That’s the Biggest Box of Cracker Jack’s I’ve Ever Seen!

I thought, “I’ll bet I could give Cracker Jacks to everybody in school.” That huge Cracker Jack box must have had me drooling at the thought of crawling through it to get at the prize and a mighty huge Cracker Jack building 4800 W. 66th St. (66th & Cicero) in Bedford Park, 1958prize it would have been, a baseball glove, a Lincoln Logs set, or maybe even a bicycle. It was probably a newspaper or magazine article about the plant on Chicago’s southwest side, but it might have been a trip somewhere with my father that introduced me to that giant box and the dreams it conjured.

On the rare occasions, I bought a box of Cracker Jacks when I became an adult (your guess is as good as mine about when that might have been), had to have been because I wanted the taste of the sweetened popcorn and peanuts, not because I wanted the prize inside the box. By that time the prizes had become practically worthless, little more than pieces of cardboard with a picture on them. When I was a kid we wanted the Cracker Jacks as much for the popcorn candy as for the prize inside the box, usually miniature trinkets such as tiny cars, guns, horses or dogs. My favorite was a little pocket knife that didn’t cut much, but it was fun to imagine pulling it out of my boot (also imaginary because I didn’t wear boots) so I could surprise the bad guys.

“Mrs. Threadgoode pulled something out of the Cracker Jack box and all of a sudden her eyes lit up. “Oh Evelyn, look! Here’s my prize. It’s a little miniature chicken… just what I like!” and she held it out for her friend to see.” ― Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

I also treasured the peanuts. I developed ways to better enjoy my favorite sweets. I twisted Oreo cookies apart and ate the cream filling first, then let the chocolate cookies melt in my mouth one at a time. I peeled the chocolate top off a Hostess cupcake, then licked out the cream filling before eating the cake followed by small bites of the saved-for-later chocolate frosting. I carefully peeled off the thickest part of the chocolate coating of most candy bars to enjoy after I’d eaten the rest of the bar. Whenever my mother made a pie I ate the filling first, then enjoyed the crust. When she made a cake I ate the cake first, carefully removing it from the frosting.

Vintage Cracker Jack prizesAfter digging out the prize inside the Cracker Jack box I at the popcorn, but separated the peanuts and set them aside. I’d eat them after I’d melted each piece of popcorn in my mouth. I remember trying to dissolve the popcorn coating while leaving the popcorn itself intact. That never worked. All I ever had left were the shell or pericarp of the kernel, those little bits that get caught in your throat or between your teeth. I also never sucked the coating off the peanuts. The coating was just sweet and the peanuts were just peanuts, but together they were marvelous.

Cracker Jack was sold to the Borden Company in 1963 and the plant at 66th and Cicero was closed in 1986. The plant was eventually torn down. A TGI Fridays and a Courtyard Marriott now sit at that location. I wonder what happened to that giant Cracker Jack box, scrap metal probably.

“The More You Eat The More You Want” – Cracker Jacks Slogan

A couple of years ago I opened a box of Cracker Jacks. They tasted about the same, but there weren’t many peanuts and I didn’t set them aside. About the middle of the box, I found the prize. I was expecting a bit of trivia or a little paper puzzle I could fold. It was a puzzle of sorts, a digital computer code, which I threw away. I’m told needed an app to redeem the code, but it still wouldn’t lead to much of a prize.

Writing this has me thinking about that special flavor, but I’m not going to run out to get a bag of Cracker Jacks (yes, they’re now packaged in bags). I’m pretty sure I’ll be disappointed. They’ll still taste about the same, maybe there’ll be fewer peanuts to set aside and the prize won’t be worth bothering with, so maybe I should just pop some corn and make my own.

If you do buy some Cracker Jacks, here’s a little trick you might try. Next time you make caramel corn, just before you stir the popcorn and sticky stuff together toss in a bag’s worth of Cracker Jack’s. I don’t know how it will taste. I’ve never tried it myself, but it sounds like a good idea.

The Ghosts of Chicago White Sox Drafts Past

Although Major League Baseball has been around since 1869, the baseball draft is relatively new. I would have thought it started in the 1930s or maybe 1950s, but the first Free Agent Amateur draft was in 1965. Thus, tomorrow’s Major League Baseball draft which begins at 6 pm, Chicago time will be the 53rd annual draft. It will go on for three days and 40 rounds. More than 1300 college and high school baseball players will be asked if they want to play professional baseball with the ultimate goal being to play Major League Baseball. Most of them will spend 2 – 10 years trying to make it to the ‘big leagues.’ Most of them will fail.

Baseball is unusual in the way it both drafts and then uses those high school and college players. The National Football League draft also lasts three days, but it lasts just seven rounds, meaning less than 250 college football players get picked, most (although not all) of whom will eventually play for the team that drafts them. They might play only a minor role, but at least two-thirds will play for the pro team. The National Basketball Association’s draft lasts only two rounds. Most of the college players picked in the first round will eventually play for an NBA team. As for the second round, those players are long-shots to make it off the bench.

It’s to be noted, however, that a player picked in the first round of either the NFL or the NBA draft is expected to help their team within a year or two, but a player picked in the first round of the MLB draft is expected to help his team eventually, maybe in a year, maybe longer. It’s a rare, but very talented ballplayer who makes it to the major league team the same year he is drafted. It is not unusual for a first round pick to spend four or five years making his way through the minors before he gets called up to the major league club, sometimes just for a game or two before he eventually makes it to say. Major League Baseball’s draft is not so much one of expectations as it is one of hope. It is not unusual for a first or second round pick to ever become a major league player. Nevertheless, draft day is one that many baseball fans pay attention to, especially fans like me, fans of a team that hopes his team will pick a player that will eventually help get the team up off the bottom of the league.

Chicago White Sox logoI am a Chicago White Sox fan and to a lesser degree a Chicago Cubs fan (having grown up in the Chicago area its hard for me not to be at least a little bit of a Cubs fan) and now, because I live near Los Angeles and was born in Brooklyn, NY I’m also somewhat a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles. When push comes to knock-em-down, I’ll always want to see the White Sox win. While the Cubs and Dodgers have done reasonably well-picking players in the first round who eventually make it through the minors up to the major league team, the White Sox have not.

The Sox will be picking fourth tomorrow. Among White Sox fans there’s a lot of hope the players picked tomorrow, especially the player picked in the first round will be able to help the major league team soon, because that’s about the only hope White Sox fans have at this time… the hope that the players in the minor leagues will be good enough to help the White Sox in the near future. At this time the Sox are the second worst team in baseball (ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles) and the Sox have been one of the worst teams in baseballs for the past five years.

To say the least, it’s painful being a White Sox fan. According to the sports writers it’s not supposed to be as painful for Sox fans as it might be for fans of the other bottom dwellers such as Baltimore, Kansas City, Texas, Cincinnati, Miami, or San Diego. Supposedly those teams all have ‘farm’ systems (their collection of minor league players) that range from good to worse, but the Sox now have one of the best, not because they have done well in the draft, but because the White Sox management has been on a crusade to gather respectable minor league players from other teams by trading established major league players for minor league players. It remains to be seen if that will play will work. It seems to have worked for other teams such as the crosstown Cubs, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros and most recently, the Atlanta Braves.

The reason the White Sox are in this position – hovering near worst in baseball – is because in the last 20 years their first round picks have been horrendous. Only two of their first-round picks between 1997 and 2017 have become all-stars, and only a handful have become noteworthy major league players. because the White Sox management has been busy building a farm system that is expected to produce enough quality players for the White Sox to be playoff and perhaps even World Series contenders in 2020 or 2021. Sitting where I am that seems like a long, long, long way away.

I was wondering how it is the White Sox have gotten themselves in this mess. Why have they had to build a farm system? Why haven’t they had a farm system that could tide them over and at least give Sox fans the same glimmer of hope fans of at least 20 other teams have that their team might be a contender this year.

Right now there is talk that another Major League Baseball draft is right around the corner. It’s got me wondering how the White Sox have done with their draft picks for the last 18 years (generally the maximum lifespan of an All-Star ballplayer). It’s not a pretty picture. Generally, it’s been a futile exercise for the Sox.

In 1996 the White Sox had a stunning six first-round picks. One regular first-round pick and five supplemental first-round picks. They took:
15. Jason Dellaero (his major league career lasted less than one month in 1999)
33. Kyle Kane (never played major league ball)
34. Brett Caradonna (never played major league ball)
43. Aaron Myette (pitched for four major league teams compiling a 6-12 record and 8.16 era)
46. Jim Parque (pitched for the Sox the following year, compiled a 29-26 record over three seasons until a shoulder injury all but ended his career)
51. Rocky Biddle (became a relief pitcher – two years for the Sox, two years for the Expos).

Missed out on: Lance Berkman, Jayson Werth, and Tim Hudson)

The next year the White Sox picked Kip Wells at # 16 and Aaron Rowand at # 35 in the supplemental first round. Wells made it to the majors with the Sox, spent most of his time as a reliever and was traded after two years. Over the next ten years he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. In 2005 he lead the league in losses, going 8 -18. He finished his career in 2012 with a 69-103 record.
Rowand on the other hand became was one of the players who led the White Sox to their World Series win in 2005 and made the all-star team in 2007, and earned another World Series ring with San Francisco in 2010.

Other players the Sox could have picked: C.C. Sabathia, Brad Lidge, Mark Prior, or Matt Thornton.

The White Sox had four picks in 1999 draft. They took:
15. Jason Strum (never played major league ball)
22. Matt Ginter (relief pitcher for the Sox from 2000-2003, then played for the New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians)
35. Brian West (never played major league ball)
45. Rob Purvis (never played major league ball)

While the Sox struck gold with Rowand in 1998, they struck out miserably in 1999. Here are some of the players they could have had: Brian Roberts, Carl Crawford, Alex Rios (who did eventually play a few seasons with the Sox), John Lackey, Justin Morneau, Jake Peavy (another familiar name to Sox fans), and Albert Pujols (but then just about everybody missed on Albert who saw 401 other players picked before his name was called).

The pick in 2000 was Joe Borchard at #12. He did play a little for the Sox and some other clubs, but he never amounted to as much as Chase Utley or Adam Wainwright who were picked after him in the first round. The Sox would have been better off stretching for the likes of Cliff Lee, Yadier Molina, or even Bobby Jenks who were picked in the fourth and fifth rounds.

The Sox had two picks in 2001: #16 Kris Honel and # 39 Wyatt Allen (both of whom never played professional ball, although Allen won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a bronze in 2008 for Men’s Eight Rowing). Instead of drafting those two the Sox could have picked They could have had David Wright or Jayson Nix (a player who eventually played for the Sox after he was signed as a free agent in 2008).

2002 saw Royce Ring get picked by the Sox at #18. However, they could have had a number of future major leaguers who were also picked in the first round: James Loney, Denard Span, Jeff Francoeur, Matt Cain, Mark Teahen.

Center Fielder, (and future minor league pitcher) Brian Anderson was picked at #15. Anderson was a decent defensive outfielder, but he couldn’t hit the ball even when the pitcher threw the ball at Brian’s bat. Later in his career he quit trying to be someone who swung at the ball and tried being a pitcher but he was as good hitting the bat as a pitcher as he’d been bad at hitting it when he was a hitter. That year the Sox could have had Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Adam Jones, among others.

The next year, 2004 the Sox again picked a guy who was strong on defense, but weak on offense at # 18, infielder, Josh Fields. They also had picks at #34, Tyler Lumsden, and #38, Gio Gonzalez who was traded away a few years later. He’s now a starting pitcher with the Washington Nationals and has a 123 – 88 won-lost record. A couple of notable players the Sox missed out on were pitchers Phil Hughes and Houston Street now pitches

2005 the year the Sox won the World Series also saw them take a giant step toward the futility that would lead them to where they have been the last few years when they picked Lance Broadway instead of Jacob Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus, or Matt Garza.

More of the same ensued in 2006 with pick # 29 Kyle McCulloch. However, that pick was not much worse than any of the other picks in the first round after #11, Max Scherzer, because almost none of the picks after #11 amounted to any player you would be likely to remember.

In 2007 with the 25th pick the Sox chose future trade bait Aaron Poreda, who was one of four players sent to San Diego in exchange for Jake Peavy. Poreda, with his 97 mph fastball looked like a great pick at the time, but the Sox could have had Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier, Rick Porcello, Brett Cecil of Ben Revere instead.

Fringe player, Gordon Beckham was picked at #8 in 2008. When the Sox brought him up a year later he looked like a future all-star. He played so well that was named the Sporting News’ 2009 American League Rookie of the Year and was voted the American League Rookie of the Year by the MLBPA. After that, his career fizzled and he gradually drifted into utility infielder status. He’s still playing – with the Seattle Mariners. While Beckham was almost a great pick the Sox could have had Jason Castro, Justin Smoak, Brett Lowrie, Lonnie Chisenahll, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, or Lance Lynn.

2009 saw the Sox make two first round picks: 23 Jared Mitchell and 38 Josh Phegley. Mitchell is now playing for a professional, independent baseball league team and Phegley is on IR with the Oakland A’s after having broken two fingers of his right throwing hand. This is what I would call an ‘Oh what could have been’ year for the Sox because they could have picked Mike Trout, Garrett Richards, or even Matt Davidson instead of Jared Mitchell.

Finally, 2010 saw the White Sox make one of their best picks in the last 20 years, at # 13 Chris Sale. Yes, WE HAVE A WINNER. A few big names were picked before Sale: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Matt Harvey. So there were about ten other teams who swung and missed.

The White Sox management made one of the worst mistakes they’ve ever made in 2011 when they gave up their first-round pick (#13 or 14) to sign Adam Dunn. At first glance, it looked like a good idea. Dunn had eight consecutive years with 38 or more home runs. His first year with the Sox he managed only 11 homers. He redeemed himself somewhat the following year when he hit 41 homers but he also struck out 222 times, just one short of the major league record. The Sox did have a first-round compensation pick at #47 and picked 47 Keenyn Walker. If they hadn’t signed Dunn they might have drafted Tyler Panik, Jackie Bradley, Jr., or Michael Fulmer.

The Sox had two picks in 2012 going with Courtney Hawkings with the 12th pick and Keon Barnum with the 48th, neither of whom made much of a dent in the Sox minor league system. It could have been a good draft if only they’d picked one of these players: Corey Seager, Michael Wacha, Marcus Stroman, Stephen Piscotty, or even Lucas Gioloto.

White Sox at Orioles 5/6/17

In 2013 the Sox again picked someone able to play at the major league level. Tim Anderson was the 17th pick in the first round, a decent pick, but instead they could have gone with Aaron Judge, Sean Manaea, or Cody Bellinger.

Since then the White Sox have picked Carlos Rodon in 2014, Carson Fulmer in 2015, Zach Collins and Zach Burdi in 2016, and Jake Burger last year. Rodon and Fulmer have both seen major league action. Collins, Burdi, and Burger are likely to sometime in the next couple years.

So, that’s the grim tale: 23 picks between 1999 and 2013, but few of them have made it to the majors. So far only three picks have made an all-star team, only one of them while with the Sox (Chris Sale), the others after being traded (Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez). Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon could be All-Stars in the near future, after that, your guess would probably be as good as mine.

Homesickness

It’s been more than 15 years since I moved from the Midwest to California. I made my decision to move no-matter-what while on my way to work early on a January morning. I happened to be sitting in my car on a cold snowy day when I made my decision. Did I mention the car was sliding sideways down the highway when I made my decision?

I didn’t walk into the boss’s office to turn in my resignation that day. Instead, I began planning how I would sort it out. After all, I had neither a job nor a place to live in California. I soon learned that landlords in California would not agree to rent a place unless I was there, even if I promised to put a check in the mail that day to pay for the required deposit, any fees, and an entire year’s rent. The real problem might have been that I was going to bring two medium sized dogs along with me. However, if I could have someone who already lived in California stop by and vouch for me, then they would gladly accept my check and rent a unit to me. Since I knew no one there, that meant I would have to live in a hotel room for a week or two.

I planned to pack my car with the things I would need immediately: toiletries, dishes, a pot, a pan, air mattress, sleeping bag, etc. There also had to be room for the dogs. Everything else I needed, clothing, more kitchen stuff, a few books, and so on got packed in boxes to be shipped U.P.S. I figured it wouldn’t take long for a hard worker like me, especially one with a good record and good references less than a couple weeks to find work.

On July 1, 2003, I gave two months notice. The next day my boss offered me a 15% pay raise. When I said, no, he upped it to 20%. Again, I said no. “It’s not going to make any difference what I offer, is it?” he asked.

“Right, it’s not,” I said.

I think some of the people I worked with thought the reason I offered such a long notice was that I was hoping the boss would offer me a raise. They didn’t know he had and I turned it down. I gave a long notice because I valued the place and hoped to give enough time for a replacement to be found, hired and maybe trained before I left. That didn’t happen, though. I’m pretty sure most of my fellow employees, some of my friends, and a couple family members expected to see me back there before the year ended. The biggest reason given was the expense. It costs almost twice as much to live here as it cost me to live in Wisconsin. Nevertheless, I stayed. It helped that a few weeks before I left my brother called to let me know a friend had a place I could rent in Long Beach. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived if not for that because, although I found a couple temporary jobs, it was seven months before I found a permanent job. I never thought it would be so difficult to find a job, even though I was 57 years old.

“Even after you’ve kicked the dust off your shoes, one day you’ll realize you never really left.”

Houses in Frank Lloyd Wright neighborhood, Oak ParkNow, about the homesickness. My daughter now lives out here along with her husband and they have a daughter, so I’m a grandfather with family nearby, but about six years ago I started feeling homesick. I started missing my brothers and sisters as well as the city I am most familiar with, Chicago. Last year I visited for a month and had a great time, visiting each of them, seeing some of the things the like to do, some of the places they like to go. I got to see two White Sox and one Cubs games. I wandered around the Frank Lloyd Wright neighborhood in Oak Park, a place I always wanted to see, but never took the time to go even though it’s within a couple miles of a sister’s house.

There are holidays I haven’t spent with them in years. There are many neighborhoods around Chicago that have grown up or changed drastically since I knew them and I’d like to spend a day wandering around them. I’d like to see more White Sox games, as well as watch the Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks… whether they’re any good or not. I’d like to walk through downtown, along Oak Street Beach, through Lincoln Park, around Evanston, Waukegan, Elmhurst, Lagrange, the University of Chicago, Loyola University, Navy Pier and a host of other places I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years or more. There is so much I’m missing being out here.

“Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”  ― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t you move back, you dunderhead?”

I’ve thought about that, a lot. It would be much easier to live there now that I’m retired, now that the days of having-to-get-up-to-shovel-snow-so-I-can-go-to-work-and-hope-I-don’t-slide-sideways-down-the-highway don’t exist for me anymore, and I could afford to buy a house, and gas is less expensive, and there aren’t soooo many people, and I still have friends in Chicago and Illinois, and Wisconsin I could visit. There are many reasons for me to go back there.

But…

simian brothers and sistersEvery time I start thinking like this I remember the snow, and the ice, and the cold, and the thunderstorms, and the mosquitoes. Do you know… of course you don’t, but I haven’t gotten more than six mosquito bites here? That’s less than one every two years. Back in the Midwest I often got a dozen in one day. I never spent a summer day not slapping myself somewhere, not to mention all the scratching.

I’m sorry brothers and sisters, as much as I would like to, I just can’t do it. The things I like and the things I miss are just not enough to overcome what I don’t miss… at least not yet. As I grow older the desire to return grows stronger. Even now, as I write this I picture the six of you sitting there saying, “Nooooooo, don’t stay in California, we miss you.”

So, I’m writing this to let you know, I miss you, too.

Memoir: My First (and Almost Only) Time Watching a Car Race

Many of my friends go to car races often. A couple of them could be considered big fans of the sport. I’m a pretty big fan of baseball, football, hockey, basketball, and even golf. I bowl in a league at least once a week. I even pay some attention to soccer and tennis, but other than the Indy 500, I have little interest in car racing. Even when my youngest brother told me he was going to quit the sport it was news to me that he was even racing and if you ask, I’ll have to tell you I have no idea what kind of cars he was racing or what kind of racing he was doing or even if he ever won a race.

In my entire life, I’ve been to only two car races. When I was eight years old my father took my little brother, Richard (the oldest of my three brothers), and me to a stock car race. At first, it was exciting, being in a place I’d never been before, in the middle of a huge crowd, watching something I might have seen before, but only on television.

The stands were only partly filled when we arrived. Cars were scattered around the place, mostly on the area inside the track, but none of them were racing.

“When are the races going to start,” I asked.

“In a little bit,” my father said. “You’ll know when.”

I didn’t really know when, but gradually the stands filled, and the dull roar of the crowd grew. I could see a few cars moving into place on the track. The people around me started standing so that I was able to see less and less of what was going on.

“Did the race start yet, Daddy?” Richard asked.

“It’s will, in just a minute.” my dad said.

You could tell something was about to happen because the crowd got terribly quiet and the gunning of an engine here and there below us became almost frighteningly noticeable. Whether it was the waving of a flag or the sound of a gun I don’t remember, but suddenly the engines roared, and the crowd came to life. My dad had lifted my little brother onto his shoulders. Richie was up there pointing, saying babbling away, but I couldn’t hear any of it. Everyone was still standing. they were bending, stretching up on their toes, trying to see the cars as they started moving around the track. Being not much more than 40 inches tall that was about all I could see – legs, rear ends, and the back of heads. The track announcer was describing what was going on, but since I was new to the sport, it didn’t mean much to me. I got a glimpse of a couple cars moving, but it wasn’t until the cars were going around the second or third time that the people around me started sitting down and I was finally able to see the cars flying around the track. They looked like toy race cars because I couldn’t see the drivers until they reached the curve and I was able to see their heads bouncing around behind the windshield.

I was trying to figure out which car was winning when the crowd suddenly screamed and groaned. My dad pointed to the two cars that had crashed on the turn farthest away from us. Then another car crashed into them and a piece of metal slid across the track. The cars slowed, and the crowd cheered as all three drivers jumped out of their cars. About a dozen men surrounded the three cars to cautiously push them off the track. Then the race started again. Considering I was eight years old and had no idea who was racing or what was at stake, it didn’t take long before it got boring. They just kept going around and around that track. I had no idea who was first, second, third, or last. Every now and then the track announcer would describe a car or call out a number I could look for and that helped, but mostly he used the names of the drivers to tell which car was in the lead and which car was trying to pass another. I tried to follow the action, but it was too much for me to understand.

If it wasn’t for the crashes I might have fallen asleep. I didn’t want to see any of the drivers got hurt, but there was something exciting about seeing two cars slam into each other. Sometimes metal went flying or a tire rolled across the track, but that’s not what made the crash exciting. It was the suddenness of it, followed by the tension as we waited to see the driver jump out of the car and wave to the crowd or give the thumbs up before either running over to the medical tent or helping the crew get his car off the track.

I have a couple friends who are big NASCAR fans and see a race or two every year. When they talk about the most recent race they saw in person or on TV, I sometimes think of that eight-year-old watching that stock car race. I had no idea where it was. I’d always thought of it as just a race track, but when I read this article I remembered the huge columns I’d noticed behind us. I hadn’t thought about those columns till now. After all, when people talk about a race I remember seeing the cars going around the track and sometimes crashing. I’ve seen quite a few Bears games at Soldier Field. The first time I saw the Bears play there I remember the place seemed familiar to me, but I wrote that off as anything other than having watched so many Bears games on TV. Now, I think it might have been because I’d been there before, but people usually think of Soldier Field as the home of the Bears, not a place for stock car races.

As I sit here typing this I can see the cars going by below and over my left shoulder as I look at the size of the crowd there are those massive columns that for an eight-year-old were there, and noticeable, but insignificant. All in all, it’s a good memory because I don’t remember anyone winning, nor do I remember ever leaving. In a sense, I will always be there in the middle of a roaring crowd watching a stock car race at Soldier Field.

http://autoweek.com/article/nascar/look-back-soldier-field-chicago-once-hosted-nascar-cup-race

The Chicago Bears Should Be Better Than Many Sportswriters Think They Will Be

With the first game of the season just a few days away, most Chicago Bears fans are again hoping for a winning season, but not expecting any miracles.
After looking at the various power rankings that have the Bears ranked pretty much where they finished last year (29th, tied for 28th) I thought most of the Sports writers were short-changing the team. The Bears should be ranked higher, at least 24th, maybe even 20th, but I’m guessing the uncertainty of the QB and WR positions (a new starting QB with little experience and both of last year’s best receivers gone – one to another team, the other injured) has sportswriters thinking the Monsters of the Midway won’t be scaring any more teams than they did last year.
Most true Bears fans believe the team was better than its 3 – 13 record last year.
To prove it I offer some simple stats from last year: the Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing rankings of the NFL’s 32 teams. I know a lot more goes into a game than Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing. There are things such as turnover ratio, third down conversions, third down stops, red zone defense, and field goal accuracy. That’s why a team that should be good sometimes isn’t and a team that shouldn’t be especially good sometimes is.
Nevertheless, looking at the Offense, Defense, Passing, and Rushing ranks tells a bit of a story. The Super Bowl teams were about the best in those categories. The Falcons with an 11-5 record: Offense – 2, Defense – 25, Passing – 3, and running – 5. The Patriots with their 14-2 record O 4, D 8, P 4, and R 7.
The Bears had the both the 15th ranked Offense and Defense, the 14th ranked passing attack, and the team rushing ranked 17th. With the most similar rankings (O 13, D 17, P 15, and R 13), the Bengals finished  6-9-1. So it could be argued the Bears were at least a six win team. However, both the Bears and Bengals might have been better.
Also in the North Division where the Lions who went 9-7 (O 21, D 18, P 11, and R 30). Most shocking of all, though, was Kansas City. The Chiefs finished first in their division with a 12-4 record but ranked worse than the Bears in three of the four categories: O 20, D 24, P 19, and only a little better rushing at 15th.
Looking at those numbers tells me the Bears could have been a playoff team last year. With a team that is at least equal to last year’s (and in some areas, better), they could be a playoff team this year. I’m not betting on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Again, though, there’s much more to the game than just the teams overall play on defense, offense, passing and rushing.
Finally, you might be wondering how the two teams that picked ahead of the Bears in the NFL draft did with those four stats last year? The Browns (O 30, D 31, P 28, and R – 19) who picked first were one of the two worst teams. The 49rs who picked second were the other terrible team (O 31, D 32, P 32, and R 4).

Even When It’s Painful, I Love Taking the Train

Oh God, no! He’s not going to talk about Amtrak again!

Yes, I am, but it’s good. Trust me, it’s good.

Back from three weeks in Chicago visiting family. I had hoped to visit with a couple friends, too – ran out of time.

Overall the trip was wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll write about some of the things I saw and did.

Two of my last three posts were about the rigors of the Amtrak train trip out there. The trip back was much more pleasant though, mostly because the train was never terribly late and arrived on time.

After stepping off the train in Chicago more than six hours late I sent an email to Amtrak’s CEO, Charles Wickliffe “Wick” Moorman IV, suggesting Amtrak do a better job communicating the timeliness of its trains, especially when it was common knowledge to Amtrak that a train would likely be late (on the trip to Chicago I overheard one of the conductor’s mention talk about a 13 mile stretch coming up where the train was going to lose an hour).

In the days just before my return train was to leave I got a couple emails from Amtrak telling me about an area that could cause the train to lose 1 – 2 hours because of track repaired. There was also a notice on the website about the possible loss of time. I thought that was a good effort. Also, while on the train there were a few times the conductor announced a likely delay and why it would occur.

For the most part, the train stayed close to schedule until Albuquerque where we sat for almost an hour. As the train made its way across New Mexico and into Arizona it fell further and further behind schedule so that by the time we reached Needles California we were 90 minutes late. From there on the engineer did a nice job picking up time, but we were still an hour late when we reached San Bernardino.

I had a connecting train to take me from L.A. to Ventura, that I was hoping to catch, but at the current pace I figured we roll into L.A. at 9:13 a.m. and my train to Ventura would leave at 9:14. You can see my dilemma. The next train for me would be at 12:30 p.m. To my delight the engineer managed to cut large chunks off that 60-minute deficit at the next three stops so that we rolled into LA’s Union Station just 20 minutes late and I had more than enough time to catch my connecting train.

All-in-all, the trip restored my faith in Amtrak. However, I will never sit on a train for two days again. Being confined that long in a limited space with a train-full of strangers became painful. It’s also too hard to sleep comfortably in a chair, even if the chair is relatively comfortable. There are only two ways I will ever make such a trip again. I might do it if I could afford a sleeping car (right now $150 or so for the coach, about $700 for the sleeper with a senior discount). Or I might plan a trip three or four stop train trip, go 1/4 – 1/3 of the way each day and spend some time being a tourist at each stop. Otherwise, I’ll fly.

A few things I learned:

  • Always bring an extra layer of clothing (sweatshirt or jacket and sweatpants) and maybe a blanket. Also, bring a pillow or at least a towel to roll and use as a pillow. Sometimes the air conditioning is left on and it can get colder than a you-know-what.Amtrak Southwest Chief Lounge Car
  • Bring a couple books and/or a Kindle, Nook, or Tablet and headphones or earphones (to while away the time you can read, listen to music, or watch videos, but you’ll need to listen privately.
  • You might find a set of earplugs useful, especially if someone nearby is having a conversation you don’t want to overhear or if the person in the aisle seat next to you snores.
  • If you can’t sleep in your seat or you become uncomfortable sitting you can walk the train, which I did often, and sit in the lounge car which has a sunny and pleasant view of the passing scenery. At night you might be able to find a place to stretch out a bit more than you can in your seat. The lounge car was my second home on the train.
  • Pack some food – sandwiches, bagels, muffins, salads, fruit, snacks, etc. Nothing that needs heating, though. Microwaves are not available for passenger use. Meals on the train, while often fairly good, are expensive. Snacks are also expensive. I bought a six-ounce container of donut holes and a small bag of M & M’s for six dollars. I could have gotten both for $4 or less in a grocery store.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity to get off the train. The few minutes of fresh air will do you good and you might see a use for your cell phone camera.

Right now I’m planning one long train trip and a couple shorter ones. First I’ll be spending some time in San Francisco, in January I think I’ll go to Albuquerque. Then in April the long one up to Seattle. Driving up there would take a minimum of 20 hours non-stop, but the train trip is 33 hours. Right now I’m trying to decide the most convenient and interesting place or places somewhere in the middle to stop and spend a day both going up and coming back.

Visiting Wrigley Field Again

A couple weeks ago I stepped back in time when I saw a ball game at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won 7 – 2, which would have been good news for me if they hadn’t been playing the White Sox.Wrigley Field 2017

I went to Chicago to visit my family, but I also got to see three baseball games, two at Sox park, and one at Cubs park. I was only planning to see one game, but a couple generous relatives (thanks, Doug and Dean) I got to see a couple more.

This story isn’t as much about baseball or the Cubs-Sox rivalry as it is about Wrigley Field. I am now in agreement with the White Sox part-time announcer, Hawk Harrelson, I’ll never go back to Wrigley Field again. I hadn’t been to Clark and Addison in more than 20 years and even though Comiskey Park wasn’t much of a ballpark at that time I thought Wrigley Field was even worse – a real dump to say the least. It was old and felt filthy. The scoreboard didn’t offer much information and when I went to the bathroom I felt like I was going to get yelled at for peeing on the wall.

When I was offered the chance to see a Cubs – Sox game at Wrigley I was excited about seeing both my favorite baseball teams, but I was even more excited about seeing Wrigley, especially after having followed all the stories about the renovation. Even in California where I now live there was plenty to read about the work being done to Cubs Park. I read the stories about what was being done, saw the pictures of walls being torn down, dirt and rubble being piled up, and construction workers moving metal and mortar. Based on that I thought Wrigley would no longer be the old, tired, dirty looking place I remembered. I was expecting so much more than I found.

We parked in a lot a couple blocks from Wrigley. That was interesting to me because I’d always taken the L and walked to the park in the past so I never knew where everyone else put their cars when they went to a game. I could hardly wait to get to the ball park because I was truly excited about seeing the improvements. As we approached the park I was quite impressed. We were surrounded by a number of crisp looking brick buildings and a large amount of grass. There was a picnic-like feel to the place.

After we got through security, made our way up the ramps and found our seats I realized whatever had been done to Wrigley was merely cosmetic. There was a huge, modern scoreboard in right field. There were a few other electronic doo-dads scattered about the park, and the seats might have been new, but it was still the junk yard I remembered. There was nothing new and shiny about the parts of the park where the fans spend most of their time. The aisles separating the various sections were still a death trap. Be careful moving about because if you’re not particularly careful (or if you’re someone like me with only one good eye and limited depth perception) the chances you will stumble and fall are greater than winning $10 playing the lottery. I noticed that Cubs fans are particularly rabid, which is great especially if you’ve become accustomed to being a fan of a losing team. Still, an entire row of those fans were still sitting on fold up bingo-hall chairs that made the place look cheap.

Thank God the ball club is finally offering some excitement because the park the Cubs play in is barely serviceable. The place is still a dump. Now that the Cubs have finally won the World Series it’s time for the owners to be realistic and tear the place down. Cubs fans deserve something better. Nostalgia is often a good thing, but that should be limited to the center-field bleachers and scoreboard and maybe take the front of the stadium and attach it to a real ball park. I’ve seen minor league parks that are better than the empty gum wrapper that is Cubs park.

I felt like this had been an evil trick to make me think I’d stepped back in time, a time when the Cubs were still the loveable losers. About the middle of the sixth inning I made my way men’s room and just like the good old days I felt like someone was going to yell at me for peeing on the wall.

 

Problems Leaving L. A.

I’m taking the train from L.A. To Chicago. The first leg was from Ventura to L.A.

The train from L.A. To Chicago arrived late. Then five minutes after the train was due to leave they had everyone in the last two cars exit the train.

The reason: they made a mistake the door of the last car is supposed to be sealed, but the sealed door was on the second-last car. So now we’re here and the train is somewhere else getting its last two cars switched.

When it returns we will get back on the cars (now in a different order) we were on before. The train we’ll leave 90 minutes late. This was taken after we’d been waiting 15 minutes for the train to come back.

Here’s a short video of me and the other passengers waiting….

Heading to Chi Town

It’s just a few hours before I hop on a train to take me from California to Chicago for my first visit there in more than four years. Since it’s going to be the heat of summer and I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it, but I haven’t seen my friends and family in a long time so I guess I am.

So, I have decided to bore you with a Videos of my trip ha ha ha ha. I’ll show you some scenes from the train as I crossed from LA to Chicago and also some of the things I see in Chicago including a White Sox game I plan to go to.

I’ll bet you’re as excited as I am! Since it’s been more than 15 years since I spent more than a few hours in the city I’m expecting to find some changes… then again, I might not notice the changes.

 

 

Mid-Season Chicago White Sox Report

Derek Holland really sucks!
Mike Pelfrey really sucks!
James Shields still sucks!

As long as the Sox are terrible and likely to stay terrible for the rest of the season wouldn’t it be a good idea for them to be terrible while building their future?
I remember back in 2004 when the Royals brought up a promising pitcher named Zach Greinke. His first year he was 8 – 11. In 2005 he was 5 – 17, The spent most of the next year in the minors and pitched in just three games in the majors. He returned to the Royals full-time and was 39 – 32 and went from being an also-ran to an ace.
Maybe it’s time for the Sox to get rid of those three dunderheads and bring up Carson Fullmer, Michael Kopech, and either Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Gioloto.
It would be soooo much more fun and soooo much more promising if the Sox got a top five draft pick next year with those rookies getting major league experience than with the three blockheads who will not be with the Sox next year and are wasting valuable innings this year.
I’m expecting Quintana will be traded soon. Most likely David Holmberg will move back out of the bullpen to replace Quintana in the rotation. That would be an OK move because he’s only 26 years old and can still be considered part of the Sox future rather than merely a placeholder. While Rick Hahn is at it maybe it’s time to bring up Zach Burdi and a couple other bullpen prospects to fill the empty spots when Holmberg returns to the rotation and Gregory Infante gets released.

Sending My Mind and Memory Back to 1968

Construction of John Hancock Building, Chicago, 1968This is about the way the John Hancock building looked the first time I saw it, although I first saw it while driving into Chicago on the Kennedy Expressway in June 1968 – shortly after my discharge from the Army.
 
Later that day I looked at it from the sidewalk across the street from 875 North Michigan Avenue. It was still just a shell and there wasn’t much to see, but It was the first time I got a dizzy feeling while leaning back and looking up the side of the building, trying to see its top floors.
 
My first two years of high school were just a couple blocks from where the Hancock Building would be. My first year of college was at Loyola University, also a couple blocks away. During that year I often had lunch on the lawn in front of the Chicago Water Tower, which is across the street and a block south of the Hancock Building, but at that time there was little worth noting that was in the space the Hancock would eventually fill. I remember the Chicago Water Works Building across the street from the Water Tower, but everything else was just day-to-day life: people, traffic, stores, and buildings moving or not moving around me while I laughed with my friends and enjoyed my sandwich and piece of fruit or cookies oblivious to everything that wasn’t important to my little world.
Now that I am much older I often wish I had paid more attention to my surroundings. Whenever I visit Chicago now I notice changes, new buildings, new shops and, although I recognize the change I usually cannot remember what it changed from. That’s the way it is with the Hancock. I often walked along Michigan Avenue past 875 North Michigan Avenue sometimes looking at whatever filled that space at the time. I’ve tried to remember what was there, but all I can remember is the general feel of Michigan Avenue with its traffic – cars, taxis, and buses – going by, making noise, and kicking up dust. 
That’s one of the things about memory if you didn’t pay attention to something when it was nearby the only thing you might remember years later is the dust

What’s Going on with the Cubs ??

After 108 years the jinx was finally broken when the Cubs finally won the World Series, but now it’s looking like it was just a fluke. The stars aligned, luck was finally on their side, but in the end, they weren’t really that good a baseball team. At least that could be the interpretation based on the way they’re playing right now.

My favorite team, the White Sox are not very good this year, but they’re not supposed to be. They traded away two of their five best players and are ready to trade away more as they rebuild a team that has been mediocre, at best, for most of the last ten years. The White Sox are supposed to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year. However, right now they are far and away much better than the Cubs. Sure, the Cubs are four games better than the Sox, but the stats (see below) say the Sox are better, maybe it’s the competition. While the outlook is bleak for the Cubs, it would be even worse if they were in the American League.

They’re fortunate they’re in the Central Division where they’re in 2nd place two or three games behind Milwaukee. If they were in the National League’s West Division they’d be in 4th place, 9.5 games out of first. If they were in the American League West they’d also be in 4th, but they’d be 12 1/2 back.

Cubs fans are saying, “Not to worry, the season is still young, these guys will turn it around in time for the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, White Sox fans are saying, “We knew they weren’t that good… just lucky.”

The 20 Best Desserts in Chicago

From humble to haute, these sweets deliver pure pleasure.

chocolate-profiteroleI’ve been missing Chicago for a long time now. Southern California is great for the weather, the beaches, and the mountains. That’s been enough to keep me here, but I miss Chicago’s sports scene, its neighborhoods, its architecture, and especially its food. Now, Chicago Magazine has to do this to me. The 20 best desserts in Chicago. This isn’t enough to tip the scale, yet; but with things like this to think about I might not be able to hold out much longer.

Right now I’m drooling, thinking about Chocolate Profiteroles, Chocolate Beignet, Basque Cake, and Coffee Custard.

On the other hand, it’s probably good I’m not in Chicago because right now, I’m trying especially hard to lose weight. A month ago I set a goal to lose 25 pounds in 50 days. I was told that was unrealistic and apparently it was. So I’m revising it to 25 pounds by the end of the year. If I was in Chicago right now, I know that goal wouldn’t have a chance.

coffee-custardIf I was in Chicago right now, I know that goal wouldn’t have a chance. First of all my family, typical Italians, would be inviting me to various family gatherings and I would use that as an excuse to fatten myself up; second, having read this article I would be taking the first opportunity to stop in one of these 20-best-deserts places, just to look around. It wouldn’t be long before I’d find a second opportunity, and then a third, fourth, fifth, and so on.

Now, you might be thinking, LA is a big city, bigger than Chicago, surely there have to be 20 places as with desserts as good, if not better, than the 20 in Chicago.

Funny you should think that because it so happens that the current issue of LA Magazine also has an article about LA’s best desserts. While none of them look good enough to keep me here if I decided to return to Chicago, there are a few that might be good enough to compete.

The thing is… I am in Southern CA, within driving distance of LA and as long as I’m here a slice of Chioccolato or a few Durango cookies or maybe a Halo-Halo could be worth a trip… just to look around.

Source: The 20 Best Desserts in Chicago | Chicago magazine | November 2016

National Dance Like a Chicken Day

chicken dancingThis is National Dance Like a Chicken Day, May 14th. Many people think this is the day they can go out in public and shamefacedly do the Chicken Dance. Although the Chicken Dance has been around for years, the first time I ever heard of it I was at a minor league ballgame. Between the third and fourth innings the team mascot walked out to second base and started dancing a silly dance to the bouncy music that was playing. The announcer suggested everyone stand up and dance along. Many people already were. I never learned how to do the Chicken Dance, but I remember it involves a lot of arm movement and squatting.

A few people might like to take a moment today to dance with a chicken, or just a drumstick or two, or maybe with a chicken sandwich.

Then there’s my friend Joe who did the best imitation of a chicken I ever saw. He had the leg/foot movements, the bobbing and quick look-here, look-there movements of the bird’s head, and he could crow. I never saw him dance like that, but if he ever did, he might have created the rooster dance, which would then be celebrated by Dance Like a Rooster Day.

Today, however, I am remembering when I danced like a chicken or rather, didn’t dance. Every Saturday night during my Senior year at IC high in Elmurst Illinois, I spent standing by a wall along one side of the gym with all the the other guys, two chicken to ask one of the girls to dance. Instead, we stood there talking to each other and watching the girls and the two or three guys with their girlfriends dancing. All of us lined up like that probably didn’t look much like a group chickens pecking at whatever they could find on the barnyard floor, but each of us stood there, trying to work up the courage to ask a girl to dance and wishing one of them would put us out of our misery even if it meant embarrassing us terribly by asking us to dance.

A half-dozen years later I was in London, on military leave. The friend I was with asked a waitress if there was a good place to dance. I don’t know if she was serious or if she was playing a joke on us, but the directions she gave led us to a high school or secondary school dance. I would have expected it to be different in England, but it wasn’t. The girls and a few boys were out on the floor dancing, but most of the boys were lined up along one wall, watching.

Before we left I noticed a handful of girls doing a strange ‘dance.’ In no particular unison they walked five or six steps to the beat, spun around and walked back five or six steps when they spun around again and continued like this through the entire song. They looked like chickens

Chicago Sports Update 12-16-15

As a Chicago White Sox fan I’m sligtly disappointed with yesterday’s trade for Todd Frazier… but in the Todd Frazier, new Chicago White Sox third basemanend it might be a very, very good one. I was hoping Avi Garcia would be traded rather than Trace Thompson. Trace was one of the Sox bright spots last year, but considering he hit about .260 in the minors last season could have been a fluke, just like Gordon Beckham’s first season was a fluke.

The Dodgers might have gotten a steal, but Thompson might turn out to be just average. Still, I’ll miss seeing if he can replicate last years performance. Micah Johnson was a disappointment. I added him to my fantasy team (behind Cincinatti’s Brandon Phillips) last year, but I cut him a week before the Sox sent him back down to the minors. After seeing him in Spring training, I thought he was ready for the majors, but he wasn’t. However, I still think he was more ready than Carlos Sanchez. As for Frankie Montas, the Sox gave up a promising relief pitcher, maybe a starter, and he might turn out to be the real diamond in this trade, but he wasn’t with the Sox long enough for me to get attached in any way.

So, now the infield is set. Abreu, Bret Lawrie, Saladino, and Frazier with Navarro or Avila behind the plate. The outfield is still a little shaky. Adam Eaton is fairly solid, Melky Cabrera is okay, but I thought Thompson would be out there and Garcia should be used mostly at DH… if the Sox could dump LaRoche. However, the Sox dumped Thompson and right now it looks like LaRoche and Garcia are still in play.

Last year Hahn fixed the bullpen. I’d still like to see him bring Albers back, but it should be good enough as it is. Looks like the rotation is going to be Sale, Quintana, Rodon, Danks, and Johnson. If Danks can pitch as well the entire season as he did the second half last year we won’t miss the ‘could be’ of Jeff Samhardya. Johnson wasn’t in the rotation last year, but if he pitches as well all year as he did after the Sox brought him up, we won’t miss the terrible first half brought on by Mr. Samyardja and the at-that-time inconsistant John Danks.

One writer I read said he thought the Sox were “a still a bat away” from being a true contender. I think that would mean an outfield bat, maybe Cespedes, but probably not. Still the rumor is the Sox are talking to him (or his agent), so who knows. Garcia is still young. If he can start lofting the ball into the outfield more than he has been, the problem could be solved.

Just like I thought at the beginning of last year, I think this could be a very, very good year for the Sox. But Adam LaRoche has to hit the way he’s supposed to hit, Melky Cabrera has to hit for the entire season the way he’s supposed to hit, Alex Avila has to hit the way he used to hit (he was not much better than either Flowers or Soto last year), Adam Eaton has to hit for the entire season the way he did the second half of last year, Chris Sale can’t fold late in the season, Jose Quintana has to get some run support, and that should put the White Sox into contention. Add to that the if of Avisail Garcia becoming a home run hitter, Tyler Saladino hitting a little better, David Robertson returning to being an elite closer, and maybe Carson Fulmer being ready before the All-Star break. If most of that happens the White Sox could be challenging Kansas City for the division lead.

Just like last year, that’s a lot of iffffs, but it looks like GM Rick Hahn is still moving the team in the right direction. The Sox are relatively younger and stronger than they were a couple years ago, and the minor league system is no longer the quagmire it was.

Turning to much of the rest of the the Chicago sports world: The Blackhawks look to be just so-so this year (although so-so for the Blackhawks is above average for the rest of the NHL). I’m not expecting much of run for them in the playoffs, but they still have that core, so back-to-back is possible. The Bulls are the Bulls, good but not enough as a playoff team so again they will get there, but not go much further. As for the Bears… well, I like seeing them win, but this year I’d rather see them lose. It’s been a foregone conclusion since the beginning of the season that they weren’t good enough to go up against the likes of Seattle or New England (although they’ve been much better than many sportswriters thought they’d be), so since the beginning of the season I’ve been looking forward to the NFL draft. I was hoping for a top draft pick, but the Bears have been too good for that to happen. Now, they’re likely to pick around 12th – 15th in the first round. It seems they need to add at least one of everything except receiver, running back, and maybe quarterback to be possible contenders. Kyle Long is okay at right tackle, but he was much better at guard. I’d like to see a right tackle picked in the draft or free agency (so Long can be moved back to guard). Add to that a defensive lineman, a linebacker, a corner, a safety and maybe another receiver and I’ll think that was a good draft. I know some people are thinking a field goal kicker might belong in that mix, but Robbie Gould will recover from his recent troubles. He’s still one of the best NFL kickers, but he’s suffered through one of those little ‘luck’ or ‘slumps’ or’confidence’ bumps kickers tend to go through every now and then.

So, that leaves the Cubs. It’s taken Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer awhile, but it appears they’ve built a juggernaught, something the Cubs haven’t been for more than a hundred years, if ever. Who ever thought it would be the Cubs who would btake the title of Chicago’s #1 sports team – a true championship contender, but they’re about to take that title from the Blackhawks and if the Cubbies don’t win at least 100 games this year and make it to the World Series, I’ll be wondering who is feeding the goat some gourmet food.

 

Question for Chicago Bears Fans

Hey Bears fans, got a question for you.Bears - Packers

With just a couple more preseason games before this years version of the NFL season begins and the Bears try to prove that they really are the Monsters of the Midway rather than the Midwives of the Midway. They’ve got a tough field to travel with games against the hated Green Bay Packers, the disliked Seattle Seahawks, and the team that long ago and not so far away played in the same city, the Cardinals of Arizona, formerly of St. Louis, and previously of Chicago. Three teams that are each considered strong Super Bowl candidates.

That trio is followed by the Raiders, Chiefs, and Lions. Three teams the Bears have a more likely chance to beat. However, most frognosticators are croaking the Bears will be 0 – 6 or at best 2 – 4 when they go into their thank-the-good-Lord-we-need-a-break Bye week. It doesn’t get much easier after that with games against only three teams that did not finish last year with a winning record. In other words, only three teams that according to some of the speculists will give the Bears a chance not to finish the season 0 – 16.

I’m inclined to believe the Bears will surprise and carry at least an 8 – 8 record at the end of the season. Needless to say, I’m also an optimist. I sincerely thought that last year was going to be the year the Bears beat the Packers not once, but twice and would march into the playoffs as division champs with an 11 – 5 record.

Yes, it’s taken awhile to scrape the egg, not to mention the pain, off my face.

So, here is my question: Would you rather see the Bears not embarrass themselves any further, surprise just about everyone (including me when I’m being realistic), and make the playoffs (where they are again likely to have to face some combination of the Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals) or would your rather end the year with a record no better than 3 – 13 so they will have a chance to pick early in the draft and maybe pick a franchise quarterback?

Which would you rather see: the Bears metaphorically sticking their tongues out at everyone at the end of this year or possibly in the future?

A Few Thoughts About Chicago Sports – 7/5/15

The Cubs are pretty good this year, and maybe getting better. They just happen to be good in a year the Cardinals are very, very good. Put the Cubs in the National League West andChicago Sports they’re only a game out. Put them in the East and they’re just a half game away from the Nationals. It seems to me that if the Cubs can add just one better than average starter they could challenge the Cards.

The White Sox on the other hand are not the second best team in their Division some thought they would be (me included). Everything might be coming together right now after they took two games from the current best team in baseball, the Cards and a team with a much better record than the Sox, the Orioles. I think some fans might be thinking Carlos Rodon should have been left in the minors and that he is no Chris Sale. It’s true he is not following a path similar to Sale’s, but he is following a path similar to Clayton Kershaw’s. When the Dodgers brought Kershaw up the talk here in L.A. was that he was going to be the next  Sandy Koufax, but at that time he wasn’t. He had the tools, but he hadn’t learned how to use them at the major league level. His first year, he was mediocre at best, a lot like Rodon. It took Kershaw a couple years, but we all saw what happened once he matured.

The Bears could, and should surprise quite a few people this year. At the least they should finish 7 – 9, which would be an improvement, although only a moderate improvement, on last year. This is something people seem to be forgetting: only two years ago the Bears with Cutler and McCown at Quarterback had one of the five best and in perhaps the second best offense (depending on how one interprets the stats) in the NFL. Last season saw them slip quite a bit, but Marshall was injured much of the season and Trestman’s offense had become somewhat predictable. Bring in a new offensive genius, one whose history indicates he does not become as predictable as Trestman did, add a corp of healthy receivers and what could be a wealth at running back and that top five offense should be resurrected. Beyond that with Vic Fangio and John Fox shaping the defense it should be at least a little better than the gawd-awful Mel Tucker defense of the last two years. It seems many people do not add that up in the same way I do, but I will be very surprised if the Bears – in what is essentially a “stay the course” year – turn in a losing record.

Because of the NHL’s ‘salary cap’ limitations, the Black Hawks have lost Brandon Saad and are likely to also lose Bryan Bickell or Patrick Sharp or both. For some teams the loss of two or three players the caliber of Saad and Sharp could be a death knell, indicating a fall upon hard times. That’s not the case for the ‘Hawks. They’ve lost other important players, perhaps key players after every one of their Stanley Cup seasons during the past six years (Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi, Nick Leddy), yet they’ve been a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup every year since 2010. Sure the loss of Brandon Saad is disappointing, but by no means does it mean the Black Hawks will not be the team to beat again next year.

The Bulls brought back Jimmy Butler. They should be a pretty good team again next year, but as long as LeBron James is playing on another team, its unlikely the Bulls will be adding another banner to the six Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company brought to Chicago. I don’t care who the coach is, I don’t care who else the Bulls manage to add, I doubt it’s going to happen.

 

Making Chicago Sports Fans Feel Good

I remember every one of the moments depicted in this video: Mark Buerle’s perfect game, Michael Jordan’s game winners, the Blackhawk Stanley Cup victories, Walter Payton  and the Super Bowl Bears, and Devin Hester’s ability to find openings where there didn’t appear to be any.

Still, no matter how many great moments there have been in Chicago  Sports history, I want more. I want to see the Bulls go deep into the NBA playoffs. I want to see the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup. I want to see the Bears make the playoffs. I want to see the White Sox win their Division and the Cubs… I want more than to just wish them well.

Watch this video. It will bring back many great Chicago sports memories…

Bo’s Jackson on Bo Jackson

If you’re a White Sox fan or just a fan of kids who like sports, you should love this video. Adam LaRoche’s son, Drake, had a few questions for 52-year-old, Bo Jackson, or maybe just one: Who are you? Bo was happy to tell the 13-year-old about Bo Jackson.

Somewhere along the way I was expecting either Drake or Bo to express a ‘that’s incredible’ moment. It didn’t happen and I like the way Bo talked about himself matter-of-factly, as if he was a big deal, but it was no big deal.

Bo was with the White Sox only three seasons, and played just 108 games because of hip problems that led to a hip replacement in 1992. He had 82 hits, 19 home runs, and 59 RBI’s in 355 at bats. He helped lead the Sox to the Division crown in 1993, but they fell to Toronto in the playoffs in six games.

One of my favorite stories about Jackson says he promised his mother he would hit a home run for her when he returned from the hip replacement surgery. Unfortunately she died before he returned in 1993. Nevertheless, with his first swing in at-bat against the New York Yankees he hit a home run – promise fulfilled.

Here’s the full story: Mic’d up: Bo’s history lesson | MLB.com.

Former White Sox star Jose Conteras Still Pitching

Grandpa Jose ContrerasMany things went the White Sox way when the won the World Series ten years ago in 2005. Just about everyone on the team had an above average year. They combined power with speed, 4th in the league in home runs, and 3rd in stolen bases. They managed to get hits, steal bases and hit home runs when they needed them.

The hitting was good, but the pitching was great. As a team the Sox pitching staff led the league in ERA at .361, complete games – 9, Saves – 54, and innings pitched – 1475.2. John Garland led the staff with 18 wins, followed by Mark Buehrle’s 16, Jose Contreras’ 15. and Freddy Garcia’s 14. Dustin Hermanson led the team with 34 saves, but it was the 6 saves and late season heroics of Bobby Jenks that will most be remembered by Sox fans.

While everything fell into place for the White Sox that year, it fell into place as it never had before and never would again for Jose Contreras. He won more games, struck out more batters and had the second lowest ERA in any year of his 11 year major league career. Not only that but he capped off that year with three wins in the post season, including a victory in the first game of the World Series.

Maybe his year wasn’t the most important reason the Sox won 99 games that year, but it was an example of how everything fell into place for the Sox that year (as it must for any team that wins the World Series.

Nevertheless, it was with a mixture of surprise, admiration, and joy that I read this story about Jose Contreras. He is still pitching. It’s been a couple years since he last pitched in the major leagues, but he’s 43 years old, has two grand-kids and is pitching for the Tijuana Toros. He’s still able to throw 93 mph fastballs and had a 10 – 3 record in Mexico last year. You can read the rest of the story here: Former White Sox star Jose Conteras pitching as a grandpa | Chicago.

#baseball

St Patrick’s Day in Chicago

St Patrick's Cathedral and John Hancock BuildingMost people are aware that Chicagoans go crazy on St. Patrick’s Day. Everybody wears green, has green frosted donuts for breakfast, green frosted cookies and cup-cakes for snacks, corned beef and cabbage for dinner. They watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade, walk past the green-dyed Chicago River, then spend the night reveling, singing Irish songs and drinking green beer.

I never thought much of it when I was a kid. As far as I was concerned, St. Joseph’s Day was my day because I was Italian. Still I tried to remember to wear something green, and I enjoyed the green-frosted treats.

When I started working in Chicago I sometimes went to mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course, on St. Patrick’s Day the cathedral was crowded like as if it was a Sunday.

Then I married an Irish lass, who happened to have a brother named Patrick, and things began to change. I started finding reasons to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but the kicker came along when I discovered a great, great, something grandmother of mine was Irish. Sure and begorrah, I was a bit Irish after all.

St Patrick's Blue shamrockNow, I’ve discovered that all those years when I preferred to wear blue rather than green, I may have been doing the right thing, because St. Patrick’s color was actually blue. Green came about when the Irish fighting for independence choose that as their color. So, if you see me wearing blue on March 17th you can be sure it’s because there is a little Irish in me.

For a Moment I’ll Miss Brandon Marshall

Brandon MarshallOn the one hand I’m sad to see Brandon Marshall leave the Bears. For two of three years he was a great receiver, perhaps the greatest the Bears have ever had. Last year he seemed to revert to the problem-child he became in Denver and was in Miami. In Chicago he overcame his problems, but for some reason – maybe it was due to his injuries, maybe it was due to the failure of last year’s Bears to improve, maybe it is just the way Brandon Marshall is.

Still, I like him. Still, I would have loved to see him in a Bears uniform again this year. I understand though. I’ve worked in places where there was a loud and negative voice, a sour apple in on otherwise good place to work, but it could have been even better without the bad apple. I guess that’s what Brandon Marshall became with the Bears and maybe the Bears have a better chance to improve without him rather than with him.

I’m going to miss him. I’ll miss the excitement he brought to the Bears, but I won’t miss the apparent dissension he created.

One last comment: it would have been nice if the Bears hadn’t wanted so badly to get Marshall out-of-town, because he’s still productive and probably worth more than just a fifth round pick.

Related Article: Bears agree to trade WR Brandon Marshall to the Jets | CSN Chicago.

No one meant more to White Sox than Minoso

Circa 1955, Portrait of Cuban-born Chicago White Sox baseball player Orestes 'Minnie' Minoso

Orestes ‘Minnie’ Minoso

The very first time I went to Comiskey Park, Minnie Minoso homered. It was also while I watching a  game at Comiskey park.

In a way I was new to baseball. Although I played it in elementary school, I was neither very good at the game, nor was I very interested in it. Then my family moved the week after I finished fourth grade and week later my best friend, Jack, moved in down the street. Of course, he wasn’t my best friend, but he was going to be. Jack was crazy about baseball, especially the White Sox: Nellie Fox, Sherm Lollar, Jungle Jim Rivera, and Minnie Minoso.

By the time that summer was over and I began Fifth grade, I had also become a baseball fanatic. Not only that, but because it was about all we did in our spare time – catch and hit and play sandlot games in the park across the street, I became fairly good at it. The other kids were surprised when I slapped a single through the infield my first time up because I had never gotten a hit before.

The next summer I also saw my first baseball game. Jack’s father was a Cubs fan so he took us to see the Cubs play Cincinnati. The Cubs had the lead 7 – 5 going into the ninth inning, but lost it 8 – 7.

A couple months later Jack and I made plans to take a train into Chicago so we could see the Sox play a double-header. Although there was a train that could get us to Union Station just a few minutes after 11, we didn’t know how long it would take us to walk over to where we would catch the ‘L’ or subway train to get to 35th St. Plus we thought it would be more fun to get there early so we could check out the ballpark.

Unfortunately for us we didn’t know that the trains did not run on Sundays. We figured it out when it when the train was late and we took a good look at the schedule. We should have gone back home then and watched the train on TV. Instead we hiked up to Irving Park. Somehow Jack knew there was a bus that ran almost all the way out to Bensenville. What we didn’t know was the ‘almost’ in a car was a lot closer than the ‘almost’ hitchhiking. By the time we caught a ride it was almost 9:30 and it was a little after ten when we climbed aboard the bus. Still we had left so early that we managed to get to Comiskey with at least a half hour to spare.

The first game was a scoreless duel until Minoso stepped to the plate and crushed the ball, giving the Sox all the runs they would need for a 2 – 0 win over the Detroit Tigers. The next game was even more fun even though we left at the end of the fourth inning because it was getting late. We felt pretty safe in leaving because the Sox had a 7 – 1 lead and would go on to win it 8 – 2. Minoso went 4 – 5 including a triple, although we didn’t see it because we were already on our way home.

That was the day I went from being a ‘maybe a Cubs fan’ to being a ‘100%’ White Sox fan. Maybe it was Minoso’s home run that did it, but more likely it was it was the fun of sitting in a ballpark and seeing the home team win not one, but two games. Not only that but the Sox were only a half game behind Yankees for first place. The Sox were hot and life was good.

Related story: No one meant more to White Sox than Minoso | whitesox.com.

Dodgers’ employee stung by scorpion in Arizona | Big League Stew – Yahoo Sports

Now that I live in Southern California, just a few hours from the scorpions at Dodgers Arizona complexSox/Dodgers complex in Arizona, I’ve been thinking I would try to make it over there to see a game or two. Would be great to see the New White Sox. Maybe get to see the Sox playing the Dodgers, that would be fun.

Only one thing though… I want to watch the Sox, not the scorpions. It seems the nasty little things have moved into the complex and while the fans are watching the Sox, the scorpions might be watching them.

Dodgers’ employee stung by scorpion in Arizona

Chicago Happened Slowly

Chicago skyline from the west“Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine. First they were driving through countryside, then, imperceptibly, the occasional town became a low suburban sprawl, and the sprawl became the city.” ~ Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The White Sox odds to win the World Series are …

Sox logo behind home plateThis is one of those ‘feel good’ stories for White Sox fans. According to Sports Illustrated Fanside, the Las Vegas odds-makers give the Sox 16-1 odds to win the World Series. Those are the same odds they give “the Tigers, Mariners, and the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants.” In other words the odds rank the Sox among the teams with the seventh best chance to take the Championship.

You might be thinking, “16-1 odds don’t sound all that good!” Actually, those are the same odds the Sox got at the beginning of the season in 2005, the last time they won the World Series.

As far as winning the Division and AL pennant the Vegas bookies think the Sox have a about the same chance to win the Division as the Tigers and much better than the Royals, Indians and Twins and a slightly better chance to take the AL pennant than the Tigers (7-1 vs 15-2). However, the Sox (tied with the Seattle) are the third pick to take the AL behind the Red Sox and Angels at 11-2 odds.

Read the full story here: The White Sox odds to win the World Series are ….

#baseball #White Sox

A Chicago Valentines Day

We all know how Valentine’s Day started. Awhile ago the greeting card companies were looking for a sure-fire way to bring in some income in the middle of winter. So they dug through the archives of letter writing and discovered the legend of St. Valentine. He was a guy who wrote love letters, of a sort, while sitting in prison waiting to be martyred. Not exactly a happy story, but if they emphasized the aspect of forlorn or true love and letter or note writing they might have something.

So, they gave it a shot and it stuck, like one of cupid’s arrows (something else the card companies pulled in from mythology especially for Valentine’s Day). They should be quite pleased. Aside from Christmas, Valentines Day rakes in tons of money for the card companies, not to mention the florist and chocolate industries.

Of course Valentines Day has another meaning for Chicagoans (and I’m not talking about heart-shaped Chicago Style pizzas, although maybe I should), and I’m not talking about this being the last weekend before the Cubs and Sox players start reporting for Spring training. This is the anniversary of the Valentines Day Massacre, 86 years ago. I know, you’re probably ready to forget about it, so that’s about all I’m going to say about it. How about something a little romantic and a little funny?

Pickles Valentines Day comic strip

A Chicago Winter-time Prayer

Since there isn’t much going on in the world of sports or Chicago that I want to write about, I thought I’d turn to something funny. I could write something about the Blackhawks or Bulls, like maybe about how Derek Rose seems to have turned a corner and is getting back to being the basketball player he was a couple years ago, but you know that already. I could write about how the Blackhawks are the Chicago team most likely to win a championship this year, but you already knew that too. I could write about Chicago style pizza, but I’m simply not that hungry right now. SoooooSign: Stop Praying for Snow

Walter Payton’s Sense of Humor

If I had a little money to spare I’d buy this film reel lithographed print of Walter Payton pulling down Matt Suhey’s shorts.

I’ve always thought it was one of the funniest sport pictures I’ve ever seen Walter Payton #34 - Matt Suhey #26partly because it’s just funny (I’ve always wondered what happened to Suhey’s shorts when the ball was snapped) and partly because it makes Walter Payton more human.

Mike Ditka called Payton the best overall football player to ever play the game. The argument will go on forever about whether he was the greatest running back, mostly because he sits behind Emmit Smith, second in all-time rushing yards with 16,726. He still holds the records for consecutive starts in a regular season by a running back (170), most games in a career with 100 or more rushing yards (77), and most all-purpose yards in a career (21,803), and the most touchdown passes by a non-quarterback (8).

No matter how hard he played the game, no matter how hard he trained, Payton liked to have fun. Sometimes in practice he would stop in the middle of a play to dance with one of the linebackers. At least once, while lying at the bottom of a pile-up he reached out to untie an officials shoes.

In 1987 I was living in Cary, IL, a little town northwest of South Barrington where Payton lived. I was driving home from a Bears game when I saw a car coming flying up behind me. I moved to the right hand lane to let the ‘crazy driver’ go past in his Porsche, but as he went by I managed to look into the car. The driver looked like Payton, but I doubted that because the game had just ended less than hour before. I wouldn’t have been so doubtful if I had known then that Payton loved fast cars and that he was pulled over more than 50 times for speeding in Chicago). Nevertheless, I knew the driver was Payton when I watched the car speed down the highway and exit at Barrington road. That was about as close as I ever got to him.

James Shields’ New Deal and Jeff Samardzija

Well, this is good news for Sox fans, the White Sox won’t have to face James Jeff SamardzijaShields this year. He’s signed a four-year deal with the San Diego for $72 -76 million. The Sox don’t face the Padres this season.

I know that’s not a picture of James Shields over there. That’s because Shields’ deal with the Padres has some repercussions for the Sox. One thing the deal does is give Sox fans an idea how much Jerry Reinsdorf will need to make sure is in next year’s payroll in order to keep Jeffrey Alan Samardzija.

It looks like it will take at least another $9 million a year to keep him here. This year Samardzija agreed to a one-year deal for $9.8 million avoiding arbitration. So, if the Padres are paying James Shields about $18 million a year for four years, it’s going to cost the Sox at least that much to keep Samardzija.

I’d like to see that happen, but it seems the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers are likely to offer him a lot more. So, I hope he playing for his ‘hometown’ team means more to him than getting as much money as he possibly can.

Only a Little Bit Cubs Fan

Cubs fanSince I’m from Chicago, I should be a Cubs fan too, which I am, but not very much. I really would like to see them win the World Series, but not if they happen to be playing the White Sox. But I’d like to see them win, just because I’m tired of the Cubs being “Loveable Losers.”

I am also tired of Cubs fans being delusional. I would like, just once, for them to think, “This is the year, the Cubs are going all the way,” and for them to be right. After that, they can start counting to 100+ again.

The final reason I’d like to see the Cubs win the World Series is because they will no longer be the underdog. For most of the last 100 years they have been the underdog because #1, the are usually a terrible team and, #2, it’s been so long since the Cubs won the World Series that Cubs fans think it’s called the World are you Serious.

Related: http://www.cracked.com/funny-4663-chicago-cubs-fans/

Go Go White Sox

Chicago Sox FireworksIt’s not easy being a Chicago White Sox fan out here in the land of the Dodgers and Angels. I miss the fireworks, especially when the Sox smash a baseball over the outfield wall. I’ve gone to see them play here in L.A., but it just isn’t the same.

  • First of all if I cheer when the Sox scored a run or pull off a great play, everyone around me looks at me the same way the kids I played baseball with years ago did when I struck out with the bases loaded. It didn’t take me long to learn to hold my exuberance in till the ride home.
  • Second, there’s nobody outside or even inside the park selling Sox souvenirs. And even though there was a ‘Dodger Day’ at work, that was hardly enough reason to buy any kind of Dodger hats or even bobble-head dolls.
  • Third, the food tastes funny. I had a Dodger-dog at the first Dodger’s – Sox game I went to here and I thought they were playing some kind of joke on the gringo and the pizza… don’t get me started. The stuff they serve here is edible, but it’s nowhere near is good as the food at U. S. Cellular Field.
  • Fourth, even if the beer is the same brand, it tastes different. Maybe it gets too much sunshine. Maybe it has something to do with the latitude. Maybe it’s the ocean. The water here always tastes like it’s been hanging around the ocean.

Still, a Sox game is a Sox game no matter where it’s played, and when I’m watching them I’ll still want plenty of hits and homers. I’ll still want to see the starting pitcher collect enough outs to go deep into the game and I’ll expect the bullpen to hold the lead and save the game. Those things didn’t happen as often as I’d have liked last year, but this is a new one… and this year, I’m expecting plenty of fireworks.

Verbal Sniping in Chicago

The Chicago Bears were so bad last year that the city’s sportswriters are Bears Logo 1still sniping and taking pot shots at the team.

For instance, here’s one claiming Brandon Marshall is laying the groundwork to get out of Chicago.

http://www.csnchicago.com/bears/brandon-marshall-may-be-making-bears-coaches-decision-them?p=ya5nbcs&ocid=yahoo

It might be true, but it would be foolish. It’s a new game for the Bears with a new GM and new coaches. It makes no sense for a player to want to jump ship until there really is a reason to want to jump ship.

It makes no sense to me that the Bears would want to start breaking up the team’s Offense. It was great two years ago, not bad last year, and could be very, very good again next year. There is very little reason to break up what is essentially a good thing. Someone might argue that it could be better with a different Quarterback. It could also be worse with a different Quarterback. The Bears don’t need a different Quarterback anywhere near as much as they need a better defense.

I expect the Bears will keep the offense intact as it is (maybe add an offensive lineman and a receiver), because any changes on the offense mean money, draft picks, and time taken away from the Bears big problem, the defense.  There are relatively few holes in the offense compared to the abyss that is the Bears defense. Fix the Defense first, the Offense can wait a year.
I’ve noticed that in the mock drafts I’ve been looking at the consensus has changed from thinking the Bears should first pick a safety, Landon Collins. Now the thinking seems to be that the first pick should be a defensive end. That’s also what I thought until the Bears hired Vic Fangio to guide the defense. Since he seems to favor the 3-4 defense, the first pick is likely to be a linebacker, one who’s able to drop back into coverage.
 Of course, free agency could change everything I’ve been thinking. That’s what happened last year when I thought the Bears first pick should be a defensive end. GM Emery added a couple free agent defensive linemen and the glaring need then became Safety or Cornerback.
Here’s something I’ve been wondering (and most likely I will never find the answer): if Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariotta are still available when pick #7 comes around, would the Bears let either of them slip further?
Returning to Marshall and Cutler, if the Bears new GM, Ryan Pace, were to decide to unload Marshall, I would hope he would get at least a couple picks, preferably two seconds (or a second and third) for him, after all, he is still one of the top 7 or 8 NFL receivers.
As for Cutler, I would hope he would get at least an 8th round pick for the Quarterback. Just kidding, for Cutler something like another QB and maybe a fifth round pick would be good, although maybe an 8th round pick really is more realistic.

Don’t Swing at a 3 – 0 Pitch

baseball carton - Don't swing 3-0Baseball season, my second favorite season is about to begin. Of course we have to get through college basketball’s March Madness, the NBA and NHL finals before baseball becomes THE sport, the one being talked about more than most others. Nonetheless, for me there are two sports that I follow year round: Football and Baseball.

That being said, it’s just about time to step up to the plate and to remember not to swing at a  3 – 0 pitch.