Jenks grateful for time spent with White Sox

Jenks grateful for time spent with White Sox

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The man who once talked about being born to work as the White Sox closer now has to deal with the potential end of his successful run holding that particular job on the South Side of Chicago.

But in an exclusive conversation with MLB.com on Sunday night, Bobby Jenks expressed some level of hope for a White Sox return after the team non-tendered him on Thursday and made him a free agent. He also spoke of positive memories with the White Sox, if the 2010 season was in fact his Chicago finale, and had an especially high level of praise for the hometown fans.

"I still look back at the World Series video and watch the people chanting, 'Bobby, Bobby,'" said Jenks during a phone interview from his Arizona home. "The fans really meant so much to me.

"Honestly, I was hoping that this would not be the case, being non-tendered. I was hoping I would come back without question. Obviously, things change in a heartbeat. I'm sad that it has come to this, where I've become a free agent and I'm talking to other teams."

Jenks, who turns 30 in March, earned $7.5 million in 2010 and figured to get a raise in his final year of arbitration. The thought process behind the non-tender move was that the team couldn't commit an elevated dollar amount to its closer because of where the White Sox presently stand budget-wise and where Jenks stands coming off a subpar season.

Part of Jenks' 2010 struggles, in which he had a career-worst 4.44 ERA despite posting 27 saves, dealt with battling through some strange injuries. He pulled a back muscle playing long-toss in Baltimore, had a cramp that wouldn't release in St. Petersburg and then missed the final 27 games of the regular season due to ulnar neuritis in his right arm. There also were some family health issues to handle for Jenks, whose mind was understandably not 100 percent on baseball.

Although Jenks didn't pitch again after saving both ends of a doubleheader in Boston on Sept. 4, he spoke Sunday of his availability during the team's closing seven-game homestand against Boston and Cleveland. The White Sox didn't use him during that time.

A healthy Jenks, who stressed his arm "feels 100 percent," already has received numerous inquiries through his agents concerning employment for 2011 and beyond. There's no timetable for Jenks to sign -- with the White Sox remaining an option, albeit a remote option -- and he'll almost certainly sign for less than what he earned in '10.

"It [stinks], but it's the nature of the game," Jenks said. "I wish things would have been different. I wish I could have been out there healthy and finished the year, but things aren't always perfect.

"Hopefully, the White Sox front office and my agent, they can work something out. But if they don't, it's not because I don't want to be in Chicago.

"My first thought is my family and what's best for us," said the married father of four. "But if this is goodbye, I wish I had something more romantic, but slow down, drive safe and see you on the other side of the fence."

Sitting at 173 saves, a total leaving him just 29 behind Bobby Thigpen's franchise record, the hard-throwing right-hander emerged as one of the most important, but seemingly undervalued, White Sox players during the past decade. He did everything from close out the World Series championship in 2005 to retiring an astounding 41 straight batters in '07.

Sounds of P.O.D's "Boom," usually accompanied by loud ovations from White Sox fans, always preceded Jenks' trot in from the U.S. Cellular Field bullpen. Even if that song and tradition become a distant memory, Jenks hopes White Sox fans remember their bond when he pitches for another team.

"Chicago will be in my heart for the rest of my career and probably the rest of my life," Jenks said. "I will never forget the first six years of my career in Chicago.

"In my heart, I was born an Angel, but my first chance I got was from the White Sox. If I'm not there this year and the following years, it will be sad, but there always will be a place in my heart and my family's heart where I know and we know they were always the first. If things don't work out, it's just unfortunate they won't be the last."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on twitter at @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.