To say that 2017 was a tumultuous season for White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson would be a bit of an understatement. After starting his career under much trepidation as to whether or not the late-bloomer would stick at shortstop, he came into 2017 with something to prove—that all of that trepidation was simply unwarranted.
But, in an unexpected turn of events, the then 23 year-old Anderson suffered the tragic loss of his best friend, Brandon Moss. who was gunned down in early May in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“He was very close to me. More so, a brother. We’re talking seven years of a great relationship. He’s my baby’s God-Dad. I was his a daughter’s God-Dad. It was that type of bond.” Anderson told the media in May.
We often lose sight of the fact that baseball is just a game and, for people such as Anderson, a job. Off-the-field incidents are carried into the fabric of everyday life which, for Anderson, was during the start of arguably the most important year of his young, budding career.
Anderson’s numbers suffered as a result of the tragedy. During the first half of the season, Anderson hit a paltry .240/.263/.369 and committed a record 28 errors on the season. The second-highest fielding error total for the White Sox belonged to Avisail Garcia, who committed only 9 errors in 2017.
Anderson eventually sought help through the work of counselling and the mentorship of the White Sox organization and, by the second half of the season, the team began to see a break-out. Anderson was batting a much healthier .276/.292/.440 with 10 stolen bases and 8 home runs in the second half, and he was clearly on the road to recovery. He was out to prove that the Anderson that showed flashes brilliance during the 2016 season was not far in his rearview mirror.
“They’ve been there for me since that happened, it’s just a great group of guys and an awesome coaching staff and front office, you know they supported me,” Anderson said of the White Sox organization. “They know I’ve been through a lot, it’s just great to have them in my corner and be there for me.”
If the end of the season wasn’t enough to convince you that Anderson was on the path to getting back to his everyday self, seeing the 24 year-old at SoxFest this past weekend certainly reaffirmed any doubts one might have. Rejuvenated, showing off his signature infectious smile, and voicing his enthusiasm for the coming season, Anderson gave off the vibes of a brand new person; strengthened by the trials he’d faced so early in his major league career.
“It’s just, I’m excited about the season, you know,” Anderson said, gazing into the distance as though he was already envisioning the warm breezy nights that are soon to be on deck at Guaranteed Rate Field. “I’m going to go and do what I’m supposed to do and just the ultimate goal is to have fun. I wasn’t having fun last year, it was tough. It flushed me, but you know, I’m back and I feel great.”
“Tim Anderson’s not a finished product, “ General Manager Rick Hahn said during media sessions on Friday afternoon. “Carlos Rodon is not a finished product, despite being in the big leagues for a couple years. It’s part of the reason Ricky [Renteria] and the coaching staff is perfectly suited for this process. They’re all teachers, they all have roots in player development.
“I already knew that,” Anderson said of Hahn’s remark, accompanied by a confident smirk. “I know that the sky’s the limit for me, man. I do everything the right way and treat people the right way so it’s just a matter of time. Just keep working, just keep going. Things will happen, it’s going to be a great season, we got a great group of guys and we’re ready.”
Anderson’s struggles last season were certainly not vain. He understands that in a quickly changing landscape for this team that had been ushering in new young players nearly every week last season, with more to arrive this season, he will be taking on the role of a leader and mentor in 2018. And he’s welcoming that new and exciting challenge with open arms.
“That’s something I’ve definitely thought about,” Anderson said of becoming a clubhouse leader. “You know it’s a new year, I feel great. Man, it’s gonna be great.” Anderson said, as though he was realizing the depths of his excitement right before our eyes. “I’m doing more things, I’m opening up, talking more, so it’s gonna be great to see you know how this year goes with me being vocal and being that leader. I’m excited about it and I’m ready to lead these guys.”
Those comments are a far cry from the lowlights baseball saw from Anderson in 2017. Anderson’s story of success in 2018 will stretch far beyond the numbers and flashy plays on the diamond. His ability to persevere in the face of adversity and tragedy will help him become an example not just to his teammates, present and future, but to many onlookers and fans of the White Sox’s cornerstone “grinder” culture. The moto is that “Ricky’s boys never quit”, and Anderson has quickly become the poster child of that sentiment.