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Guillen family a surprise, welcome addition to Kane County Phantoms

Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013 10:50 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, July 29, 2013 10:32 p.m. CST

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SYCAMORE – Ozzie Guillen is capable of teaching Kane County Phantoms baseball players expert nuances about the game, but his famously colorful approach to the English language doesn't make much of an impression.

"We're all like 16, 17, 18 year olds, so it's nothing we've never heard before," said Mike Lee, a Burlington Central senior from rural St. Charles. "So he can kind of be himself out here. He keeps it professional, though."

This summer has provided equal parts baseball development and entertainment value for the Phantoms 17U travel team, which is coached by Oney Guillen, Ozzie's son, with plenty of help from other members of the Guillen clan, including the former White Sox and Marlins manager.

Ozzie Guillen has been a semi-regular guest in the Phantoms' dugout during the summer, including Saturday, as the Phantoms won a pair of games in their season-capping tournament in Sycamore.

"I'm a family man," Ozzie Guillen said. "I love to be around my kids. You have an opportunity to help these kids get better and play the game, have some fun, and I don't mind. I love it. I have a great time."

After managing the Sox to the 2005 World Series championship, chirping encouragement to the Kane County Phantoms on a July afternoon in Sycamore would seem like quite the come-down, but Ozzie Guillen said seeing baseball at the grass-roots level reinforces the purity of the game. 

"I think the parents sacrifice more than the kids," said Ozzie Guillen, now 49 years old and sporting a graying beard. "The parents should be barbecuing right now, having fun someplace, but they bring the kids here to play baseball, and we appreciate that. As a baseball fan and a baseball fanatic, we appreciate that when you see a parent try and spend time with their kids in baseball."

Oney Guillen, 27, is in his first summer coaching the Phantoms, having accepted an offer from the White Sox-loving Colombe family – Ernie and his son, Steve – to break into the coaching ranks with the Phantoms. Oney Guillen has been around major league baseball most of his life through his dad, but said he missed the sport after transitioning to the insurance business the past couple years.

"The first question I asked was is if the guys are serious about baseball," Oney Guillen said. "They said they were serious and they got some talent, so I jumped right into it."

Oney Guillen's brothers, Ozzie Jr., and to a lesser extent Ozney, also have been around the Phantoms this summer, along with assistant coach Jon Basinski.

The Phantoms seldom have time for practice, so Oney Guillen said he's had to "teach on the fly" at their weekend tournaments. He considers himself a laid-back coach.

"Baseball's supposed to be fun – just don't disrespect the game, run the bases hard and be coachable," said Oney Guillen, who joked that he appreciates his dad popping for gas when they drive west together from the city. "It's easier to coach kids when they're willing to learn. Nobody has an attitude or anything like that, so that's the best. It's easier to coach kids than it is guys who make millions of dollars."

Oney Guillen made waves during his father's tenure in Chicago for his outspoken commentary about Sox matters via Twitter, with many fans and media members opining that Oney overstepped his bounds.

Ozzie Guillen said he didn't lecture Oney to keep a lower profile.

"If Oney was 10 years old, then I'd say something, but he was 25, 28 – he's a baseball fan," Ozzie Guillen said. "I think he's a baseball fan, and I think everybody has their own opinion about stuff. I think the tweeting thing, I think people overreact, I think the media overreacted a little bit."

During much of Saturday's game against Force Elite, Ozzie Guillen sat on a bucket just outside the Phantoms' dugout, taking breaks from scrolling through his cellphone to offer occasional words of encouragement. He joined Phantoms players and coaches in enthusiastically saluting catcher Logan Haring for a nimble, against-the-backstop stab of a foul popup to end the game.

Haring's father, Klent, said he's long been a big Ozzie Guillen fan. Referring to Guillen's uptempo diction and pronounced accent, Haring said he loved "trying to listen to him" talk during his days with the Sox. Haring, of DeKalb, said the players have been thrilled to have such extraordinary access to a former major league player and manager.

"Ozzie's come early and he's thrown batting practice to the boys, he's pulled some off to the side and instructed them a little bit on their hitting and fielding," Klent Haring said. "The boys, they dig it."

Lee, also a Sox fan, certainly does, and thinks the feeling might be mutual.

"I think he does like helping out the local kids," Lee said. "I'm not saying any of us are going to reach the minors or anything like that but I think he likes seeing young players. I mean, he watched his sons grow up, and he obviously helped his sons with baseball. So there's got to be somewhere deep down that he enjoys it. I mean, he's a dad."

Ozzie Guillen left a souring relationship with the Sox to manage the Marlins in 2012, but he was fired after one turbulent season in Miami.

These days, he works a couple days a week as an analyst for ESPN Deportes and on other ESPN studio shows, such as "Baseball Tonight" and "First Take." He keeps close tabs on Major League Baseball given his role with ESPN, and said he still pulls for the Sox, citing his relationship with current manager Robin Ventura. 

"I wish they'd be playing better for him," Ozzie Guillen said.

On balance, though, he has plenty of newfound free time on his hands, as evidenced by his involvement with the Phantoms, who have five Kaneland players on their roster.

"A lot of people said, well, when you don't have baseball anymore, you might die – no, I'm having fun," Ozzie Guillen said. "I have plenty of time with my family, I go to Venezuela a lot, travel a lot. It's been great so far."

Oney Guillen feels similarly about the dawn of his coaching career. He said he'll play any future in baseball by ear, but considers his debut with the Phantoms to have been worthwhile.

"I said [at the start of the summer] I know a lot about baseball but I'm learning as well, so let's all learn together and hopefully make this a good summer," Oney Guillen said. "It's crazy how fast it's gone by."

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