Leaving home tough for Rowand

Leaving home tough for Rowand

CHICAGO -- He runs into outfield walls with reckless abandon, maybe letting loose a comical "That one hurt" from time to time, but nothing else even close to a complaint in regard to possible pain.

He's the type of player who sacrifices life and limb diving for baseballs in the various gaps, but Aaron Rowand's name was in the lineup almost every day for the White Sox, regardless of nagging injuries. Whether he hit a game-winning home run, as he did in the 10th inning off San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman on June 12, or had the rare misjudgment of a fly ball that took place on Sept. 20 against Cleveland, Rowand always could be found in front of his locker after the game and ready to take on all comers from the media with eloquent and astute responses.

Yet, there was Rowand on Wednesday night, excusing himself from the phone call interrupting his family's dinner on a couple of occasions, growing too emotional to talk about his departure from the White Sox -- a move contingent on both Rowand and the Phillies' Jim Thome passing physicals. For Rowand, this trade was not about leaving a baseball team, even a baseball team currently sitting as the defending World Series champions.

It was about his family leaving its home, both on and off the field.

"This is a tough time for not only me, but my family -- to leave a place that we've grown to know as home and where my heart is," Rowand told MLB.com from Las Vegas on Wednesday night. "I want to say thank you to the fans and the organization and to all of my teammates, most importantly.

"To leave somewhere where you are so happy being is a very tough situation. Ultimately, baseball becomes a business, and this just serves as a friendly reminder."

Rowand might not have posted the gaudiest of numbers on the roster. He didn't have the most power in the lineup or the most speed. But it would be hard to find someone on the team who worked harder than Rowand to make the most of his ability.

That work ethic carried into the offseason, where Rowand awoke at 6 a.m. to begin his extensive training sessions in a city where the bars don't even close until 5. It involved Rowand traveling to the local community college to work on his swing and putting in extra hours with hitting coach Greg Walker during Spring Training and the regular season.

His final 2005 numbers read .270, with 13 home runs, 69 RBIs and 16 stolen bases, not to mention Gold Glove-caliber defense in center that went unrewarded. That effort followed a .310, 24-home run performance in 2004, earning him the first multiyear deal of his career. If an example was needed as to why this White Sox team was so successful beyond its stellar pitching, then Rowand was the grinder prototype on which the model was built.

"I really appreciate the fact that the fans appreciated me -- not just for my numbers but more so for the effort I gave every day," Rowand said. "To be appreciated like that, with the effort you give, and being a part of something as special as last season is deeply rewarding for me."

The fact that a large contingent of White Sox fans were less than thrilled with the potential trade, despite acquiring a tremendous individual such as Thome, who has the potential to hit 40 home runs when healthy, was not lost on Rowand. He termed the fans' reaction "one of the most flattering things I think I could hear."

Taking a positive step toward the future, Rowand spoke of already knowing a number of his future Philadelphia teammates in pitchers Cory Lidle and Randy Wolf as well as Pat Burrell, who will flank Rowand in left, joining Bobby Abreu to form a very solid Phillies outfield. Rowand appreciates the fact that these players can point him in the right direction as far as places to live and explaining the ins and outs of the organization.

Rowand also had a chance to talk with former White Sox teammates such as third baseman Joe Crede, Rowand's closest friend in the organization, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The trio was dubbed "The Three Stooges" by Walker, not only for their behavior but for their friendly camaraderie.

There also were calls from Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas, who both could be affected directly by this trade. General manager Ken Williams listed the signing of Konerko as the top priority of the offseason, but barring an unforeseen circumstance, Thomas' 16-year-career in Chicago has apparently come to a close.

So has Rowand's five-year run, in which he conducted himself with nothing but class, dignity and professionalism. The 28-year-old made numerous trips to visit sick children in local hospitals of his own accord, and his last image as part of the White Sox will be signing autographs and posing for pictures on Monday night following the 2005 World Series DVD premier as security attempted to usher him out of the Esquire Theater.

Earlier that night, Rowand spoke of wanting to spend his entire career with the White Sox but that he understood a trade was possible. When he saw Williams' call come in Wednesday afternoon, Rowand understood it was far more than a possibility.

"As soon as I saw it was Kenny, I knew something was up," Rowand said of the phone call. "You can never prepare for it, especially when you have a bond with a lot of the guys on the team and the fans and all that sort of thing. It's very emotional.

"I don't hold any animosity toward the White Sox. If anything, it would be a thank you for the opportunity they gave me to be a part of this organization and to be a part of a world championship.

"To Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny, Ozzie and all those guys responsible for giving me a shot to be where I'm at now, it's a big thank you," Rowand added. "I have nothing but love for the organization, the city of Chicago, the fans, and of course, my teammates."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.