There is the on-field Tim Anderson, and there is the off-field Tim Anderson. If you value your physical and emotional well-being, do not mistake the two.
“When I put that uniform on, I’m a different man,’’ the White Sox shortstop said Sunday. “I don’t want you to want to play against me. I want you to come for me and compete. When I step in between those lines, now you ain’t my friend. Not my friend. My goal is to make you remember me and make you not want to play against me.’’
So don’t put your hands in the lion’s cage. When he’s way from the field? No problem. The man’s a petting zoo.
“Outside of the uniform, I’m a good guy,’’ he said. “I’m a nice guy, man. I get along with everybody.’’
Anderson became a national story April 17, when he enthusiastically flipped his bat on a home run against the Royals and then got plunked in retaliation for said bat flip, causing a benches-clearing scuffle. He was suspended for a game, reportedly for calling the white pitcher who hit him the N-word during the incident.
That led to a national debate about the unwritten rules of baseball, about the changing culture of the game and about the gap in understanding between blacks and whites.
Whatever the opposite is of the exuberance/societal menace of a bat flip, that appears to be what Anderson is off the field. He’s laid-back. He’s thoughtful. He cares. Last year, he funded a trip to Kansas City for young players to visit the Negro Leagues Museum. A few years ago, he and his wife, Bria, created an outreach program for disadvantaged kids in Chicago and Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he grew up. It’s still running.
“I’ve been in those kids’ shoes and I know what it’s like coming from nothing,’’ he said. “Now I have a lot more than I did, so I think it’s easy to reach out and show those kids love and give them the support that they need.’’
When he’s at home, he said he locks in “on what really matters’’ — his two girls, 3-year-old Peyton and one-month-old Paxton, and his wife.
Sounds like a mellow fellow.
But on the field? He’s a bat flip of a human being.
“When I put that uniform on, you never know what you might get, man,’’ he said. “I’m a competitor. Off the field, I’m not soft-spoken. You’re going to know I’m in the room. But the stuff that happens on the field, that’s not me off the field. That’s the other Tim.’’
The other Tim wants to be contagious.
“I think he comes out to try to make sure that his team is into the game,’’ Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “That’s Timothy.’’
“My goal when I’m on the field is to be dominant and be the guy that brings that spark to the squad,’’ he said. “Be different. I think that’s kind of what I’m doing and having fun with it.’’
Heading into the Sox’ game against the Tigers, he was leading the American League in batting average (.402) and stolen bases (10). I might have jinxed him by speaking with him Sunday morning. He struck out twice, hit into a bases-loaded double play and had an error.
In positive news, he hit a walk-off home run against Detroit on Friday and of course he flipped his bat. He’s equal parts substance and style.
“The only way I can get the best out of myself is if I’m all-out,’’ he said. “I think playing all-out is the only way. And if you’re going to play a game, why not have fun with it?’’
The problem is that his fun is somebody else’s indignation. There’s still an allegiance to the past that governs the game. I find that allegiance quaint, though I understand why people would object to pitchers hitting batters for tossing bats in the air in celebration. What’s clear is that players such as Anderson and Bryce Harper are paying the price in bruises for trying to change baseball’s culture.
Anderson said he’s going to keep having fun, his way.
“I don’t know the old-school rules,’’ he said. “I guess those are the rules when those guys played, but they’re not playing anymore. So I think we’re going to switch it up a little bit.’’
They are. He is. Bat flip or no, he brings excitement to a game in desperate need of it. And he brings a quieter, more thoughtful attitude to wherever he is that isn’t a baseball diamond. That’s the other Tim. Feel free to say hello. That one doesn’t bite.
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