crede.

"Somewhere in my house, I have a World Series ring, and I don't have that ring if Joe Crede is not at third base," Williams said, gritting his teeth and obviously upset. "Don't be fickle. Joe went out there on a lot of days when he couldn't even move."

The tone

A year ago, Sox fans let management know that they didn't like the team going into spring training and voiced their concerns in a loud and clear manner.

This SoxFest was much more subdued, and there were a lot of apologies to Ken Williams and Co. for the rancor a year ago.

Either Sox fans really like this team, or they have learned to trust Williams. The Sox GM isn't always right, but his track record of finding diamonds in the rough is pretty strong.

The quote

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, on the talented Alexei Ramirez: "When you see this kid play shortstop, you will forget Ozzie Guillen ever played shortstop for the White Sox."

The shot

Broadcaster Ed Farmer, on living in Southern California in the winter: "I don't want to make you feel bad or anything, but the other day when it was 10 below zero here, it was 80 at my house. I'm no good at math, but that sounds like a 90-degree difference to me."

Time to go

Hawk Harrelson, on how you know it's close to spring training: "When I lived up here in the winter, I used to complain all the time about the weather, and not being able to play golf. One year, about Feb. 1, I came down for breakfast and there was a plane ticket on the table. That was my wife's way of saying she couldn't listen to me anymore."

And finally-

Ozzie Guillen, on fans' fascination with home runs: "I hope it changes. I wish we could tell the guy in the scoreboard to set the fireworks off when someone hits a triple or moves a runner from second to third."

brozner@dailyherald.com