I’m looking out my window as the local urchins toddle off to school. They are all quiet and orderly. Oh sure there are the occasional giggles and childish guffaws, but there is always a Mexican grandmother to keep them in line. Even the Irish and Polish kids in que don’t mess with the Mexican grannies. I have come to the conclusion that there must be a nearby location where they clone Mexican grannies since there’s one for every gaggle of kids. They walk along amongst the youngsters and never say a word. They all wear black, all have shawls and none of them ever smiles. Well, not when they’re with the kids. On the return trip they are all atwitter and laughing. These ladies could give prison guards lessons.
Actually, that might be kind of cool. Prisons guarded by grannies.
“Mr. Viper? You will sit down and eat your vegetables or there’ll be no bedtime story for you!”
Who knows? I might be on to something here.
But it’s not just my neighborhood that’s quiet these days. Our sports teams seem intent on playing sports and not raising ruckuses. The Hawks are focused on getting into the playoffs, the Bulls are focused on surprising the heck out of everyone but Charles Barkley and retaining the #1 seed and not a single member of the Bears has been arrested this week. The Fire have even gotten into the act and are now playing like a team fans can support.
If this keeps up what will I write about?
RICK MORRISSEY at the Sun Times suggests that we take a look at the calm and realize that there’s a storm brewing somewhere on a distant horizon.
Do you hear that?
Neither do I.
It’s quiet. Very quiet. Unnaturally quiet. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen hasn’t taken a vow of silence — come on, let’s be realistic here — but he has declared that he and general manager Ken Williams have buried the hatchet. It probably would help if Oney Guillen buried his Twitter account, but the yapper doesn’t fall far from the tree. Oney most definitely is his father’s son.
On the North Side, all those voices that called for Lou Piniella’s head last season are muted now that Piniella goes by the title of “former Cubs manager.’’ Those voices will start clearing their throats again if Mike Quade struggles to match the success he had late last season as the interim manager.
It’s quiet, but it won’t last. This is Chicago. These are the White Sox, with a manager known to speak (the entire contents of) his mind. And these are the Cubs, who can turn the calmest, most rational manager into a screaming lunatic who is certain that the 15 percent of the population that is unemployed regularly attends games at Wrigley Field.
The dynamics have changed a bit in Chicago, but only because Quade isn’t a totally known quantity yet. We know what Guillen is. We know he’s unafraid to tell a player his version of the truth, even if the player sees a different truth. And Ozzie isn’t afraid to relay that truth to the media.
We know that, despite the best intentions of Guillen and Williams, there will be turmoil in the Sox’ clubhouse in 2011. We’re fairly sure this will turn out to be a positive. The franchise can’t seem to roll without rocking.
We knew what Piniella was. Underneath the doddering-uncle exterior was a flickering fire. The problem for many Cubs fans was the perception that there were only embers left.
Fiery start for Quade
Not so with Quade. He took the back roads to the big leagues, and it produced a man who likes getting his hands dirty and his point across. There is a fire there. He’s not Mike Quaalude. His former players in the minors felt it. And they had the distinct feeling he might be tough enough to take them all on and win.
We got a glimpse of that side of Quade earlier this week, when supersized pitcher Carlos Silva, on his way out the door, ripped new Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins for not being upfront with him.
“First of all, he’s dead f---ing wrong about my pitching coach. And I got no f---ing time for that,” Quade said. “And second, respect is a two-way street, period. If you’re not willing to give it, you’re not getting it.
“And the third thing that everybody needs to know, this was my call. If you want to be irritated with somebody, this is on me.”
Wait a second. F-bombs? Those are supposed to be Guillen’s area of expertise, right?
This month, during his first spring training as Cubs manager, Quade carried a fungo bat on the field with him at all times. He was either ready to hit grounders to infielders at a moment’s notice or he was waiting for the Buford Pusser role in “Walking Tall’’ to open up.
Where Piniella might have been distant from his players, Quade will be shoulder to shoulder with them. He communicates with them. He lets them know who will be in the lineup the next day, something Piniella didn’t do.
So, yes, most everything has been good. But what happens when it goes bad, which it will at some point? This is baseball and — we can’t emphasize this enough — these are the Cubs. And what happens if/when (July 1 at the latest) Carlos Zambrano goes off, as he’s wont to do? It won’t be so quiet, that’s what.
Quade won’t tolerate people who fail to play the game correctly. It’s why he benched Starlin Castro for a few games last year after the rookie shortstop made a few mental errors. Castro found out that he needs to be looking to his manager, not just to third baseman Aramis Ramirez, for guidance.
The best thing Quade had going for him last season was that he wasn’t Piniella, who always seemed surprised by the scrutiny in Chicago. This wasn’t the knee-jerk Big Apple he had been raised on. This was the 100 percent, emotionally invested Windy City. Everything mattered.
During his audition last season, Quade led the Cubs to a 24-13 finish. Is it unfair to say that was the easy part? Probably, but there’s truth in it. The Cubs were out of the pennant race at the time. The pressure was a barely noticeable hiss from the boiler.
The hard part starts now. There’s a decent chance this is not going to be an easy season for the Cubs and their manager, especially with a questionable lineup.
All Quade has to deal with is the franchise’s failure to win a World Series in the last 102 years. Perhaps you’ve heard something about that streak. Cubs players will watch Quade closely to see how he deals with the weight of having one of the most high-profile jobs in sports.
Welcome to the Sox Zoo
Guillen should have an easier time of it than Quade. He has a team that should contend for the American League Central title. That’s a “should’’ in two sentences. Higher expectations have been known to increase stress levels.
Some people are suggesting that Guillen is on the hot seat, given the turmoil of last season. Most of these people have no clue about how things work inside the Sox Zoo. They see a manager and general manager at odds publicly and see the worst. Chicago sees business as usual.
Guillen can be all over the place emotionally, one minute consoling a struggling rookie, the next telling people he’ll protect his family to the death. Williams prefers his emotions buttoned-down. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf looks over the two men like a patient parent who just wants everybody to get along, knows it’s impossible and decides to enjoy the show.
Sox players have learned to ride through the turbulence that comes with flying in formation behind Guillen. They can’t imagine a season without controversy. It wouldn’t be the Sox without it. That’s what the outsiders don’t understand.
And it’s why, despite all the promises, it won’t be a quiet season. It can’t be a quiet season, or, if it is, you can count the Sox out right now. The Oney Guillen controversy that spilled over from last season into the offseason is out there somewhere, lurking. Oney resigned from the Sox’ video department last year after tweeting critical statements about the team’s front office. In December, he ripped former closer Bobby Jenks via his Twitter account. You can picture him warming up his fingers already, can’t you?
We Chicagoans are lucky, manager-wise. Both Quade and Guillen are open with their thoughts. Both are considered players’ managers, and both have their players’ support. Last season’s doomed DH-by-committee experiment aside, Guillen usually makes the right calls. He gets all sorts of credit for his dealings with players; he doesn’t get enough credit for his on-field strategizing.
In 17 years as a minor-league manager, Quade has seen everything there is to see. The difference now is that he’s looking through the eyes of a major-league manager.
Guillen loves the spotlight. The spotlight will find Quade, whether he likes it or not.
He’ll have to douse controversy, too. He already did when Ramirez and Silva had to be separated after a skirmish during a spring-training game.
But right now? Everything is just swell, the way it is for every team in the big leagues. Hope is in the air. Most teams believe they have a chance, even if most of them don’t.
The Cubs open at home Friday against the Pirates. The same day, the Sox play the Indians in Cleveland. Ryan Dempster pitches for the Cubs. Mark Buehrle takes the mound for the Sox.
Peace reigns. Enjoy it while it lasts. It eventually will go away. Loudly.
Oddly enough, it was this very same topic that occupied conversation at my favorite watering hole. While no one will mistake Mike Quade for Lee Elia, it’s good to note that he won’t shy away from the occasional colorful colloquialism. And I’m pretty sure that we all know that a calm Ozzie is a heavily medicated Ozzie. There can be no other explanation.
So, we wait. But until the lid blows off one side of town or the other, I’m going to be perfectly happy just to enjoy the games.
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I have 3 cats. They have their various quirks that keep me both entertained and exasperated. One likes to fetch, one likes to light the stove (forcing me to remove the knobs) and so on. But one has a, for lack of a better word, fetish that has me baffled. She likes it when I fart. Nothing makes her happier than when I let loose with a paint peeler. Even if it forces me to leave the room and open windows, she’ll run from wherever she’s at to bask in the toxic fumes.
I recently had a dinner which featured broccoli and sauerkraut. My butt sounded like two Harleys trapped in an echo chamber. You would’ve thought she died and went to kitty-smell heaven. She was so insanely happy she was running in circles and rolling around the floor like a break dancer.
Yes, she’s an odd cat.
Nevertheless, Spring Training is finally over.
WOW! There’s a head snapping segue.
Teams will play an inter-squad game today and then head off to their opening day destinations. Both teams are being generally prognosticated to finish around .500 and out of the playoffs. Some prognosticators have the Sox winning their division with 86 or 87 wins. I think that there’d have to be a lot of AL Central suckage for that to happen. 90 wins seems more realistic for any team to seriously win it all.
That being said, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at what each team will be providing their fans this year. TONI GINNETTI from the Sun Times took some time to sit down with Tom Ricketts and discuss life at Wrigley.
Tom Ricketts smiles at the question: Would winning the World Series help the Cubs accelerate their dream of transforming Wrigley Field into a modern stadium that retains its old-world charm?
‘‘I’m convinced everything takes time,’’ the chairman said.
After all, it took his family three years to complete the record $845 million purchase of the Cubs from Tribune Co. in October 2009, with the deal closing as the economy plunged.
Amenities such as an electronic video board are things to consider down the road.
‘‘It’s not part of what we’re thinking about now,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘There’s no space for it. Over time, who knows?’’
But a year and a half into their ownership, the Rickettses have anchored their principles, from making the team less dependent on free agency, to player development, to beginning the long-term task of creating a Wrigley Field for the future.
‘‘We’ve always talked about three goals: win a championship, preserve Wrigley Field and be a great neighbor,’’ Ricketts said.
Even if it’s unclear how the Cubs will pay for the longer-term changes, which could hinge on some kind of public financing help, the progress is measurable as the Rickettses begin their second season:
◆ A modernized spring-training facility in Mesa, Ariz., was secured in November when voters approved funding help for the project. The new facility is targeted for completion by 2014, perhaps sooner.
‘‘Other teams had newer and better facilities [built with help from Arizona specialty taxes denied to the Cubs], and it was definitely a front-burner concern to close that discrepancy,’’ Ricketts said.
The Cubs also have begun renovation on their training facility in the Dominican Republic, where future Latin American players will begin their careers.
‘‘That’s organizational consistency for our facilities,’’ Ricketts said.
◆ Revitalizing Wrigley Field continues. Improvements to the locker-room facilities, which began last season, have continued with an expansion of the training room. It now includes X-ray equipment to help quickly diagnose some injuries.
Fans this year will see remodeled Sheffield Grill and Captain Morgan Club eateries, while the Batter’s Eye area in center field will have windows instead of fixed glass ‘‘so people can feel the game,’’ Ricketts said. New menus will feature items from local vendors, such as Vienna hot dogs and D’Agostino’s pizza, and gluten-free choices, among other special-diet fare.
In the background is the continuing replacement of aging brick and mortar.
‘‘Steel and concrete are ongoing things,’’ Ricketts said.
◆ The Cubs have aspired to be more cordial to surrounding businesses, rooftop owners and residents.
‘‘There were a lot of years when there wasn’t great communication with the team,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘We’ve reached out to everyone.’’
The Cubs invested in one of the rooftop clubs last season when it was in danger of financial failure.
‘‘We have a small investment in it, and it gives us an insight into their business,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The rooftops are our partners, and we like them.’’
The Cubs share 17 percent of all the rooftop revenues under a deal struck in 2004 that ended a feud with then-owner Tribune Co.
The Cubs also have requested the 2014 All Star Game to coincide with the park’s 100th anniversary.
‘‘It would mean $150 million in revenue [for the city],’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The commissioner [Bud Selig] is open-minded about it — if we can get some of the [ballpark] improvements done.’’
Still on the drawing board is the long-discussed ‘‘triangle building’’ next to Wrigley that would include offices, restaurants and other amenities. But its future depends on uncertain financing.
‘‘It’s part of and can’t be separated from what we have to do to preserve the ballpark,’’ Ricketts said.
Implicit in his comments is the dilemma of seeking public revenue in a climate of strained government funds. The idea drew a chilly reception last fall when it was first raised, and Ricketts defers discussing it for now. Yet it could be the most challenging question facing the ownership family, even as it keeps checking off its to-do list.
Toni’s not quite right about that tax thing. Since the Ricketts keep tossing out that tarnished bromide as though it were the truth, I figure I should take a minute to clarify. Yes, other teams did get tax help. It was, and is, in the form of a general fund that is allocated after each project’s approved. Teams partnered up, like the Sox and Dodgers did at Camelback, to reduce costs and maximize revenues for the various locales and the State of Arizona.
Additionally, in the State of Illinois, the venues are owned by the state and leased by the teams. That would not be the case with the Cubs.
What Ricketts seems to be saying is that the team on the field is what it is until they can finally develop their farm system or get a big box full of my money.
The Southside already has a nifty park and a developing farm system so they’re focused on different things than the Cubs. THE SUN TIMES, in an uncredited article, reports that the Sox had three things they were concerned with and feel that they’ve addressed each issue successfully.
The White Sox had three items on their spring training plate: The health status of Jake Peavy, who would close games out of the bullpen and who would play third base.
Peavy, who breezed through a 45-pitch minor league outing on Tuesday, remains the only question mark after becoming a national story in camp during his comeback from surgery to repair a torn lat. A setback (rotator cuff tendinitis) after his fourth outing bounced the former Cy Young winner back to square one, and he won’t begin the season with the team — the expected outcome all along.
Matt Thornton, an All-Star setup man in 2010, was named the closer after he pitched well during the first half of camp and signed a two-year extension for $12 million in Arizona while the other possibility, rookie Chris Sale, was retreating to the back fields to get his pitch-command issues fixed.
The competition for the starting third-base job lacked the same drama. It was rookie Brent Morel’s gig to lose, and he crushed the audition by hitting .303 and committing no errors. Mark Teahen hit .326 but made five errors at third.
Game, set, math.
THE 25TH MAN
The last man standing competition always looms larger in late March than it should, because roster moves shake up the 25-man sooner rather than later, anyway. The Brent Lillibridge or Lastings Milledge debate ended when the Sox shifted and went with 11 pitchers instead of 12. So long, Jeff Marquez.
If and when Peavy returns, a position player will likely move out because an extra pitcher will be needed to have Peavy’s back. Manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper prefer 12, anyway.
Paul Konerko hit safely in 10 of his last 12 games, going 17-for-39 with six doubles, a home run, five RBI and eight runs scored.
Morel was 12-for-30 with four RBI over his last seven games, and Quentin finished with an eight-game hitting streak and had four doubles five homers in his last 11 games.
Alex Rios finished with an 11-game hitting streak, going going 13-for-38 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and six RBI during the run.
Left-handed reliever Will Ohman, who opened the spring with four straight scoreless outings allowed three runs in each of his last two outings.
Jackson’s ERA over his last three starts was 7.71.
AND THEY WERE GOOD ENOUGH
Combined spring won-lost record, ERA of Sox starters Mark Buehrle (4.00), Jackson (5.59), John Danks (3.04), Gavin Floyd (4.57) and Peavy (4.11) combined for a 6-10 won-lost record and 4.18 ERA.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
5 Home runs hit by Carlos Quentin.
4 Number of AL Central teams with winning records in spring training. The Sox were left out of that group.
3 Where Sox ranked in slugging percentage (.480) among AL teams.
2 Bad games for Gordon Beckham to close what was a very good spring. He struck out four times in four at-bats Sunday and went 0-for-5 Monday.
1 Speeding tickets issued to A.J. Pierzynski driving to game in uniform. And triples hit by Paul Konerko. Which was more bizarre?
YOUR MORNING PHIL
Phil Humber, who was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in six spring appearances, is thought to be a suitable Plan B option with Plan A fifth starter Peavy on the shelf. But while Peavy was mowing down all 13 batters he faced in a minor league scrimmage Tuesday — including Carlos Quentin four times — Humber was giving up four runs, including a homer to minor leaguer Brandon Short. If there’s a blessing in Peavy’s tendinitis, it’s that it saves him from doing too much too soon.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
Vowing to do everything in his power to avoid a slow start, Guillen played his regulars a lot down the stretch. It might make his hitters sharper when the real games begin Friday, but it didn’t translate into wins: The Sox lost eight of their last 11 Cactus League games to finish 11-20, good for 14th place among 15 teams.
Regardless, spring training standings mean little. Not when nameless number eighty-somethings are pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
“I don’t care about losses and wins,’’ Guillen said.
The Sox have only had one winning Spring Training since Ozzie arrived and that was in 2004. They’ve also only had one losing season and that was in 2007. That year even the most die hard Sox fan knew they were in for a world of hurt. Too few tools for too many jobs that year.
It’ll be interesting to see how both teams fare this year. Both are in tough divisions and both are coming off of disappointing seasons. Hopefully both will keep baseball relevant this year since I really don’t want to write about intramural clog dancning.
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The NFL lockout is continuing apace. Owners and players are girding their loins to prepare for their April 6th appearance in front of Judge Susan Nelson.
Both sides face an interesting problem with Judge Nelson. She’s never shown any sort of political bend or favoritism. She’s neither pro-business nor pro-worker. Although she was appointed by President Obama she’s been lauded by Republicans just as often. Additionally she has a, well deserved, reputation for getting cases settled out of court.
Take a gander at how she handled her very first case as a Federal Judge.
The issue polarized the greater Minneapolis community and attracted national headlines: should two gay teenagers be allowed to walk as a couple in their high school’s royalty court? School administrators said no. In late January, the girls sued.
Just a month into her tenure on the federal bench, Susan Richard Nelson handled the dispute by making sure it never got into a court room. She surprised the girls and school officials by inviting them into her chambers on a Saturday for an unsolicited mediation.
After more than six hours of talks, the teens agreed to drop the lawsuit. Two days later, they walked together in the royalty court.
“The whole day I will look back on with such gratitude, the way she approached it,” said Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin schools, who participated in the settlement conference in the largely vacant downtown courthouse. “Dignity and grace come to mind.”
Simply put, she’s the one judge in the country who’s not going to brook any shenanigans from either side. And, bereft of that, what does either side really have?
Nevertheless, players are still trying to get into shape. Caleb Hanie & Rashied Davis are trying to arrange practices for the offense so they can run routes. They have invited Jay Cutler to participate as well.
I offer that statement without any further comment.
But what about the rest of the players? They need to work out, get conditioning and make sure their bodies are in peak shape for the day this lockout eventually ends. SEAN JENSEN at the Sun Times reports that lots of health clubs are making bank on NFL players right now.
Johnny Knox and Matt Toeaina are dripping sweat, their bodies aching from a circuit of exercises Monday that concentrated on their core, grip and legs.
They’re in a world-class workout facility surrounded by professional athletes, but they’re not at Halas Hall surrounded by teammates and coaches. NFL teams were permitted to begin offseason workout programs eight days ago, but after the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement, owners imposed a lockout that bars players from team facilities.
“You miss the interaction with teammates and coaches and stuff like that, but it’s not too bad,” Toeaina said after his workout at EFT Performance in Highland Park. “I don’t know what to expect, but I have to prepare for whatever.”
With negotiations between the league and the NFL Players Association at a standstill — and a key April 6 federal court date in St. Paul, Minn., next week — the typical offseason schedule already has been affected, starting with the voluntary workouts. At stake after that would be minicamp, training camp, the preseason and regular season.
Blind, self-serving optimism aside, each player has to face his reality: He can’t afford — even with no income coming in — not to work out. And while the YMCA is practical and economical, NFL players favor trainers and specialized facilities that cost anywhere from $50 to $150 a day.
That’s an unexpected expenditure, considering any player typically receives at least $100 for each voluntary offseason workout he attends at his team’s facility. Stars, meanwhile, can collect significant bonuses for attending the majority of those voluntary workouts. For instance, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher were scheduled to make $500,000 apiece for attending 90 and 85 percent of those sessions.
For now, though, players are paying out of pocket to stay in shape.
Knox and Toeaina train three to four days a week at EFT Performance, about six miles south of the Bears’ headquarters in Lake Forest, with founder Elias Karras. Free-agent defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams also train there. Matt Forte and Greg Olsen are training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami; Charles Tillman is at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego; and Roberto Garza, Nick Roach and Corey Wootton are at TCBOOST in Northbrook.
Bears defensive end Israel Idonije is an exception, opting to find a gym and work out on his own.
Boost in business
Karras and Pete Bommarito offer “Lockout Specials,” providing a discount from their usual rates for NFL veterans. Bommarito charges a weekly rate instead of a daily one, while Karras has an all-inclusive package that, in addition to a custom-tailored workout, includes a warmup, skill work, laser-massage therapy and a post-workout stretch, shake and meal.
“Normally, they’d be billed for everything individually, but I’m not trying to rob them,” Karras said with a smile.
Added Bommarito, “I want to give my [NFL] regulars a break.”
But these workouts are a luxury, especially for players who weren’t high draft picks or haven’t played several seasons. Former Northwestern receiver Eric Peterman, for example, serves as a part-time trainer at EFT to use the services and full-time trainers.
Bommarito, Karras and Bob Christian of TCBOOST said they have had an influx of NFL clients. Bommarito said 87 NFL players trained with him at some point last year.
“We already reached that,” Bommarito said, “and we haven’t even hit April.”
Nine more players are scheduled to come in today, he said.
Naturally, with business booming, the trainers and their employees are working overtime. And their support staff — masseuses, nutritionists, chiropractors, etc. — also are logging more hours.
In Miami, March and April are usually months Bommarito’s employees can steal a few breaks.
Not this year.
But Karras said he isn’t trying to compete with Rusty Jones, the Bears’ award-winning director of physical development.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Karras said. “I’m just trying to make it exciting and fun for these guys because they want to be in shape, but I also want to keep their football muscles firing.”
So Karras emphasizes drills that don’t overstress joints and use one’s own body weight.
“More movements than lifting in place,” Karras said. “These guys don’t need to be beat on.”
When the weather gets nicer, the players will do some work on a field nearby. But players enjoy Karras’ unique workout ideas, such as repeatedly sticking their hands in a bin of rice.
“I like what Rusty does for us,” Knox said. “But every trainer does stuff that is different. [Karras] does some things that I’ve never seen, but it’s fun, and it works.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that NFL players can be a fickle bunch. So trainers such as Karras, Bommarito and Christian have to be flexible and provide everything — at a first-class standard. Bommarito’s extensive “team” includes an in-house chef, while Karras has healthful meals delivered to his clients every day.
“They’re more like family to me than anything,” said Harris, who has trained with Karras for several years. “He has great workouts, [with an emphasis] on speed and quickness.”
Karras and his staff design a program for each athlete, often taking into account a player’s injury history. Toeaina is working on his lateral movement and flexibility.
“It’s real good,” Adams said. “It’s more what you need and not what you want.”
Knox realized the benefits of his offseason spent at EFT last year — he finished only 40 receiving yards short of 1,000 in 2010 — so he planned to return whether there was a lockout or not.
Asked why he wasn’t a regular at voluntary offseason workouts at Halas Hall, Knox said, “Just to get away from it for a little bit and do your own thing and get a different perspective.”
A fifth-round pick, Knox’s rookie contract included a $204,000 signing bonus, and his base salary in 2011 is scheduled to be $480,000. But he doesn’t have any problem paying for his workouts at EFT.
“It’s an investment,” Knox said. “What I do here is going to pay off in the future.”
The urgency is even greater for Adams and Harris, who are unrestricted free agents. After a new CBA is agreed upon, players without an NFL contract will have to scramble to get one.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s a part of the business,” Adams said. “You have to embrace it, and you have to be ready.
“That’s why I’m here.”
While it’s good that the players are working out, the fact that they are denied any interaction with their coaches has got to be detrimental at some level. It takes more than brawn to play football. If they get held out until mid-summer, which is about what everyone predicts, then they’ll only have a month or so to actually get ready for the season.
Not to be a curmudgeon, but I see lots of injuries happening from players trying to do too much too soon.
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I know a guy who grew up next door to a kid who went on to become a famous athlete. He always said that had you asked him back then about the kid’s chances to make the pros he would have snorted milk out his nose. Which was a popular form of derision in those days. But, by high school, it was becoming apparent that there was something special happening. The two men went to different colleges but stayed in touch. By the end of college one kid was in the pros and the other was headed to work on his Masters in physics.
As you may have guessed, one kid was a total jock and the other had a nice collection of pocket protectors.
The years marched on and one’s career ended and the other’s has moved into teaching. Still, both men stayed in touch and manage to get together once a week or so for nothing more important than what men have talked about since time immemorial.
Oddly enough, each envies the other. Both have nice families and plenty of accolades but one couldn’t get a jock strap on straight if his life depended on it and the other couldn’t tell you the difference between a quadratic equation and a college quad.
Suffice it to say that each kept the other grounded with a mix of humor and love.
I hope Derrek Rose has someone like that in his life because his rise these last three years has been meteoric.
K. C. JOHNSON at the Trib reports that one thing that makes Rose so good is that he never stops looking for ways to improve.
What’s playing out on the court these days looks magical and effortless, as all the great ones make it appear.
But Derrick Rose’s transcendent season and evolution into a complete player have sprouted from the sweat of offseason workouts, the bleary eyes of lengthy film study and the strained vocal cords of conversation after conversation seeking improvement.
This is a player who, following the first 30-point, 17-assist game in Bulls history since Michael Jordan in March 1989, had one phone conversation on the bus ride home from Milwaukee and another conversation with a member of the organization on ways to improve. Perhaps his two turnovers or eight missed shots bothered him.
The great ones constantly seek perfection, which Rose achieved in his 12-for-12 performance from the free-throw line. And his dominance down the stretch, in which he scored or assisted on the Bulls’ last 16 points over the final 4 minutes, 9 seconds, came pretty close. Maybe Rose didn’t take the perfect angle off one screen. Perhaps he didn’t challenge one shot as well as he could have.
“Right when I got here this summer, I realized how special he is,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He studies. He prepares. He puts the work in. He’s never satisfied. He’s always trying to get better. He has an edge about him that is a very positive one.”
Coming out of Memphis, Rose supposedly couldn’t shoot. So he posted a 47.5 shooting percentage en route to winning Rookie of the Year.
Then he couldn’t play defense. That growth began late last season and blossomed further this season. Did Brandon Jennings play on Saturday? His 10 missed shots and four turnovers might suggest otherwise.
But Rose couldn’t shoot the 3-pointer, right? This season, he has almost quadrupled the amount he made in his first two seasons combined while improving his percentage from 26.7 to 33.2.
The latest has some critics calling him a high-volume shooter or, worse, a ball hog — more Allen Iverson than a pure point guard. Yet Rose is averaging a career-high 7.9 assists and is the only NBA player to rank in the top 10 in scoring and assists.
After scoring 18 first-half points against the Bucks, Rose reacted to coach Scott Skiles’ defensive wall, which featured some triple-teams, by passing for seven assists in the third quarter en route to his career-high 17. Then came his jaw-dropping final flurry of 10 points and three assists in that last 4:09.
Yeah. That’s pretty much the definition of “jaw dropping.”
MARK POTASH at the Sun Times even dares break out the MJ comparison. And, for the first time in Rose’s career, it doesn’t seem gratuitous or forced.
In early April 1988, Michael Jordan was battling the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson, the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Charles Barkley for the NBA MVP award when he put a hammerlock on the hardware with a 59-point performance in a nationally televised win over the Detroit Pistons at the Pontiac Silverdome.
‘‘No matter what we did or tried to put on him, nothing worked,’’ Pistons coach Chuck Daly said after that game. ‘‘He was up-tempo today. He looked like the MVP.’’
A similar scenario at the exact same juncture of the season — facing a division rival on the road in the 72nd game — unfolded Saturday night in Milwaukee as Derrick Rose stepped up yet another level by carrying the Bulls to a 95-87 victory over the Bucks at the Bradley Center.
Like Jordan did throughout his career, Rose keeps staying a level above the hype. Just when it appeared a backlash to all the Rose MVP talk was beginning to surface, Rose put up back-to-back performances against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Bucks that proved he’s as good as everybody says he is — and maybe better.
How good was Rose against the Bucks? He accounted for 66 of the Bulls’ 95 points (69 percent), with 30 points on 9-for-17 shooting and 17 assists (two of them on three-point shots). He actually accounted for 68 points because Joakim Noah hit two free throws after being fouled on a nifty pass from Rose, but the NBA for some reason doesn’t count those plays as assists. In fact, Rose accounted for 68 of 85 Bulls points (80 percent) while he was on the floor.
Even the best players in the NBA rarely account for more than 50 percent of their team’s points. Rose’s mark was the best in the league this season, behind the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, who accounted for 59 of his team’s 88 points (67 percent) with 39 points and nine assists in an 88-87 victory over the Pistons on Jan. 28.
Rose is just the fourth player in the last 10 years to score more than 30 points with 17 or more assists. The others are Baron Davis (36 points, 18 assists), Steve Nash (33-17) and Chris Paul (31-17 and 30-19).
Even in a dominant personal effort, Rose lifted his teammates high enough to make the difference. Carlos Boozer was in a funk against the Bucks — he had two points on 1-for-5 shooting and four rebounds with five minutes left in the third quarter when Rose almost single-handedly made him a factor.
Rose fed Boozer for three baskets in a 2:48 stretch to help keep the Bulls within striking distance. Boozer ended up scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the final 17 minutes.
‘‘Derrick’s game was unbelievable,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger. When your point guard’s playing like that, it gives you confidence as a team.
‘‘We realize how hard he’s going out there, and we just want to go out and do the same for him because you know he’s playing his heart and soul out. When you have a star player playing at that level, it just makes you want to go to bed early, eat right and do all the things to get right for the final stretch.’’
Okay, let’s be honest, when Joakim Noah is the most sensible person in the room you might want to go to a different room.
That being said, he’s right.
It’s becoming more apparent that Rose has taken over that team and has no intention of giving it up. And that, ladies and germs, is a very good thing.
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I don’t usually write on Sundays here. On the seventh day I rest and all that. It’s in the book, you can look it up.
But today I’m making an exception. It’s not just because I woke up to Monster Magnet’s Space Lord pummeling my speakers. Although that did put me in an instant good mood.
Nor is it the fact that I finally ended a weeks long business dispute with a client that epitomized the essence of a successful negotiation. By that I mean none of us were happy when it was done.
It doesn’t even have anything to do with the fact that I finally made the last recipe from the Jay the Joke cookbook that you could realistically make at home.
It was Hb’s Mesmerizing Meatloaf, in case you’re curious.
I’m not a big meatloaf fan, but that came out amazing.
No, what prompted me out of my usual Sunday stupor was an incredible look at two pitchers, who are the same age, who make about the same amount of money and who appear headed in diametrically opposite directions.
THE SUN TIMES reports, in an uncredited article, that the Cubs can’t even give Carlos Silva away.
Carlos Silva is going away. But not quietly.
After the Cubs announced they plan to trade Silva, the over-salaried pitcher they got for the over-salaried Milton Bradley said the team misled him about his status in the last week. Then he threw new pitching coach Mark Riggins under the bus for the way Riggins told him he wouldn’t make the team.
All of which made the end of Silva’s Cubs career the verbal equivalent of his 1-3, 111/3-inning second half of last season — if not his dugout-fighting, BP-throwing, three-week start to March.
‘‘It’s very clear they knew what they were doing,’’ said Silva, who thought it was ‘‘weird’’ last week when the Cubs scheduled him to back up Carlos Zambrano with a three-inning relief outing. ‘‘I was like, ‘Something’s going on. Maybe they know who’s going to be the fifth starter.’ . . . Don’t say people are competing for a spot because it wasn’t true. Nobody was competing for a spot. They already [had] their rotation decided. It was very clear.’’
The Cubs’ version of events is far different, with more than one member of the organization using the word ‘‘delusional’’ to describe Silva’s perspective.
The Cubs, who chose second-year pitcher Andrew Cashner for the fifth-starter job and took rookie Marcos Mateo for the final bullpen spot, plan to step up efforts to trade Silva by the end of the week.
They announced those decisions Saturday, setting their roster for the opener Friday, barring injury.
‘‘We told Carlos Silva there will not be a spot for him unless there was an injury between now and Opening Day,’’ general manager Jim Hendry said. ‘‘We will try to explore trade possibilities for him with other clubs that might have some interest in taking him right to the big leagues.’’
The Cubs have received little trade interest in Silva since last season but are willing to eat more of the $11.5 million remaining on his contract than they were a few months — or even weeks — ago.
The Cubs say they’re willing to trade Silva within the division if it keeps him in the big leagues. If they can’t move him, they planned to ask him to stay with the organization at Class AAA rather than release him.
‘‘No chance,’’ said Silva, whose veteran status allows him to refuse such an assignment. ‘‘That’s not on my mind right now, not at all. I am not an insurance player, you know?’’
Silva, who turns 32 next month, is scheduled to pitch a few innings Monday for the Cubs in what amounts to a showcase/tryout — but those plans might be in doubt after his reaction Saturday.
‘‘I get an opportunity for another team, [the Cubs] are going to be in a bad spot,’’ said Silva, who said he has no animosity toward those who won jobs, only with what he believes were misleading signals sent by the team — after three poor outings.
‘‘I know I can pitch. I know what I can do. But they don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘I talked to Jim this morning, and it’s very clear they think I can’t pitch anymore. He said, ‘If you get traded and you get an opportunity to pitch for another team and then you do good, then we’re [screwed].’ If he says that, it’s because he doesn’t think I can pitch.
‘‘Like they say, they don’t know what Cashner is going to do. So what are they doing?’’
With the exception of going 9-2 with a 2.96 ERA to start last season, Silva hasn’t come close to living up to the four-year, $48 million contract he signed with the Seattle Mariners before the 2008 season.
But after a strong six-inning start Wednesday, Silva said he was surprised by the news, especially after Riggins told him his bullpen session Friday looked good.
‘‘Half an hour later, he calls me into the hall,’’ said Silva, who criticized the Cubs’ former minor-league coordinator for only telling him he didn’t have a roster spot after Silva rejected the idea of opening in the minors to build his sharpness. ‘‘He should start with that first, and then talk to me about [the options].
‘‘It’s like, if you’ve got to say something, be straight. . . . He has to learn he’s in the big leagues now. It’s not kids around here anymore. If you’re here, you’ve been here long enough. And the way he laid it out, I don’t know what he’s trying to do.’’
Hendry and manager Mike Quade said Silva handled the news well in separate conversations, leaving some in the organization especially puzzled by his public reaction.
‘‘Organizationally, we just have to commit to finding out what Cash can be,’’ Quade said of the 2008 first-round draft pick who excelled down the stretch in a setup role last season. ‘‘I just don’t think you can cut a guy loose for four or five starts in Arizona — if you’re serious about this, and you think he’s got the potential to be a high-end starter, which we do — and then go, ‘Never mind.’
‘‘And sometimes those kinds of decisions force other decisions that may not be palatable.’’
Yes, those last two sentences out of Mike Quade’s mouth may be the most linguistically challenged things we’ve heard in a while, but you get his point.
While it’s sad that Carlos basically pitched himself out of a job after having heart surgery, it’s still surprising that not one single team has expressed interest. This guy has pitched at an elite level in the past and did so for the beginning of the Cub’s season until he fell ill. And it isn’t as though there’s such a plethora of good arms in baseball that teams can choose to ignore him.
One gets the sense that he’s an even bigger jerk than’s been advertised.
One guy who isn’t a jerk is the Sox’ very own, Mark Buehrle. He’s gone on, very quietly, putting up Hall of Fame numbers while happily managing to avoid the hoo-ha that comes with success. MARK GONZALES at the Tribune takes a look at why he’s so good.
Mark Buehrle has thrown the most innings and has the third highest pitch total in the major leagues since 2001.
Yet an offseason MRI showed Buehrle has one of the cleanest rotator cuffs in baseball, according to his offseason trainer.
“You think of all the innings,” Keith Sanders said. “There usually are some abnormalities that show up. But Mark’s MRI was impressive. He doesn’t throw 95 mph, so that doesn’t add stress. He truly knows how to pitch.”
But two years ago, Buehrle, realized he couldn’t sustain his durability with just sound mechanics and rest.
‘The wake-up call,” as Buehrle called it, came in the form of a 2-7 record and 4.78 ERA in 13 starts after his perfect game in 2009.
“I never had done anything,” Buehrle said of his offseason routine. “I’ve been healthy and gone out and thrown 200 innings. At the time I was asking why change things up. But throwing that many innings each year eventually is going to catch up to you. I realized you have to do some arm exercises to strengthen it to be healthy and strong.”
Thanks to those exercises and a throwing program near his St. Louis-area home, Buehrle, 32, has remained one of baseball’s most dependable and successful pitchers.
“I don’t think there’s any question he could pitch effectively into his 40s if that’s what he chooses to do,” said Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, who has represented Buehrle throughout his career.
That assessment appeared in doubt until after 2009, when Buehrle began working out more often instead of resting his arm all winter.
Sanders, aware of Buehrle’s past routine, slowly introduced him to non-resistance exercises. Because Buehrle already worked on his legs and core, he had a base from which to build strength. That’s what helps him perform dazzling plays such as his flip between his legs to retire the Indians’ Lou Marson on Opening Day last April.
Shortly after Jan. 1, 2010, Buehrle started playing catch and “every other day we’d be ramping it up,” Sanders said. Buehrle also would play long toss at Rams Park because of the space provided on the football field and then start throwing off a mound.
“There were years where I would just play catch and never step on a mound until I got down here (in Arizona) because I used to say, ‘This is the time to get ready and build up strength,’ “ Buehrle said. “Getting into long toss and throwing bullpens in the winter was part of strengthening it.”
By the time Buehrle arrived in Glendale before last season he had no limitations because of the strength he built — a huge contrast from the spring of 2008 when the Sox occasionally would skip Buehrle’s starts because of concerns about his arm.
He also feels fortunate he listened to the advice of pitching coach Don Cooper, trainer Herm Schneider and Sanders at the right time in his career.
“I was lucky not doing anything (in previous offseasons). Being healthy and throwing 200 innings every year was luck,” Buehrle said of his longevity. “I’m fortunate for what God gave me.”
Buehrle, who is nearly seven months younger than marquee left-hander Cliff Lee, has sustained his success among a veteran group of hard throwers such as Roy Oswalt, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay.
“Everyone has said I’ve had smooth mechanics, and I think not throwing hard and not having a herky-jerky motion to throw hard is something that obviously has helped me,” Buehrle said.
“Would I like to throw hard? Yes, there have been times I would have loved to throw harder than I do, but that’s what I have.”
When people point out, correctly I should note, that Buehrle’s overall numbers would make him the #3 starter on several other teams, they miss the essence of what it means to be on the White Sox. His work ethic and attitude embodies all the core values that Ozzie and the team espouse. He’s not the ace because he has electric stuff, he’s the ace because he’s the guy everyone else will happily follow.
And that says a lot.
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