Ty Carlson was at a Kaneland basketball practice when Ernie Colombe dropped by with a hard-to-believe bulletin: Carlson’s summer baseball team, the Kane County Phantoms, would be coached by former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s son, Oney Guillen.
And oh, yeah, another of Guillen’s sons, Ozzie Guillen, Jr., would assist on the Phantoms’ coaching staff.
“Coach Colombe came in during a break and I didn’t really believe him at first because it was kind of weird because those are high-profile guys,” Carlson said. “I was kind of shocked. I didn’t believe it yet until the first practice when I saw Oney, and he was there.”
Colombe, girls basketball coach at Kaneland in addition to his role as the Phantoms’ director of baseball operations, is a huge Sox fan, having grown up near Midway International Airport. He said his 21-year-old son, Steve, who also assists in the Phantoms’ program, reached out to a handful of people, including Oney Guillen, about conducting private lessons, and the interaction spread to discussion of coaching openings as the Phantoms expanded their age-group offerings.
Oney Guillen eventually visited Ernie Colombe’s Sugar Grove home to discuss the Phantoms’ 17U program, and both parties came away enthused. Colombe called the whole scenario “just kind of luck, I guess.”
“I did ask him why us versus I’m sure he could get some experience in other avenues, but it’s just what he wanted to do,” Colombe said.
“ … He’s a great guy,” Colombe added. “He’s a young kid trying to get his feet wet in managing and relates real well to the kids. I think he has a lot of good qualities and I think he’ll be a great coach down the line.”
Oney Guillen, 27, shares more than a last name with his famous father. Neither are strangers to controversy.
Ozzie Guillen, ending what had become a rocky relationship with then-Sox general manager Kenny Williams after the 2011 season, went on to manage the Marlins in 2012, but was fired after one subpar season in Miami.
The former Sox shortstop and World Series-winning manager has extra time on his hands these days, and made use of that by attending one of the Phantoms’ games a few weeks ago at North Central. Carlson said Ozzie Guillen coached some first base and shared baseball advice with several of the players.
“Oney mentioned he’d come out to a few games, but I didn’t think he was going to come right away because he said that the day before, and Ozzie just showed up, and we were kind of shell-shocked,” Carlson said. “It was really cool.”
Ozzie Guillen has a polarizing image in Chicago, largely because of his outspoken-to-an-extreme communication style. Oney Guillen seemed headed down that same path a few years back.
Oney Guillen drew widespread criticism for semi-frequently injecting himself into Sox business via sharp-elbowed remarks on Twitter, including calling former Sox relief pitcher Bobby Jenks an “idiot.”
Carlson said Oney Guillen seems to keep a decidedly cooler head these days.
“I think that a lot of people think just because of his Twitter and all that stuff he just tries to get attention. … But I don’t think that at all,” said Carlson, an outfielder for the Phantoms and a senior-to-be at Kaneland. “He’s just a normal guy. He doesn’t try to seek attention or anything like that. He doesn’t go up to people and say ‘I’m Ozzie Guillen’s son.’ He’s just a cool guy.”
“People have a right to say what they want,” Colombe added regarding Oney Guillen’s history. “And in addition, we’re not in the paper every week, so I’m not too worried about that.”
The Phantoms have numerous local players on their 17U roster. In addition to Carlson, Kaneland players Nate Hopkins, Joe Laudont, Joey Panico and Curtis Thorson are on the team, as is Burlington Central’s Mike Lee.
The team is 16-3 on the season, Colombe said, having just taken second place to the Phantoms’ 18U squad last weekend at a tournament in Valparaiso, Ind. Since players are typically multitasking between their high school summer programs and other sports, the Phantoms typically only assemble for weekend tournaments. Three tournaments remain on the team’s schedule, including a summer-capping event July 26 through 28 at Northern Illinois University.
By mid-summer, some of the novelty of being coached by Ozzie Guillen’s son has worn off, but Carlson said it’s still exciting to be mentored by coaches who have been around Major League Baseball most of their lives.
Oney Guillen typically doubles as the team’s third-base coach while Ozzie Guillen, Jr., and the team’s other coach, Jon Basinski, share first-base coaching duties. Carlson said the Guillen brothers occasionally speak Spanish to one another when they’re coaching the bases together.
The players usually don’t know what’s being said in those instances. Considering who is talking, it might be worth locating a translator to find out.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.