Gillaspie chasing baseball dream, storms
Role player trying to earn roster spot, enjoys weather's unpredictability
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Spring Training acquisition of Conor Gillaspie gave the White Sox a much-needed left-handed bat thrown into the infield mix.
It gave the White Sox a somewhat experienced player who can handle time at first, third and even the outfield. It also gave legendary head groundskeeper Roger Bossard someone to help examine the forecast on those game days at U.S. Cellular Field when threatening weather is coming.
First and foremost, the 25-year-old Gillaspie is a baseball player trying to make the White Sox Opening Day roster. But studying weather runs a close second in terms of Gillaspie's passions.
Make that, studying severe weather.
"I love like blizzards, heavy snow. I love that stuff," said Gillaspie, who should enjoy the occasional April snow if he makes it to Chicago. "You have to find something outside of this game you are interested in just in case. You aren't going to play forever."
Gillaspie attributes this weather connection more to growing up in Nebraska and then going to school at Wichita State in Kansas, where he talks about living in the heart of the nastiest weather you can find. He studied meteorology in college and plans to finish his degree when his baseball career is over.
As for how he would use said degree, becoming a weatherman is an option. Many Chicago athletes have moved into the world of sports broadcasting, with Tom Waddle and Johnny Morris two names immediately coming to mind. None come up on that sports-to-weather changeover.
It's not like Tom Skilling played shortstop for the Cubs before becoming one of the most renowned forecasters for WGN-TV. When Gillaspie makes this career move, though, he plans to do it back home in Wichita.
He also wants something a little more adventurous than pointing to a green screen where the weather map is brought up. Gillaspie hopes to be a storm spotter for a local news station or would like to chase tornadoes.
"I'm an adrenaline guy," Gillaspie said. "I like stuff that is really exciting, stuff that gets you going and your heart going a little bit."
There isn't much weather to speak of in Arizona, where Gillaspie first was training with the Giants in Scottsdale and then moved 30 minutes to Glendale when he was traded to the White Sox for Minor League hurler Jeff Soptic on Feb. 22. This year the Valley got a trace of snow one day, but otherwise presents nothing but sun and heat aside from the occasional downpour or 50-plus degree day in February.
To be honest, Gillaspie doesn't have much time to chase storms. He's engaged in a third-base battle with free-agent signee Jeff Keppinger, who figures to be the team's Opening Day hot-corner starter, and Brent Morel, who is trying to reclaim that starting spot lost in 2012 because of season-long back problems. There's also a fight for the last roster opening, making a fairly safe assumption that Hector Gimenez, Dewayne Wise and Rule 5 pickup and utility infielder Angel Sanchez have a leg up on the bench spots.
Morel, Gillaspie, Jordan Danks and Blake Tekotte are a few names thrown into the mix. Gillaspie's intangibles mentioned earlier, not to mention that he's out of options, give him a slight edge. He hasn't hurt the cause by knocking out six hits in his first 17 at-bats, including two homers, one double, one triple and eight RBIs.
Third-base coach Joe McEwing has worked with Gillaspie on a few footwork issues to square him better to throw from third to first. But overall, the White Sox like what they see.
"He's got a nice compact, low-maintenance swing, which allows him to drive the ball to the gaps," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "We've obviously seen the home runs, and it's not really his game. But each of them have sort of been line shots, which is the result of that swing. He's a hard worker and seems to fit in nicely thus far."
Hahn laughed when asked if he ever dealt with a baseball player who also wanted to be a storm chaser, adding that if "you are around long enough, you encounter it all." But this is not some strange hobby for Gillaspie.
A certain low-key excitement engulfs his demeanor when Gillaspie talks about the few experiences he's already had in chasing tornadoes. He quickly corrects the interviewer that you don't drive into such a situation but instead you drive close enough to it where you can be in position to see one.
"Pretty crazy," Gillaspie said. "It's powerful stuff, man. It almost takes your breath away how amazing some of that stuff is. It's cool to be out there and just watch the power of weather. It's what I've always been interested in and fascinated by."
One serious disappointment for Gillaspie is that he missed the 14.2 inches of snow dumped on Wichita in late February, following it on television and tracking it a bit from Arizona. He called the 20 inches of snow Wichita got over 1 1/2 weeks "probably the strangest thing I've seen" because, Gillaspie added, "it hasn't snowed more than a half of an inch in two years."
"You know the weather, it's a crazy thing. So many things affect what your weather is like," Gillaspie said. "Back 30 or 40 years ago, Kansas was a target zone for big snowstorms and the last five years we've hardly had any precipitation at all, even rain or thunderstorms. It's just crazy how stuff changes."
An inherent danger exists in storm chasing, but that fact doesn't bother Gillaspie. He won't be watching weather's effects on mountainous regions. While he loves the thrill of severe weather, Gillaspie doesn't like heights.
"Even if you know what you are doing, there's still always a danger," Gillaspie said. "There's a danger playing baseball if you get hit in the head. There's a danger driving. There are dangers in everything. It's just fascinating the power of weather and different things you see out on the plains."