2013: OPENING DAY – The Astros are gone, but we still have Pittsburgh

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Attention Pittsburgh Pirates: time to come back down to Earth. It’s 2013 nearly Opening Day and it would be great if you could kick things off with a loss to the Cubs. And I don’t just mean a loss of Game One. I mean lose the entire series.

Nothing makes your 101 losses look good like a team that loses 107. Unfortunately, that team has up and left for the American League and while we’re working on being able to take care of making ourselves look good in the future, we aren’t there yet and could use some help. No Astros around to count on and you’ve been so reliable for so many years, naturally I come to you first.

A second set of hands in moving (to Rosemont?), a ride to the airport, an allowed opening series sweep to my beloved Chicago Cubs? I wouldn’t even think to ask those stingy Cardinals, those stubborn Brewers or those selfish Reds. The Cardinals are never going to help us do anything. The Brewers? Maybe Aramis, but that’s about it. And the Reds are so far up their own with all the hype and expectations people are throwing around for them this season there’s almost no talking to them as far as I can tell in 2013.

The Cardinals will try as they always do to ruin the party only this year it will be the Reds’ party they’ll look to wreck. The two of them will standout among us all in the Central and the Cubs will likely continue improving, yet in a stealth-in-the-standings, back in the shadows type of way. We’ll have a shortshop who will likely finish top 10 in the NL in hitting, an ‘ace’ of a starting pitcher in J-Sam (just a result of tired from typing fingers), a young bright future coming to fruition at first base and a number of older veterans who could be here today, gone tomorrow throughout all of 2013 and a stable of young talent billed as the future with little to no hope of breaking through and making the future come quicker than 2014/2015. Sometime early on in the year with the team atop the standings would be fantastic but very unlikely. We’ll do our thing and continue to look to build the franchise into a winner again through the ‘this-is-how-we-play-Cubs-baseball- minor league system and being wise when it comes to free agency.

Eventually, we’ll have quite a few dollars cleared up after Soriano is no longer in town although I look forward to having him on the team for as long as possible in 2013. I like Soriano. He could have been a special Cub in my opinion in the likes of Banks, Santo, Sandberg, Fergie, Maddox…only it would have taken a championship to do so because unfairly for him, he happened to be paid a ton more than they ever were or would be so the expectations were that much higher. If we hadn’t been swept in the playoffs for two seasons straight, and if the Cubs had been able to work the miracle we’re all waiting for, Soriano would have been a hero. Instead, he’s simply a talented player on the backside of his career who is somehow plugging along and contributing numbers that no one thought was possible. I’m going to continue watching him do what he can while he’s with us and enjoy the stories of how he is looking to help develop the young talent this ballclub has and give them any insight he can on what he’s seen that it takes to be great.

Sveum has his hands full once again this season with realistic-to-high expectations, although the expectations are more realistic and the hope is as always with Cubs fans, frustratingly high. No matter what we feel a realistic finish will be, as long as the games count, there is always that nagging hope that if the expectations are low, that we end up being wrong…in a good way.

Hardly a third baseman to be found and talent that is either too old or too green, we’re working our way to where we want to be. I believe in the process the front office is taking and I’m looking forward to 2013 being another solid rung in the ladder we’re climbing in getting to the top.

I am expecting frustration and our fair share of fun renditions of Take Me Out to the Ballgame and on a personal level, continuing to teach my son that you root root not for the home team, but the ‘Cubbies’ and to plan our trip to Wrigley next year for Wrigley’s 100th birthday. Man, my kid sure does love to sing happy birthday and I can’t think of a better inanimate object to sing it to. However, we are in the middle of building something great here. And not rebuilding mind you because to rebuild something, you had to have something to begin with. We haven’t had something in a long time and we are building the organization up to get there. Enough talk about what to do with Wrigley Field and how to get a deal done for stadium improvements and settling up with city officials and rooftop owners. We’ve had all off-season to talk about these things but right now, come Monday, it’s time again to focus on what is happening on the field and how its going to get us where we want to be. I’m look forward to seeing how Rizzo, Castro, Samardzija, Soriano, Castillo and Edwin Jackson  do this year and I hope we figure out 3rd base as soon as possible. I’m not making plans to attend a parade in October, but I am looking forward to how 2013 fits into the big picture of potentially doing so one day for the Cubs.

We kick things off with Pittsburgh this Monday and it won’t be all uphill or downhill from there at all. It is going to be one heck of a bumpy ride.

I’ve been sitting in the car waiting to go since last Fall when the final game of 2012 wrapped up. My seat belt is on and I’m ready to go. Bumps and all. 2013, here we come. Beat those Pirates…..and Go Cubs Go!

Prosecard from Cubs Nation – 2013 – Anthony Huether

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One of my favorite features of Prose and Ivy is the Prosecard from Cubs Nation interview. It’s great to get to know fellow Cubs fans. Today’s Prosecard features Anthony Huether, who believes in Theo Epstein and Co. and would like the restrooms at Wrigley taken care of ASAP. Take it away, Anthony:

AJ

Name: Anthony Huether

How long have you been a Cubs fan and who do you have to blame/thank?  I have been a Cubs fan from the moment I saw them on WGN Superstation and I thank my dad.  Though, he is a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, without him turning on WGN Superstation so we could watch baseball, I fear I might have been a fan of a different team.

A lot of the off-season news and even the Cubs Convention has been focused on the changes that are going to be made to Wrigley Field. Do you view these plans as improvements or would you rather them simply patch up the ‘ol place and leave it in better shape, yet looking the same?  Upgrading is fine with me.  But my thing is, don’t take the nostalgia out of Wrigley Field.  Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are stadiums that provide a link between baseball of yester-year to the modern day.  I love that.  I don’t want that gone.  Go ahead and make the stadium more modern but don’t lose the old fashion feel.  But please, please update bathrooms.

When you attend a game, do you have a favorite hangout spot around the neighborhood before or afterwards? What’s your typical game day routine as a fan like?  Before the game I have to go to Bacci’s Pizza.  So good and they have great prices.  Routine?  Chill with fans.  Going to Wrigley and watching the game is great, but when you fully interact with other loyal Cubbies, it makes everything better.

First thoughts when you hear the following words: Cardinals. Braun. Castro. Pennant. Spring Training. Opening Day. 1908. Curse. Theo.

Cardinals – We win, you lose.

Braun – You have some explaining to do.

Castro – Baez is breathing down your neck.

Pennant – 2015

Spring Training – Optimism and the bunting tournament

Opening Day – Clean slate

1908 – Far too long

Curse – Goat

Theo – The man with the plan

Looking back at the Matt Garza trade today, how do you feel about the prospects the team had to give up at the time in order to land him?

The two prospects that really come to mind are Sam Fuld and Chris Archer, who was originally part of the Mark DeRosa deal.

Sam Fuld – A guy like Tony Campana.  Everyone loved him.  Even I did.  But he wasn’t going to see playing time with the Cubs and Tampa was looking for a ready MLB player.  So it fit.  Tough to see him go, but at least he got playing time and making the SportsCenter’s Top Plays, weekly.

Chris Archer – I was a bit upset getting rid of.  He was the top pitching prospect the Cubs had.  He could be in the rotation, right now for the Cubs.  But for a team, like Tampa, they wanted a young, cheap, high potential arm.  And he fit that mold.  Tough to see him go, but for a potential ace like Garza and whatever was going on in Jim Hendry’s mind, it had to be done.

On the flip side, besides Garza, keep an eye on Zachary Rosscup.  I have seen this guy pitch.  He is a bit short, by certain standards, but he is lefty and he has a very good fastball, which he controls very well.  An interesting player, I am very interested to see if the Cubs decide to keep him or maybe a he could be a player in package deal.  I hope they keep him.

Do you have any favorite Cubs podcasts, blogs, news sources you use as go-to’s that other fans may not know about but should check out on a regular basis? World Series Dreaming.  They are always updating their Twitter and Facebook pages.  They want Cub fans to interact.  They don’t hold back.  They are a must to check out.

How do you feel about the Cubs organization as a whole? On the right track? If not, what would you like to seem them do differently?

I really do like what Theo, Jed and the rest of the organization is doing.  It is nice to see the farm system being flooded with talent. It is looking like the Cubs are willing to have more homegrown players.  Not having a payroll going to almost $180 million dollars, because the Cubs spent on big time free agents is very nice.

I liked the idea of not having Peoria as the Single-A affiliate and making it KaneCounty.  Keeping younger players closer to Chicago, that is nice.

It will be interesting to see what kind of new television deal the Cubs get, very soon.  The WGN deal expires after this season.  Seeing what the Los Angeles Dodgers got, the Cubs could be looking, more than likely, in deal similar.  And if they get that, it will be very interesting to see how the Cubs deal with the extra income.

Which Cubs season of recent years has been your favorite and why? The easy answer would 2008 but the favorite was 2007.  They started that season so poor, than the Barrett/Zambrano fight and let’s not forget about Will Ohman and him bouncing the ball to the plate.  Did you think the Cubs would come back and win the NL Central?  Probably not.  But they did and what a ride that season was.  Aramis Ramirez walk-off against the Brewers, that was the kick start to start the comeback.  That win didn’t even put the Cubs back to .500.  But it was a start.  And it was great to see Kerry Wood pitching, out of the bullpen, again.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this Spring Training?  The bunting tournament.  Dale Sveum added some excitement to a generally boring start to Spring Training.  Other than that, I want to see how Javier Baez and Jorge Soler react to there first experience with the Cubs.

You are asked to select the next former Cub to have their own statue in front of Wrigley. Who would you select and why?
Ryne Sandberg.  Hall of Famer, best second baseman in Cubs history and the most important thing… he played, pretty much, his whole career with the Chicago Cubs.  He did play 13 games with the Phillies in 1981.

What are your expectations of the 2013 season?

To put it very simply, the Cubs will win 75 games.  Not if, it will happen.  Now, if the Cubs could catch a break here and there they could win 85 games.

In your opinion, how soon do you feel the Cubs will be in their best position to finally win another World Series title?

2015 is the year the Cubs could win the World Series.  The devolvement of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Anthony Rizzo are key.  Drafting, with high picks, is huge.  A college standout, like Mark Apple, could help, right away.

Rumors out already that TampaBay is very high on the Cubs’ farm system, knowing that David Price will be traded in December of this year, 2013.  Wouldn’t that be nice to see a true ace in the Cubs rotation?

The Cubs win the World Series. How do you celebrate?

I think we all have an idea of how we would celebrate.  If in Chicago, I will be partying outside of Wrigley Field.  If not in Chicago, I got to be with my Cub friends and there will be a lot of Old Style’s going around.

Any final words to include here for Cubs fans that may be reading this? To fans of other teams that may be reading?

To Cub fans – Two things come to mind, recently.  One… Stop overreacting.  We know Matt Garza got hurt and it blew up on twitter.  Take a deep breath and relax.  He is human, he does get hurt.  Luckily, his injured occurred during the first week of Spring Training.  If he does miss the first moth of the season, he misses about five starts.  It is okay.

Two… We are trying to win a World Series.  And we will win a World Series.  And this is also a business.  Some business decisions are not favored by fans.  Example, Tony Campana.  As an organization, you must do what is best for the team.  Yes, Campana was/is loved by Cubbies, I love him too, and he will always be loved by Cubbies.  But the Cubs felt that Scott Hairston brings more to the table, and he probably will, so Campana had to move on.  We, as fans, can’t build a team around individual players we solely love.  It can’t work.  We want to win and sacrifices must be made.

To the other 31 teams:  Don’t take the Cubs lightly.  We are not going anywhere.

Thank you to Anthony for taking the time to be the first Prosecard of 2013! If you are interested in being featured in a Prosecard from Cubs Nation interview, email me and I will send you the questions right away! Go Cubs Go!

What are you waiting for?

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No, no. Don’t get up.

This isn’t about you doing something. I don’t mean so much that you are sitting around doing nothing as much as literally, what are YOU waiting for? Not what are you WAITING for? What are YOU waiting for? What are we all WAITING for?

Going into a brand new season of Cubs baseball with high hopes and yet an even higher level of realistic expectations…it’s all happening again. Yet this time, it feels different. Maybe it’s because there was no big name signing over the winter to encourage delusional expectations. Maybe it’s because of the 100+ losses last season. Maybe it’s because we’ve barely started Spring Training and already you’re hearing about key injuries. (Wow, Garza, that sure was fast).

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting because you think it will all be worth it?

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting to see a new addition to the roster deliver on the promise we’ve been hearing about? Are you waiting to see if this batch of up-and-comers can do what no batch of veterans has been able to in the past?

What are you waiting for? Have you bought your tickets yet? Have you watched even one inning of Cubs baseball yet this Spring?

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for some type of proof that this is the group of players that can end the streak? The Streak that would even take The Undertaker aback?

What are you waiting for? Are you feeling a bit of fatigue from the years and years of losing? Are you waiting to see what all the waiting was all about? Are you still waiting because you still care or are you waiting simply because you’ve been waiting so long, what would be the point of stopping now?

I could say yes and no throughout this rambling of a start to the 2013 and my answers leave me conflicted with every question I look at listed above. What am I waiting for? Maybe it’s sports. Maybe it’s the Cubs. Maybe it’s baseball. All I know is I’m tired of the waiting. I’m losing patience. I’m looking forward to the season starting but trying to not look ahead to the regular season and ignore the pre-season. Spring Training has it’s value, I need to remember that. But man, when it’s been months since meaningful Cubs baseball, the Spring sure is hard to wait through.

I think it’s even harder to wait through it as a Cubs fan. You want to see them get on the winning side of the standings again and earn more Ws than Ls as soon as possible, especially after last year…yet….with all the focus on the young talent that could fill the holes in the lineup in the future, now is the time to take advantage of the showcase. I find myself waiting for them to get here so they can contribute and make a difference in the Cubs’ drive to winning a World Series, yet I’m tired of watching the journey. Destination, please. I’m all about the journey. I understand what the journey brings to the table and what it is compared to the destination, but man, this has been one long journey.

It’s the perfect conflict and challenge I believe we all face as Cubs fans. The reboot that took place when Theo and Co. took over changed the game. The rules are the same and the obstacles remain the same, yet we’re supposed put aside the fact that we’ve already been in the game for what seems like forever despite the fact that there is a promise that the new guys off-the-field are finally the guys to get us the right guys to make it happen on-the-field. Patience is something I want to have and something I believe is worth having, especially with the stakes staying the same yet the strategy updated to potentially make more sense. The reboot has taken place but what about all the years the program was running beforehand. Something has to be said about that. That was a whole lot of waiting.

It’s hard to hang in there isn’t it? Maybe that’s what makes it all worth it? The chance to say that you hung in there through the whole journey and all the waiting?

Or maybe it’s the destination that makes it all worth it, in this case. When you go to the doctor’s office and you wait in the waiting room forever…..and then they bring you into the smaller waiting room….and to them, it’s like a reboot. Now you’re in a different situation, the wait restarts in here now…but to you…what about all the waiting you just did? And that destination is simply an uncomfortable exchange to try and decipher what’s wrong with you.

In this Cubs scenario, we’ve all waited in the big waiting room forever (unless you were alive in 1908). Now, we’ve been called into the smaller waiting room with new magazines, new statistics on the wall to read, the promise that you’re getting closer to where you need to be, just need to wait a little more time. Perhaps the journey becomes something you can look back on in a more favorable light once you reach the destination. I’m sure that’s what it is. ‘We’ll look back at this and laugh’. That sort of thing.

Where do you stand in your devotion to the Cubs? What are you waiting for? And do feel it’s more of a ‘What are YOU waiting for?’ in a postive way, or when you reflect on your time supporting this team in their quest to win a World Series, do you look at your journey and time waiting in more of a negative light? More of a ‘What are you WAITING for?’

To officially answer for myself, I’m waiting to see this crop of players prove themselves as the guys that give us the best chance to win and I’m waiting for the destination of a World Series championship to arrive so I can look back fondly at the journey, at the wait.

Ironically, I’m waiting to wait again.

Now, that’s something worth waiting for. Go Cubs Go!

Extreme-Lee Good Timing

Chicago Cubs: 2012 First Half Highlights

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The Cubs are currently 15 games out of first place and only a half game away from becoming roommates with the Houston Astros in the basement of the NL Central. Looking up at everyone in the division except the Pittsburgh Pirates who head into the break as the penthouse resident of the Central, it would be easy to cast the first half of the 2012 season aside and claim there were as many bright spots for the Cubs in the first half as there were home runs for Robinson Cano in the home run derby. Zero.

This is simply not true. The following players have provided opportunity for fans to cheer this Cubs squad in 2012:

1. Starlin Castro: Coming off of a 2011 season where he made the All-Star team as the youngest Cubs player to do so and had a collection of 200+ hits, Castro had a lot to live up to in 2012. While his sporadically distracted play in the field continues to be something to work on for the young shortstop, his performance in the batter’s box provided big shoes to fill and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. Castro (along with Bryan LaHair) will be representing the team in the All-Star game tonight and has been the Cubs’ best hitter with 344 at bats, a .291 average and 100 hits to go along with 16 stolen bases. Castro continues to be the brightest spot for the future of the club and is in great position to reach 200 hits once again this year.

2. Bryan LaHair/Anthony Rizzo: LaHair will be in Kansas City tonight representing the ballclub at the All-Star Game – an honor the young outfielder did not expect when he was chosen by Cubs’ brass to be the team’s starting first baseman this season. With Carlos Pena out, the team needed someone to step up and provide numbers, preferably someone young enough to count on not only now, but looking to the next 5-10 years, too. LaHair delivered and has become so valuable, that even when Rizzo was called up after dominating AAA ball, Sveum found a way to keep his bat in the lineup by moving him to right field. So far this year, LaHair is batting .286 with 14 home runs and an OPS of .883. Always a great All-Star break when your team is represented by 2 or more players as opposed to the pity All-Star rep in a year where you only get the bare minimum on the field representing the club. Rizzo hasn’t been in the bigs as long but arguably has made a greater impact on the club in a shorter amount of time. Born on 8/8/89, the one year anniversary of the lights coming on at Wrigley, Rizzo made his way through the minor league system and made his 2012 debut with the Cubs on June 26th. In the 12 games he has played in, the Cubs are 8-4 and trying to find away to climb the standings in the Central. Any movement towards the top will do a lot for Cubs’ fans’ hopes of the future and Rizzo will surely be a big part of any movement the club can make in the second half. The 22-year-old Rizzo is currently batting .354 in 48 at-bats, 4 HR’s and a 1.055 OPS. The right side of the field is shaping up for the long haul at Wrigley thanks to Rizzo and LaHair (whether they stick around or team brass decides to trade them in for additional pieces in building towards future success).

3. Ryan Dempster: Dempster could very likely be pitching his final game for the Cubs very soon (if not on this coming Saturday) as he remains one of the most coveted pitchers by contending teams in MLB. Along with Garza and Samardjiza’s strike out rate, he has kept the Cubs in the position of most respectable starting rotation for a last place team in baseball (for what that’s worth). Dempster has been held back in the win column by poor run support (as have the rest of the starting rotation) however, contenders must be attracted to his veteran leadership, work ethic and his quality start totals along with his 1.99 ERA, 70 strike outs and 86.1 innings pitched (Dempster is coming off of four straight durable 200 innings pitched seasons). Dempster has been a quality guy on and off the field for the Cubs. His first half of 2012 has been one of his better stretches and it will be both disappointing and interesting to see where he ends up around the trade deadline as Theo & Co. build towards the future.

Congratulations to Starlin and LaHair for making the 2012 All-Star Game. Looking forward to having more reasons to believe the future is bright with this ballclub while watching the second half of the season.

Go Cubs Go!

Today: Taking Rhys to his first Cubs game

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Today was amazing. I brought my son, Rhys, to his first professional baseball game to see our favorite team in person and I could not have asked for a better time. I have wanted to take him to a Cubs game since he was born and I can’t wait to do it again soon.

My son is about 20 months old so there is no way his experience was going to be affected by a win or a loss. Despite the fact that the Cubs lost today, I wouldn’t even list a victory as something that would have made it better. While I personally always enjoy seeing the Cubs win (of course), today wasn’t about the end result whatsoever. It was about introducing my son, my first born, to the game I love and the team I love as something I want to share with him for a long time to come.

The Cubs are on the road this weekend, facing the New York Mets at Citi Field. The stadium is about 45 minutes from where we live so it was a must-do for this weekend with the Cubs in town. A 4pm start is perfect for a little guy like Rhys. Lunch and a nap, a quick car ride. Dinner and a game at 4pm, home by 8p for bed. He was in the mood, not tired and excited to see baseball. I told him that we were going to go to a baseball game and asked him if he wanted to go. He said ‘yes’ this morning and immediately started saying ‘ball, ball ball’ around the house. We stopped at a picnic on our way out there and Rhys made sure to where his Cubs hat in the car ride there. He was either wearing his hat or mine all day and couldn’t wait to get to the stadium. Here we are just out of the car as we arrived in the third inning (which I highly recommend with a kid under 2. Sacrifice the first couple innings and stay the rest of the game!!):

We hit up the ticket booth and made sure to get seats in the shade, with access to a Club with air conditioning since it was supposed to be 100 degrees today in New York. I have been to Shea/Citi more times than I count in my lifetime so I knew right where we needed to go for both. We hit up the ticket booth for tickets on the third base side, infield (third base side just like I sit when I go to Wrigley) with access to the Promenade Club. The shade was an amazing decision as we hardly needed the AC and did great in our seats. Immediately once inside the stadium, we hit up the gift shop and bought Rhys a souvenir baseball. I think I’ll get him a ball at every stadium we visit together going forward. It was also Mini-bat Day at Citi Field today so we got bats as well. When you put a bat in Rhys’ hand, it doesn’t even look like a mini-bat, it just looks like a bat with all the proportions. Here we are at the ticket booth getting our tickets:

Once inside, Rhys was taking it all in as we looked at the baseball field. I showed him where the Cubs dugout was along the third base side and pointed out guys like Rizzo and Castro and Soriano.

We made our way up to our seats, but before we got there, we immediately got two helmets filled with ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. This sooner than expected or desired became a helmet full of soupy vanilla juice and melted colored goo. Didn’t matter. We just ate faster. Well, I did. Rhys was having a blast with his Cubs hat on and his Mets helmet of ice cream in his lap melting away. Every lift of the spoon resulted in a hansel and gretel style drip trail of melted ice cream from his lap up to his mouth. He was loving it.

He’d dance when the walk up music played, cheered on his Cubs when I cheered/clapped and was actually sitting in his seat watching the game. He wasn’t complaining, he didn’t want to get up and walk around or play with any toys we brought, just in case. He was thrilled to be with his parents, eating ice cream on a Summer day and watching Cubs baseball. It was the best day of the Summer for sure and one of my all-time favorites.

Here is a video of Rhys at his first baseball game today. The Cubs desperately needed to shut down Kirk Niewenhuis in this spot and we were doing all we could to make it happen from the stands. That’s me in the Cubs tee next to Rhys:

I was rooting for Clevenger to do some damage in the bottom of the ninth and help tie the game and send it into extra innings. However, when the final pitch was thrown and the game was over, I was just thrilled to have spent the afternoon introducing Rhys to baseball. It was so much fun to go with him and my wife. Today wasn’t about keeping score and looking back at a single in this inning or a double play in that inning. Looking back at this day as I’m sure I will many times and will keep the ticket as a keepsake – when I look back at today’s game it will be more about that inning that Rhys smiled with ice cream dripping down his face, that inning when Rhys danced in his seat over and over again and every time he clapped and cheered taking the entire experience of his first baseball game in with his Mom and I.

It was an amazing, amazing day. One I’ll never forget and will definitely talk about with Rhys at future Cubs game as he gets older. Can’t think of a better way to spend a Summer day. Amazing. Just simply an amazing, amazing Summer day.

Go Cubs Go!

Home Opener at Dodd Stadium, Tonight!

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After two months of training on the box office system, writing articles for the game day program, fielding phone calls for tickets for the 2012 season, working high school and college tournaments – finally – tonight is Opening Day for the team I work for, the Detroit Tigers’ Class-A affiliate, the Connecticut Tigers!

I’ve attended many, many opening days over the years, however never from a behind the scenes standpoint. The red, white and blue bunting, the on-field presentations and the excitement of taking my seat at the first game of the season has always been part of the excitement, year in and year out. This year, however, I won’t be sitting in a seat. I’ve been organizing who will be sitting where in which seats through our 6,000 seat stadium.

It is seven hours before game time and the staff is working hard, wrapping up the last bit of things that need to be done before Tigers fans show up to the ballpark. The team is returning from the road having split the two games Monday and Tuesday night at Lowell (the Spinners, the Red Sox A affiliate). Tonight Lowell returns the favor of playing ‘opponent’ for the Tigers at Dodd and there should be a great amount of Red Sox fans who reside in Connecticut not quite sure of which team to pull for. The stadium should be packed as it’s Opening Night and we have fireworks immediately following the game.

Here are a few photos from the past couple months of working here that I can share with you:

This one is of my office, the box office. All ticket sales magic goes on in here. The place is filled with ticket stock, printers, schedules, rosters, pocket schedules, team news, will call ‘to pick up’ tickets, old mascot heads and other goodies. I jump out of here whenever I can to grab a hot dog or nachos and catch some of the action but a lot of the time I’m at my desk running the money side of things or writing future articles. I’ve had a chance to conduct interviews with players and write about the New York-Penn League. The game programs arrived this morning and they look great! Here is one of my articles included inside:

When I toured the stadium in my first meeting with the ballclub, this view below, was one of my favorite. The time between the locker – the getting ready point – and the field – the time to perform part – must be one of the best in sports. Last minute inside jokes exchanged with teammates. Getting your head right for the big game. Settling your nerves before you step in front of thousands. This stretch is the last opportunity to get your head right before heading out to the field and playing for the fans. This shot here is of the tunnel from the visitor’s clubhouse to the visiting team’s dugout. Gotta love the sound of cleats walking through a tunnel, no?

The home fans that have their season tickets and their ticket plans and those that have been keeping the box office phone ringing off the hook yesterday, Tuesday and today are really excited for the season to start. You think it’s hard waiting for your team to start up again in April? Try waiting for the team to start up again in June. I’ve been receiving emails from dedicated Connecticut Tigers fans with ‘Go Tigers’ messages and the place is excited about the opener and fireworks for this evening.

Since our players are mostly draft picks out of college, from nowhere near Norwich, CT, they need places to stay. Some of the CT Tigers’ more devoted fans have stepped up and offered to serve as host families for the season. Some of them are taking one player, some more than one and all of them will be doing our team and players a huge favor by doing so! (Yes, they are compensated with season tickets, but still…a huge help to our team and players!) Here is a shot from our host family/season ticket holder BBQ the other night where everyone got a chance to say hello before the season kicked off:

When the players aren’t staying at their host families’ homes, they are going to be at Dodd Stadium or on the road representing Detroit’s A-ball farm team. Playing at Dodd Stadium is a treat for these guys as the stadium was actually built in 1995 for a AA team, a couple levels ahead of where our short-season A-ball club is on the road to the Show. So the stadium is bigger, the amenities are nicer and overall, the experience playing here is greater compared to a lot of the teams they will be facing this season. Here is a shot of the home clubhouse. When I saw it for the first time my first thought was ‘Moneyball’ and that the set dressers on that film did an amazing job. I could picture Brad Pitt taking a bat and making a statement in the middle of the locker room as it looked just like the type depicted on film.

It was very cool to meet the players. They are here on their first step to becoming major league ballplayers. The front office had a chance to meet the players a couple days ago in the clubhouse. The players were assigned jersey numbers and lockers that day so they were all sitting around the clubhouse in front of their lockers with Detroit Tigers work out gear on and Connecticut Tigers hats on, ready to go. Their jerseys were hung in the lockers, the cleats placed on top of the lockers and the manager, Andrew Graham and the rest of the staff were around to introduce them to our General Manager, myself and the rest of the front office. These kids are here to make a statement and stay in short-season A-ball for as little time as possible and then – on to the next one. They mostly all serve a complete season in short season A-ball and then if the organization feels they are ready, on to full-season A-ball. If not, they stay here for another year. Almost no one moves up during the season as they are very young talent and need to develop and get used to playing pro ball here first. Here is a shot I took of the home clubhouse this morning while getting ready for Opening Day:

In about an hour from now the team will take batting practice and get ready to play their first professional home game. The stadium looks great, the box office is rocking and I’m excited to have a few thousand fans here tonight enjoying a night of Connecticut Tigers baseball (and of course reading my writing in the Game Day program, while watching the game).

Game time is in four and a half hours and then fireworks afterwards. It’s been a fun two months leading up to the season but tonight it really gets fun. The home team is finally here and we could be watching future major leaguers. Fire up the MLB.TV for my Cubs please. The CT Tigers will be playing on the big field here at the stadium, but my Cubs will be playing on the little screen here in the box office.

Go Cubs Go!

Happy Father’s Day, #Cubs Fans!

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Father’s Day 2012

Had a great day with my family today, capped off by watching tonight’s game against the Red Sox together. Hearing my son cheer on the Cubs and ask ‘Baseball?’ every time they went to commercial was one of my favorite parts of the day.

A ‘W’ would be a great way to end a fun Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all you Cubs Dads out there!

Go Cubs Go!

In a world where the Cubs are awesome…

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TOP: Searles, Jay Johnstone, Henry Cotto, Keith Moreland, Jody Davis, Gary Woods, Steve Trout, Steve Lake, Tom Veryzer, Ron Hassey, Zarris

MIDDLE: Palmer, Gary Matthews, Nimitz, Thad Bosley, Lee Smith, Rich Bordi, Scott Sanderson, Rick Sutcliffe, Tim Stoddard, Rick Reuschel, George Fraizer, Dick Ruthven, Dennis Eckersley, Yosh Kawano, Tony Gorofalo (trainer), Warren Brusstar

FRONT: Davey Lopes, Dan Rohn, Larry Bowa, Billy Connors, Ruben Amaro, Johnny Oates, Jim Frey, Don Zimmer, John Vukovich, Richie Hebner, Ron Cey, Bob Dernier, Ryne Sandberg

A team complete with the Manager of the Year, NL MVP and Cy Young award winner for the 1984 season, this team was awesome. We’ve had glimpses of hope between then and now (essentially four years to be exact) but to look back at this squad today and then peer reluctantly at today’s Cubs team is a painful realization at how far we have to go to reach these heights yet again.

No longer vying for the NL East title, current residents of the NL Central, the stage is basically the same with a few small frills and design changes added and the big picture goal remains the same. This Cubs team won 96 games and the NL East title before going on to face the Padres in a disappointing five game NLCS. On May 24th, the 1984 Cubs were 26-15 and dominating opponents riding high on a six-game winning streak.

On May 24, 2012, our Cubs are in last place, in sole possession of the division cellar at 15-29. The Cubs of today are riding a streak of their own, only not the kind that draws attention for any positive reasons. Nine games up and nine games down, the offense is unable to deliver and the starters’ quality starts are being tossed aside like last year’s promotion schedule. All nine games have resulted in losses. The line-up has put up the kind of fight you would see in overmatched WWF matches growing up in the ’80s where someone like Hulk Hogan would take on someone by the name of ‘Bob Smith’. Bob Smith would try with the few moves he had to offer but in the end, Hogan was too much and you would feel bad for the unknown. Try as he might, this one was over before it started and you knew it wasn’t going to end well for the little guy. His offense was no match for that of the more powerful, more skilled opponent and no matter how brilliant certain aspects of his game were, you wasn’t enough in the end.

In 1984, these Cubs were the Hulk Hogans of their division. Anyone else that rolled into Wrigley for some afternoon baseball or welcomed this club into their house and said make yourself at home, found the Cubs doing just that. A month from this point in the season, the 1984 team took their momentum and threw it into the next gear off the boost they received from the Ryne Sandberg Game. The team rode the momentum of Sandberg’s performance against the Cardinals to a 15-6 record over their next 21 games. Already in a great position, they used this leverage to pull away from the group and ultimately clinch the division on September 24th in Pittsburgh with a 4-1 win over the Pirates, provided by a brilliant performance by Cy Young award winner Rick Sutcliffe (who at that point was 16-1).

The 2012 team has no one like Sandberg to propel them forward. They are already 10 games out on May 24th and it does not look as if this group will find a way to help themselves help their pitchers. The starting pitching has been good enough so that the Cubs should find themselves in the thick of things in the Central, however with no run support it has been a wasted effort. The closest thing this team has to anyone standing out and delivering a performance worthy of a game like that of Sandberg’s would be Castro. However, despite his recent success and ton of potential, Castro has struggled this season to put together hits when they count and without the power capabilities that Sandberg had, Castro’s getting on base alone is not going to be enough. While hitting over .300 so far this season, it is hard to make any of those hits count for runs or even be considered timely when  they are coming at inopportune RBI situations as the rest of the line up struggles to get on base or find their own timely hitting and once they do get on-base, they can’t manage to clear the bases leaving runners on base way too often.

The 1984 team was simply light years away from where we are today. That squad in the picture above is nearly the ideal. They were arguably the best team the Cubs have had in the past three or four decades. The ideal is a title and they were unable to attain that. However, considering the success of the team and the honors that were bestowed upon members of the team at that time, it is still a great level for our 2012 Cubs and for this organization to aim for while looking to the future. To attain 1984 success – and then some – is clearly the goal of Theo & Company. It is going to take some time to get there, I know, I just don’t think I expected the team to be doing this poorly so early on in the year.

Ten games out on May 24th? Wow. I didn’t expect much out of first year heading in a new direction but I did expect to punch out at the end of the season with a respectable showing. So far, this club has been interesting to watch and just as frustrating. To see one side of the team deliver (starting pitching) and yet the other two important aspects fall to the way side (offense and bullpen performance) is just about as disappointing as it gets.  The only thing worse would be for us to simply be blown out night after night.

I can appreciate where we are as an organization right now. I can respect the process and keep expectations low for the present and hopes high for the future. However, I also find myself unable to resist looking back when it comes to the great teams of the past and wondering how long until we become great again. How long before we compete and the chances of next year not being ‘next year’ once again.

The 1984 team was the first trip to the postseason for the Cubs since 1945 so clearly these things can take some time. It’s cool. It’s one of the things that makes it all worth while when it does happen. The 1984 team came out of the Sandberg game and used it to propel itself to the postseason where it delivered two of the most hope inspiring playoff victories a fan could ask for behind a Sutcliffe shutout/blow out victory and a strong showing in game two. The Padres had three chances to survive, three chances to win and ruin the run this Cubs team was trying to make to achieve the ultimate prize. They had three chances and they used all three successfully ending the 1984 season and putting a stop to any thoughts these players, coaches, managers and fans had about seeing the team win a World Series title.

Even the 1984 team was unable to win the World Series and they had an NL Manager of the Year, the NL Cy Young winner and the NL MVP. The Cubs were awesome in 1984 and life was good for Cubs fans. The 2012 Cubs (and by that I mean the team, front office, manager, etc) has a long way to go to even think about competing the way the 1984 team did. The scary part isn’t the wait or wondering how long it will before they do.

The scary part is that, even when they do reach the level of success and potential the 1984 team showed – while that would be a great place to be – it still wouldn’t be enough. More than ’84 will be required to win it all but man, wouldn’t it still be great to be that awesome at least again right now? 

May 24, 2012. The Cubs are 15-29, 10 games out in the NL Central. No longer competing for the NL East and unfortunately, we can say the same about their year in the Central and it’s not even Memorial Day weekend yet.

(sigh) Go Cubs Go.

Much to respect when it comes to Kerry Wood.

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Great job, Kerry. A fantastic ending to a brilliant career. World Series title or not, one of the best to wear the uniform.

I think of all the videos of Kerry Wood I have watched in the past few days after Kerry announced his retirement, these three sum it up best.


 

The 20 strikeout game is likely the first thing baseball fans in general would mention when hearing the name Kerry Wood. His desire to stay loyal and committed to the Cubs throughout his career and to be here as one of those select few men who get to not only play the game of baseball for a living but also claim the privilege of the right to say that they helped bring a title to the starved fans of Chicago after all these years is another commendable part of Kerry’s time as a professional baseball player. There will of course also be those who will dismiss all of these things – his character and stats – and only take a look at his fingers. No rings. Those people will classify Kerry as a loser. Just another lovable loser on the North side of Chicago who came into the league with enormous potential and gave the fans unbelievable hope yet when it came down to it, in the end he failed to deliver. Looking forward to hearing what’s next for Wood and the Cubs as I’m sure the Ricketts will find an appropriate place for Kerry to continue to be a part of the Cubs push to end the drought and win their next World Series title.

As a Cubs fan, would I have loved to have seen Kerry help bring a title to Chicago in his time with the team? Yes. Of course. Not only would seeing the team win a championship be the number one sports request of all Cubs fans, 1a would have been to have Kerry Wood as a member of the club that made it happen. Too many years have gone by where our teams have been the perfect example of unrealized potential. Sometimes, they have been the ideal to point to as samples of misdiagnosed talent as well. Talent that wasn’t necessarily unrealized, simply built up as able to more than was truly with their ability.

Some of these players were only easy to root for when they cleared the bases with a home run over the ivy covered walls of Wrigley. Otherwise, they weren’t exactly the type of person you would want to hang out with or want your children to idolize with t-shirts with their names on it or posters of said player in their bedroom.

However, some of the men that have worn the Cubs uniform have been downright upstanding people. We’ve had a few to root for as of late in guys like Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood. Wood ended his time with the Cubs a man who can be respected for the way he carried himself while representing himself, his family and the team. He entered the league in a Cubs uniform a boy with great potential and even greater expectations. He never did anything to dishonor himself, his family or the opportunity he had as a big league baseball player. For that reason, while the baseball contributions can always be appreciated, it is the person that Kerry Wood is that I respect the most. While he can no longer throw the way he used to and is no longer the reliable arm to put in the starting rotation or bullpen, he is still the type of guy you want around this organization. To help move the team forward in years to come and to set the example in a face to face scenario for future young Cubs that come up through the system who will also have high expectations and may need some assistance in learning how best to handle such demands from the front office, the fans and their family.

The last video, featuring Kerry as the Father of the Year honoree is my favorite of the three. Kerry came up through the ranks and burst on to the scene as the guy that could make the difference for the franchise. Along with Mark Prior, their two arms were to carry this club to the promised land. It was an amazing amount of pressure to deal with and he only made it tougher on himself with the 20 strikeout performance and winning Rookie of the Year honors. Yet, Kerry handled it like a pro and while he just missed getting the Cubs into a World Series, he was spot on with keeping the respect of the organization, the fanbase and most importantly, his family.

The traveling and the schedule has to be brutal on a ballplayer and his family. For his wife and children to look at Kerry the way that they do still to this day is an honorable thing. I enjoyed seeing how excited his kids were talking about what it was like to see their Dad play and I understand completely what Kerry meant in his concerned statement worried that his son will never see him pitch in the major leagues. I understand that feeling. I want my son to be a part of all that I do in life and I want him to respect me and the choices I’ve made and look up to me the way Kerry’s son does. You can tell his son thought it was cool to have a Dad who plays baseball for a living but more importantly, you don’t get the impression that he felt neglected at all. That must be a super hard balance to find as a father and professional with a crazy schedule. I hope that I can find professional success in the years to come that not only satisfy me creatively in this industry, however also allow for my family to understand how much they mean to me and for my son to know how much he is loved. That balance is something I’m sure Kerry didn’t always have come easy. Of all his achievements over his time as a professional ballplayer, it would appear as though he managed to find it with his family and it is the achievement I admire the most.

Watching his son give him a giant hug after coming off the mound at Wrigley, following a strike out of the final batter he would ever face, in front of the home crowd puts it all into perspective. As much as the fans’ standing ovation says how much he meant to the city of Chicago and Cubs fans all over, that hug symbolizes how much Kerry meant off the field to his family. It was a touching moment and quite possibly will end up being the best moment of this Cubs season. A hug that seemed to be saying, I love you, congratulations and I’m so glad you’ll have even more time for us all with the drama of a great career ending in front of fans who love Kerry for all he has done for them will actually likely end up being one of the best moments of this MLB season overall.

Congratulations on a brilliant career, Kerry Wood. Enjoy your family, thanks for the effort and if you choose to stick around in some type of role with the Cubs off the field going forward, I’m sure they’d love to have you. Kerry Wood. All class. The more guys we can have around the team like this, the better. Looking forward to seeing what’s next for Wood and the Cubs.

Go Cubs Go!

Wrigley gets Soccer while Citi Field gets the 2013 All-Star Game.

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I despise Bud Selig a little more each day and most of it is based on his loyalty to the disgusting ownership group of the New York Mets.

I am at Dodd Stadium today for another great day of work with the Detroit Tigers’ A-ball team, the Connecticut Tigers and I took a few minutes out to watch Mayor Bloomberg, Selig, Mr. Met and Ponzi scum and Ponzi scum Jr. announce that New York City – specifically, the New York Mets – have been awarded the opportunity to host the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field.

Are you kidding me, Bud?

The Wilpons are disgusting, dishonest, crooked thieves of human beings/baseball owners who should have been kicked out of the game long ago for the way they have handled their business, what it does to the game and their ties to Bernie Madoff. For some reason, you continue to get their back. You gave them a loan to stay afloat while lawsuits were flung their way, attendance dropped and fans lost faith in their ability to keep their organization competitive. The fact that they currently sit 2.5 games out of first place in the bizarro 2012 season of the NL East is not lost on this writer. It is simply a by-product of a small fluke of a sample size for this season and while I respect what the players and manager have been able to accomplish so far this year (I would love to be able to say the Cubs are just 2.5 games out of first place at this point in the season) it is simply one more gift these criminals seem to step in with every smug, criminal, unethical step they take in handling their MLB and outside MLB business affairs.

Not that being 2.5 games out has done a whole lot for attendance or fan turnout. In New York, the talk continues to be one of two things depending on which type of fan is speaking. Either complete boycott is called for to show disdain for their actions and the way they feel about/treat this team from the way they speak of their star players to working with criminals such as Madoff to building a shrine to a team that never set foot in Flushing/Queens and selling jerseys of players that have no historical ties to the franchise (go to the Mets gift shop sometime if you catch a Cubs game there. What’s that? A Koufax jersey? When was he a Met? Exactly.) Or on the other hand, you get the ‘hey, I root for the team of players on the field, not the schlubs in the rich guy-owner box seats’.

It is this second type of fan I have a problem with.

I believe we are lucky as Cubs fans to have an ownership group that genuinely cares about the franchise. They don’t take us for fools and while their public statements regarding the team are likely tempered by public relations watchdogs, as fans of the ballclub, they are coming from the same place we are. They have suffered through the disasterous moments Cubs fans have suffered just like the fan base. They are able to relate to the plight of a Cub fan because they are Cubs fans. The are baseball fans. They love the team they own and it shows. They have put smart people in the role where we need them. They have not restricted these new hires but instead, allowed them to take the plan the Ricketts believed in when they hired them and allowed them to stay that course and watch the results unfold.

Is a rebuiling effort around young talent, a strong farm system, avoiding bad contracts and dealing veterans in return for hot prospects with giant upsides as much of a get rich quick scheme as partnering up with a ponzi artist and stealing millions and millions of dollars for unknowing victims and using that cash to benefit your ballclub for years? Do the results come by as quickly?

No. But whatever the results will be, they will come honestly. They will come without an asterisk, without a shadow or stain of all that is accomplished.

The Wilpons were able to run the Mets for years on money they didn’t deserve to be raking in due to the nature in which they were receiving it. The Wilponzis played dumb for long enough to get through without a trial and pay a giant settlement so that they not only are no longer legally even suspects of knowingly participating in the Madoff scheme, but they may even profit. So in business, they had a wise criminal in their pocket getting his hands dirty so they didn’t have to, in law they have escaped by paying a fine as opposed to actually taking on punishment that is deserved and would likely have sent them out of the game altogether and it would have been rightfully so and in baseball, they have the man with all of the power in their corner protecting them with all of his might. Bud Selig has done a lot of things that fans disagreed with in his time running The Show, however giving the All-Star Game to the New York Mets – to the Wilpons – is quite possibly the worst one yet.

The Wilpons are criminals. I know it. You know it. They know it. Bud knows it. Technically perhaps settling out of court has allowed them to prevent that tag officially however, despite the Mets fans that decide to turn a blind eye to the way the organization treats them and their franchise, the rest of baseball fans know how quite likely it is that they knew and in fact are just that – criminals. The fact that Mets fans still show up at all surprises me. Wilpon does not deserve their allegiance. He does not deserve their money and he does not deserve to be in baseball. So what does Selig do? He gives him the All-Star Game in 2013 where his rebound plan will now include not only potentially STILL profiting from the Madoff scheme, but profiting from the tens of thousands of fans who will show up and pay the gates at Citi Field (through on-line ticketing, etc but you know what I mean) to see the greatest in the game play an exhibition game on July 16th next year as well as participate in four other days filled with events that will honor the game’s best.

The Wilpons are among the game’s worst owners if not the worst. They should be last on the list of people awarded anything, let alone a game that honors the sport when they have no honor and have already profited by stealing from the masses. Bud Selig had 29 other teams to choose from, Ok, 28 if you discount last year’s host a few others if you then eliminate further the other hosts of recent years. It has been nearly 50 years since the Mets had an All-Star Game and the way the Wilpons carry themselves throughout the game, they should have to wait at least another 50 years to get one more.

Meanwhile, owners like the Ricketts – a family with resources, good will and good intentions who actually care and own one of the games most valuable and large market franchises – do not get an All-Star Game. Instead, today, we hear that Wrigley Field will get a soccer game. A SOCCER game? What? The simple fact that we are hearing about soccer coming to Wrigley is not enough for outrage. The stadium is a great place to host a sporting event and if it happens to be soccer, so be it. The outrage should be raised however that it was the New York Mets’ criminal ownership that was awarded next year’s opportunity to stage the game’s greatest before the Cubs or any other worthy organization.

The fact that Minneapolis is being discussed for 2014 is also outrageous considering Wrigley field will be 100 years old (as Wrigley Field) in 2014. How could you not give Wrigley the All-Star Game in 2014? Minneapolis? I’ve never been…but how do you not give the Ricketts, the Cubs, Cubs fans and Wrigley the All-Star Game in 2014. Nothing is official yet and the way Selig botched 2013’s game by giving it to the one group that should have been eliminated from contention makes me not surprised in the least that it is likely to not happen on Selig’s watch next year.

Selig, for the good of the game, stop taking care of your friends. Put the game first, not your criminal buddies. The players, coaches and managers that are at next year’s All-Star game will have worked hard to play in the game and represent MLB in front of the world. The team that hosts it should at least be in contention to do so because they have not dishonored the game with such disgraceful, illegal activity as the Wilpons have.

This outrage is not even truly about the Cubs or Cubs fans or soccer, etc. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about taking the opportunity to do the right thing in honoring the game on it’s greatest stage and by giving next year’s cash cow of a game to his best friends who could definitely use it to avoid a fire sale on their disgusting bullet-dodging path that they’ve been on for the past couple years with the Madoff mess, Selig dropped the ball.

Citi Field – host field of the 2013 All-Star Game.

Seriously, Bud?

Ridiculous.

Go Cubs Go.

I’ve Been Called Up to the Minors!

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I am excited to finally share my good news with you.

As of this coming Monday, I will be starting my first job in professional baseball as the official team writer of the Detroit Tigers’ Class-A affiliate, the…

Since starting this blog in December of 2007, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of great people in baseball. Members of the Chicago Cubs front office, sports reporters, bloggers, players, etc and I have been plugging along using Prose and Ivy as a way to connect with Cubs/baseball fans, a creative outlet and a way to hopefully get my foot in the door of professional baseball. Each and every new person I have met and every article I have written on this site or other sites such as MLB.com, Baseball Digest and Vine Line Magazine among others, have served as motivation to keep pushing, keep writing and keep looking for an opportunity to land an opportunity to mix my professional experience in television production, sports writing, public relations, sales and marketing and passion for the sport and parlay it into an opportunity with a Major or Minor League ballclub.

I’m excited to say that the opportunity with the Tigers will allow me to not only write for the team on a regular basis, but also provide a chance to learn the business side of the game and the ins and outs of baseball operations.

This season, when Connecticut Tigers fans come out to the ballpark, they will have a chance to read content I write about the home team, the Detroit Tigers and the New York-Penn League. Throughout the year, fans will have an opportunity to read articles I write about a variety of different topics within those three categories on the team’s official website CTTigers.com. I have had meetings with independent league teams over the past few months and nearly landed an opportunity with one of them back in January – something that if it had come to fruition, I would have been extremely grateful for. Of course, I am not sure where this opportunity with the Tigers could lead in the future, however the chance to work within a front office that is rich with baseball professionals and part of an infrastructure tied to a storied franchise such as the Detroit Tigers is an opportunity I am very much looking forward to and can’t wait to get started on.

The fact that our games will feature ballplayers that could be wearing a Detroit uniform in just a few years from now is something I am very excited about and looking forward to being a part of. This is an exciting time to be a Tigers fan (certainly a more hopeful experience than that of a Cubs fan) and while their MLB roster hardly needs a hand in dominating so far this season, to watch the players they believe to be the future of the franchise and have a hands-on experience working within one of my favorite parts of the game- the Minor Leagues- is going to be unbelievable.

In addition to writing for the Tigers, I’ll be learning a ton about the business side of Minor League baseball in serving as the team’s Box Office Manager for the 2012 season. Need a ticket to the game? I’m your guy. Need tickets to take an entire group to the game? I’m your guy. Want to rent a suite for one of our upcoming games against the young talent coming up through the Red Sox, Astros, Nationals, Indians, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Marlins, Blue Jays, Yankees, Mets, Rays or Orioles respective systems? I’m your guy. Need season tickets to enjoy a few months of quality baseball talent at affordable, family friendly prices complete with fun promotions and in-game family friendly entertainment? I am your guy!

The more the merrier clearly, so if you happen to be a Tigers fan who stumbles upon this article or simply a baseball fan that lives in the area, come check out the team this season at beautiful Dodd Stadium. I’ll have an opportunity to post pictures of the extremely impressive stadium throughout the summer months (the season runs from June 18-Sept 5), but for now, here’s a shot of the field from the team’s website:

While you’re at it, check out the logo behind home plate.

The team decided to keep the Tigers name when they moved the team from Oneonta, NY to Norwich, CT in 2010 and the logo reflects the tie-in to the big league club as well. As you all very well know, the Detroit Old English Style ‘D’ is one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports. I love the idea of turning it around practically and keeping the same font for the A-ball club in designing the logo around the Connecticut ‘C’. Here is a larger look at the team logo in royal blue:

Now that I’ve posted it, I believe the more appropriate term would have been ‘much larger’ look at the team logo. What can I say, I’m psyched.

This site will of course continue to cover Chicago Cubs baseball for the 2012 season.

Will it feature a link or 100 here and there to material I write for the Connecticut Tigers, too? The short answer? Quite possibly, yes. You’ll still find all the Cubs news and opinion you could hope for here like always, however, I’ll also be sharing my experience with the Connecticut Tigers here over the course of the season.

Prose and Ivy and MLBlogs allowed me to kick-start any and all opportunities I’ve had so far in sports writing in general, which means any of you reading this whether it is your first time here, or you’re Abracadabra (the person that has left more comments than any other visitor to the site since 2007), you have helped keep me motivated in my pursuit of a career in sports journalism/professional baseball and I appreciate it, so thanks!

Looking forward to sharing my experience of working with the Detroit Tigers’ Class-A affiliate, the Connecticut Tigers this season (and of course second guessing Sveum’s line-ups, debating when to change up the rotation, complaining about the bullpen, enjoying the opportunity to watch Theo work his magic on this franchise, etc, etc, etc)!

It all starts on Monday at Dodd Stadium!

Keep you posted! (And of course…..GO CUBS GO!)

https://twitter.com/#!/luckiexstar/status/193143242164932608

NL Central 2012 Season Preview Podcast

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Looking ahead to this year’s Cubs baseball, last night I once again participated in a roundtable podcast discussion of the NL Central with Ivie League Production, hosted by Daniel Shoptaw. A Cardinals fan, he assembles a fan from each team making up the division every year and it’s always fun to share expectations of your own ballclub as well as field questions from the other fans and kick around division expectations among the group.

Included below is an embedded version of the podcast which you can play here. Highlights include the impact of Theo Epstein, the debate as to whether Pujols and Fielder’s absence will make the division grow tighter in 2012, my thoughts on Dempster as the Opening Day starter, expectations regarding the final standings of the Central and overall storylines to look forward to this coming season.

I see the bullpen as a weakness, I’m behind the ‘year of the Cubs’ numbers coming down despite the fact that it directly correlates to my URL, I believe Theo is going to make a huge difference (who doesn’t?) and I believe aside from the Astros, the rest of the division will be decided in a tight race with only 89 wins needed to claim the division title. Also, given the extra wild-card in each league, while I feel the Cubs have a lot of work left to do, I could see them coming away with that extra wild card spot.

Watch out for the Pirates in 2012 to be the surprise team of the division and potentially not in the way you would expect. We discuss how the Cubs are slowly getting younger and what to expect with Soriano and Ian Stewart this season among other subjects. The guys involved are fun to listen to and it was a blast to talk about the upcoming season with them.

Here is the podcast. Press play and check it out! (You don’t have to wait long to hear my thoughts on the 2012 Cubs as I am the first writer out of the gate.)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ivieleagueproductions/2012/03/25/ucb-radio-hour-special-previewing-the-central

Go Cubs Go! Opening Day is only 10 days away!

New Year, New Home, New Prose.

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January has been an absolutely crazy month. I’m punctuating it with a move this week that I’ll be able to tell you all about real soon. Let’s just say so far it has been a BEAST. Looking forward to sharing the news and talking baseball with you all in 2012. Pitchers and catchers will be here before you know it. I don’t know about you, but man, that sure does sound good to me.

Go Cubs Go!

Happy New Year, Cubs Fans!

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2011 was a fun year to be a Cubs fan. And by fun, I mean interesting. And by interesting, I mean – noteworthy at the very least.

A season taken away from us in the first weeks of the season in losing our number four and five starters in the rotation.

A season that displayed exactly how important depth is on a major league baseball team and how even more important arguably it is to have in your farm system.

A year of historic significance in returning to Fenway Park, Castro’s 200 hit season, Santo’s vote tabulation for the Hall and the introduction of boy wonder, Theo Epstein along with the departure of Hendry and Quade.

I’ll remember the struggles the club had in finding suitable replacements for Wells and Cashner, the amazing season Castro put together, the once again uber-reliable innings eating calendar Dempster put together and that horrifying shot to the eye Marlon Byrd took at Fenway Park.

I’ll remember my trips to Wrigley, meeting with members of the front office staff and what they did for my son last off-season.

I’ll remember my trip to Cooperstown, my first with my wife and 10 month old son. It was amazing to revisit the Hall, look at all of the exhibits and plaques after years and years making it all new again. It was fun to introduce my son to the game by showing him the greatest to ever play the game and talk to other fans in the game in fun conversations giving them the opportunity to convince my son that he should not become a Cubs fan (good luck with that). You can see the video here:

I’ll remember singing the stretch in a couple of rain-threatened series at Wrigley, one game of which in fact was rained out, yet I made the trip back to Chicago to catch the make up game (any excuse to get to Wrigley is a good one). I’ll remember meeting with Vine Line and beginning my time writing for them along with the contributions I made to MLB.com, Baseball Digest and the other sports writing I put out there in 2011 and look forward to doing so in 2012.

Looking ahead to the new year, I can’t wait to see what Theo Epstein and his merry men can manage to pull off with our boys on the North Side. Will he end up writing a similar thank you note to Cubs fans referring back to multiple championships in his time with the club, starting with the rumors that flew around after being spotted at a Starbucks? I hope so.

I hope Garza is still a Cub and that Epstein and Company find a way to better the team without having to deal him. Our rotation needs some stability and Garza, had he received a few breaks, could have come out of 2011 with one of the most impressive records in the National League. I understand why other teams would want him and how he is a valuable piece of bait that could potentially bring back significant pieces of the future – I just hope he is still around and that the front office finds another way.

I look forward to seeing Castro put up another season of impressive numbers and make an argument for a starting spot at the All-Star Game. I remain curious regarding how we’ll manage on the corners and how DeJesus will fit in with the club come Opening Day and I remain hopeful that a few more moves this winter will be the ones that bring in a no-name player that surprises us all and perhaps one headliner that can be a cornerstone for years to come.

Regarding the future, yet in more of a short-term fashion, I hope to have an exciting announcement to bring you in the next few days – so please keep visiting Prose and Ivy this week for what will hopefully be a very big announcement I will be VERY excited to share with you!

Happy New Year to every single one of you and thank you for making 2011 a sweet fourth year for me here at Prose and Ivy. Happy New Year, have a great 2012! Go Cubs Go!

Santo is in. Great decision, horrible timing.

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One of the greatest Cubs to put on the uniform earned his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the ’60s however it wasn’t until essentially 50 years later and one year past his dying day that the decision would be made to actually induct him as a member of the elite. An induction that is well deserved yet bittersweet in that Ron Santo will not be able to give his own induction speech next July 22nd in Cooperstown.

The Golden Era Committee voted Santo into the Hall this past weekend, yet Santo is no longer here to enjoy it. He felt his numbers held up and even though the BBWAA voters didn’t agree, his peers and those who know the game best – from the inside – knew that Santo was worthy of their vote as no one knows what makes someone worthy of the Hall as former player. Those who look from the outside – from the stands, from the press box, from the owner’s office, from the office desk and from the newspaper stands – can only gauge so much as to what a lifetime in baseball and a career spanning 15 years worth of stats actually say about a player’s worth in making the club only the best in the game get to be a part of.

Walk the halls at Cooperstown and you will only find ten third basemen representing the greatest at the position. Wade Boggs, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, George Kell, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Freddie Lindstrom, Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor and Jimmy Collins signify what it is to be a Hall of Famer at the hot corner. Come July, Santo’s name and plaque will be added to the list and his journey home will be complete. Home is where you are accepted and feel you belong and the Hall was that for Santo. In his personal life, of course he had the love and support of his family through thick and thin, battling sickness and enjoying bright times when he was at his health’s peak. However, when it came to baseball, the Cubs and the Hall made up the home that Santo felt he belonged to. The Cubs have retired his number and added a statue of Santo outside of Wrigley Field. He is a Cub and always will be thought of as a Cub through and through. From the hot corner to the airwaves, Santo woke up a Cub, went to work a Cub and went to sleep a Cub. The Cubs embraced Santo just as fans did and the organization treated Santo with the same welcome arms that he deserved wanted and gave back to the organization.

The Hall was another story.

Santo never got closer than 43% of the BBWAA vote in his 15 years on the ballot. 75% is needed to be elected in by the writers.

Santo’s career highlights over the years:

14 of 15 major league seasons as a player were with the Cubs.

.277 BA, 342 HR, 1,331 RBI

9-time All-Star

5-time Gold Glove winner

Led the National League in assists from 1962-1968

Top 5 finisher in MVP voting in 1967 and 1969

Cubs radio broadcaster for 21 years

Raised an estimated $40million for juvenile diabetes research in his lifetime

While it is sad that Santo won’t get to address the world at the podium on the lawn in Cooperstown while receiving the much deserved applause his career and the way he handled himself during that time frame while battling disease and working with medication that worked nowhere near as well as it does nowadays and often without people even understanding that he was battling it at the time, earned him – for me, I can appreciate the fact that it is the Golden Era committe that has accepted him in and welcomed him home.

I respect baseball writers for their knowledge of the game and their right to voice their opinion on such things as who is Hall-worthy. However, even the greatest group of baseball writers who are surrounded by the game day in and day out can get it wrong at times. Santo was one of the ones the BBWAA got wrong. To be around the game and surrounded by the game every day is one thing. To be a part of that game is another story.

The Golden Era committee is made up of some of the greatest to make the game what it is today. They know what makes an average player, a good player, a great player and a Hall of Fame worthy player.

It may have come a year too late, but finally a group with a say got it right. The Golden Era committee knows best and are appropriately the ones to do the right thing and welcome Santo at home. Congratulations, Ron. Looking forward to being there for your day in July. Go Cubs Go!

My Real Time Reaction to the Yoenis Cespedes Promo Video

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Click play and the Star Wars style text starts to roll. This may very well be my all time favorite baseball video.

From the Star Wars intro to the wide world of sports ABC style ‘this is where Cuba is’ graphic right on through to the unexpected tune of “Sailing” which of course eventually leads us to Jay-Z’s ‘On to the Next One’ – it’s a recruiting video with a little something for everyone. Like a baseball highlight reel set on shuffle.

Talk about hype. Or perhaps overhype. I don’t even care if the kid can deliver. The video is so odd at this point, in my opinion he comes off as interesting and not at all afraid to do what he thinks is cool. Between the Star Wars reference and the Christopher Cross hit ‘Sailing’ as the lead in tune to his baseball highlights, you have to wonder if this kid’s a genius, a total nerd and proud of it, trying to be ironic or simply needs a new iTunes gift card to replenish his music collection.

With all of that, you have to hope that if Yoenis ends up on your team that his production on the field can match the production value of the video – and then some. The thing that makes this feel slightly obnxious though? 20 minutes? Really? Slo-mo replays? Over and over again? Tons of music and none of it related to baseball? With all the borrowed tunes in this thing, you couldn’t lay down an MP3 of something from The Natural? Little Big League? Nothing? There must have been some Air Bud tune you could find to lay down. The ‘Sailing’ song made me laugh, but shouldn’t I be more in awe of this kid’s highlights and not distracted by the scene stealing slow jam playing behind it?

Finally at the sixteen minute mark you get a ‘Now Let’s Play Ball’ graphic. Sixteen minutes of graphics, odd music selections, cheesy flight lines over a spinning globe ending in a US? style graphic. FINALLY, we get to what matters. We get that he’s strong. We get that he’s cool. We get that he is a player of today with the hip-hop intro and music video featuring a shirtless running segment that would make even Terrell Owens jealous. What do fans really care about though?

Sure, he can hit the long ball and catch a fly ball behind his back. BUT, can he play? If all he’s good for is a little flash a couple dozen home runs, we have already had that in Soriano. Two shutout trips to the playoffs later and we are looking for a little more out of our young talent. You want to rebuild with youngsters, fine but they better fit the mold you are shaping in Castro – a young kid that appears to be a high-potential work in progress who knows how to get on base and play to his strengths however not afraid to admit and work on his weaknesses. I don’t recall seeing any recruitment videos like this for Starlin. There is something to be said about being humble. A video of this proportions is great to get a team’s attention and get fans like me talking about you sure. Does it at least feature some baseball highlights as opposed to a ego rap video project that is for nothing but fun (see Jose Reyes)? Sure. Of course, Reyes has years and years in with the league and some earned leeway to have some fun. The Cespedes video effort needs to attract teams and build interest in his talent. He SHOULD be trying to get the people’s attention. If you want to go sailing away from Cuba and end up playing for the Chicago Cubs or some other storied franchise you better do something that stands out – I get that. However, he also better be able to back up the hype he is creating for himself.

It’s one thing for people to create a hype that builds up an expectation that you can’t live up to but never asked for. It’s another to promote yourself with a video like this (and honestly, what videos nowadays don’t end up in the public eye with YouTube, etc) and then sign a big deal without the ability to show that you are one.

At the 18:00 mark we finally come around to the credits. Finally, the baseball movie reference comes along and appropriately enough it’s one that shows Cespedes is practically Yoenis Rowengartner. He credits his agent and business folks, the production team and then they spot a tribute to his mother, a Cuban National Softball Ace Pitcher from 1988-2003. With that one tribute, you start to appreciate a little bit more when Yoenis coming from. Sure, it’s fun to think that the name ‘Mary’ is written on the inside of Yoenis’ glove like Henry’s, however if in fact the real life player’s glove has anything to do with the fictional player’s, the name would be ‘Estela’, not Mary. It’s a fun tribute to his mother who accomplished a great deal in the game. It makes me feel like this isn’t as obnoxious as I thought it was 20 minutes ago.

Ok, I could do without the shirtless chubby man dancing at the end – however, thing is, after watching all of this (including the topless family member dancing in the end credits), I now wish we had videos like this for all of the young talent the Cubs are considering. Stats can only tell you so much about a player. With a video as personal as this, you learn a lot about Yoenis and who he is as a person. As we’ve learned as of late with some of the people the Cubs have brought in over the last decade, stats tell only one part of the story. Unfortunately when you bring in new talent, you aren’t just bringing the ability, but also the personality.

Anyway, somewhere during the final seven minutes of the video, I came around. I wasn’t sure that I liked him very much at first although I did find him entertaining and maybe because I have produced many television projects, the cheese factor was annoying me a little. All of that aside, taking into consideration simply what he is trying to accomplish, what it must have taken to get something like this made, the creativity that went into it and the fact that this kid isn’t afraid to put himself out there, there’s a lot to like about it. Yoenis comes off as a cool, talented kid who would likely be fun to root for. I don’t know what it will take for the Cubs to sign him and I know he’s only down on their radar as a tryout. However, if the team decides that there may be  a place in the outfield for Yoenis one day, after viewing his promo video I’d have to say I’m intrigued and would be willing to see how this kid would do in a uniform that reads Cubs, instead of Cuba.

What did you think of the Yoenis Cespedes video? Go Cubs Go!

The-o Balll-gaaaame! Let’s get some rings.

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In less than two hours from now, the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise changes.

If the Cubs’ front office were on a reality makeover show, the appointment of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations would nail every single desired goal. The face of the franchise will appear younger, more successful and more appealing.

Why debate what to do with Wrigley Field when you can simply hire someone of Epstein’s class and achievement, giving the home team a much needed facelift that way instead? It makes so much sense it is almost scary the Cubs thought to do it.

After resurrecting Boston from the 86 year deep grave the Red Sox had dug themselves with a world championship in 2004 and then again popping the champagne bottles for good measure in 2007, Epstein leaves his hometown team a hero. In this day and age when it comes to the Cubs and the Red Sox, it is always about heroes and goats – sometimes of one type, sometimes another. Chicago has had its share of literal and metaphorical goats. It is time the Cubs have their share of the G.O.A.T. If Epstein can manage to bring a title in the Cubs after defeating baseball’s other most well-known curse, he would arguably be considered just that – the greatest of all-time on a long list of baseball executives with impressive career resumes.

Since 1975, the year of my birth, the Cubs have made the playoffs in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. Of the past thirty six years, the team has played in the postseason six times. On average, we are looking at once every six years and at an even greater clip than that as of late. Many fans would kill to have that type of experience. Despite the heartbreak that comes with it – and Cubs heartbreak takes is to another level- the playoffs are the goal. Get in and anything can happen. Hope springs eternal once a division is claimed or a wild card berth is born. Hendry gave fans a taste in his time as the Cubs’ GM on three separate occasions. An impressive accomplishment considering the black cats and goats and interfering fans that linger around Wrigley to be sure. The bar that Hendry has set is hardly the bar Cubs fans will be looking at though when it comes to Epstein. With Epstein, it will be the bar he set for himself while in Boston that everyone will be keeping an eye on.

Hendry made the baseball moves that will effect the franchise for another few years to come. It is a role that comes with an incredible amount of responsibility and opportunity. Epstein’s position with the team is all that and more. Not only will he be making baseball moves, he will be making them from a perch above that of GM. He will be making deals as well as naming the GM, not just being one like he was in Boston. He will be under greater scrutiny than Hendry because of his own accomplishments, his own strategic choices and the people he chooses to surround himself with.

Epstein thinks these guys are the guys we should have around? Jed Hoyer? Jason McLeod? Ok, fine. The fans will go along with Theo’s judgment calls and he will have some time to let those calls play out. However, Hoyer and McLeod and possibly a new manager will be lumped into one collective group taking responsibility for wins and losses, success or failure. No one will have greater responsibility than Epstein of course, however his group in the front office will eventually be broken down and analyzed like any Soriano contract or Zambrano meltdown.

Before Epstein gets to do any re-signing he had to do his own resigning. Leaving the Red Sox was hard for him to do once as he tried before in the last decade, simply to return months later. This time, there is basically no going back. Epstein has committed himself to bringing the type of baseball euphoria he brought to Red Sox fans, to the long suffering, desperately hungry fans in Chicago. If successful, one day there may very well be a statue of Epstein outside of Wrigley. I wouldn’t be surprised. If he fails, he will likely be remembered as a guy with great baseball smarts, able to strike lightning in a bottle two times, however simply not a third.

Three strikes are generally bad in baseball, at least if you are the hitter. With Epstein being the voice of reason in trade and free-agent signing pitch meetings, a third strike would be a hit with Cubs fans everywhere. Today at 11am CT, Theo Epstein will be introduced as the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations. Strange enough, his first deal in the coming days will be for himself. Epstein will have to decide how much he is worth while balancing with the thoughts of what he would like to be left with.

If successful in Chicago, he’ll be left with an arguably unmatchable legacy as a baseball executive. That is what Cubs fans everywhere are hoping for as the Epstein Era begins. Considering the luck the team has had in the past century, there hasn’t been a whole lot for fans to be thankful for. As a result, they have infinite ‘no…thank YOU’s held in reserve. Just give them a reason to use them, Theo. There is no thank you note a Cubs fan could receive that would be more of a welcome sight than the type you wrote to Sox fans.

Come Opening Day 2012, it will be time to take ourselves out to ‘…The-ooo ball-game’. Let’s get some rings. Go Cubs Go!

 

World Series: Holland’s tunnel vision wins Texas game four

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Last night’s game four of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals featured a pitching performance few fans saw coming.

After the Rangers gave up sixteen runs to the mighty Albert Pujols and friends the game before, it was the 25-year-old kid from Newark, Ohio with an extremely bright future who shut down the Cardinals offense and lifted the darkness of potential Cardinal momentum and domination in what would have been a 3-1 lead in the Series for St. Louis.

Derek Holland delivered a lights out performance Sunday night giving up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings. The stage and what was at risk gave greater weight to an already stellar achievement leaving many to question whether it was the best pitching performance in the history of the franchise.

Talk about saying a lot. You are talking about a franchise that has featured great pitchers as recent as Cliff Lee and as long ago as Nolan Ryan. Clutch victories, no-hitters – in Ryan’s case, multiple no-hitters. Sunday night was as much about the past though as it was about the future. Two organizations battling it out, like heavyweights exchanging body blow after body blow. One organization who has never won the title and another who has proudly displayed ten since last winning in 2006.

The outcome of game four would deliver short term and long term implications. If the Rangers were to lose, they would find themselves in the deepest hole one can find themselves in, in a best of seven Series. Down three games to one, with only three left to play. The likelihood of the Cardinals claiming number eleven? Let’s just say if they had won game four, someone with an St. L on the office door name plate would have had the local shelvesman on speed dial. If the Rangers were to win, the Series would be even. They would have met the mighty offensive attack from the National League that won 90 games this season blow for blow in a toe-to-toe first four games of a winner take all best of seven.

Thanks to Derek Holland’s focus, skill and baseball history bookmark-worthy performance, the Rangers walked away with the latter. Holland gave up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings and walked off to a rousing ovation from the home crowd.

For those who love a high scoring game, Holland wasn’t out there to oblige Sunday evening. For fans who enjoy watching the unexpected players in the Series steal headlines away from those we all thought were likely to command the audience’s attention, Holland was perfect casting. Rangers fans may be familiar with work of ‘The Dutch Oven’ as they so affectionately refer to him, however for MLB fans who follow another team, merely watching a Rangers game because it happens to be game four of the World Series, for those fans this was a breakthrough performance for Holland.

He threw two-hit ball with only two walks and seven strike outs over eight and a third, including keeping Mr. Five-hit-three-homers-six-RBI hitless the day after he looked like he may win the Series by himself for the Cardinals (Pujols). The first two thirds of this amazing drama (Holland’s 16-5 regular season and then the first eight innings of game four) played the crowd into its hands and had fans on the edge of their seats waiting to see how it was to end. Once Texas’ manager, Ron Washington, sent Holland out to finish what he started, they would not have it any other way.

The way Rangers Ballpark sounded as Holland jogged out to the mound to start the top of ninth, it seemed as if each and every one of those fans, had they been Washington, would have done the exact same thing. This was Holland’s show now. Not Cruz, Freese, Pujols, Berkman, Young or Hamilton. Holland was the hero of this drama and the audience wanted to see him pull through. A tribal yell of ‘Adrienne!’ would have felt appropriate at this point. Everyone loves an underdog and Holland was set to play the role to the end. Center of the field. Center stage. All of the attention of millions watching centered on him.

After successfully getting the first of three outs he needed to close it out for himself, Holland gave up just his second walk of the game. Knowing the dramatic difference between going home and sleeping well on a 2-2 Series as opposed to possible pulling a Grady Little and leaving Holland in too long resulting in a blown opportunity and a 3-1 hole, Washington headed to the mound.

This may have been the most nerve-wracking, edge of your seat visit to the mound since Little-Grady in 2003.

While I was watching, I was again blown away by the power of baseball and its drama. I am not a Rangers fan. I am not a Cardinals fan. However, I could not believe how giddy I was about what was taking place. I had nothing on the line yet I knew how much Holland did. While Holland pleaded his case behind his glove, the infield surrounded the mound. They, like us, anxiously anticipating what Washington would decide to do.

The conversation went on for so long, I just kept saying to myself, “He’s going to leave him in. He’s going to leave him in!” Had Washington allowed Holland to finish what he started and go after that second out of the inning, of his game – the noise from Rangers Ballpark, not the television, would have possibly awaken my one-year old son. Considering it was his birthday yesterday, it would have been an amazing baseball situation to wake up to. The crowd would have gone ballistic. I was feeling more excited about a Rangers pitching performance than I ever had before (which would not have taken much considering I’m a Cubs fan). Watching this drama unfold, the night’s climax was starting to feel like when I saw Rocky IV at the theater and the audience around me started going crazy cheering for Rocky against Drago as he fought his way back against his overbearing, overpowering opponent. I am almost embarassed how how excited the crowd in the theater that night was for a fictional charater’s victory. In Texas, they were rooting for Holland, a real life baseball player, with the fate of a franchise in his hands. Imagine what that must have felt like in person.

The meeting on the mound seem to take forever. Then, Washington made a move. He started to turn to his right and I would have bet that he was about to jog back to the dugout. It would have been the jog heard around the world.

The cheers came, however not because Holland was allowed to continue the fight. The cheers came because he Washington had punched his time card and Holland put in a day of work like no one else on the field. Rangers Ballpark erupted with appreciation for what the young pitcher had done for their hopes of obtaining a World Series title. No one man could possibly say you’re welcome as loudly as those tenths of thousands of people were saying thank you. Holland tipped his cap to the Rangers’ faithful, received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout and took his place along the fence to watch Neftali Feliz finish what Holland had started.

In doing so, Holland also took his place along side the greatest Rangers’ pitching performances of all-time. Considering what was at stake and the stage he was on, quitely possibly the absolute greatest of all-time.

Rangers fan? No. Cardinals fan? No. However, as a baseball fan, this was a must-see performance. As the day of ‘Game 162’ at the end of the regular season brought a thrilling day of baseball to millions of MLB fans who didn’t even have a team in the mix, so did last night’s performance by Holland.

An amazing outing to be sure. One that Rangers fans and baseball fans alike may look back at as the 8 1/3 innings that sparked the Rangers to claim their very first World Series championship. Baseball. What’s not to love?

The BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes: The Walter Johnson Award

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Today’s post is serving as the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, Chicago Cubs chapter vote for the best pitcher in the National League. The BBA created the award to honor the top pitching talent in the game and named it after one of the greatest ever to take the mound.

Here are the BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes for the Walter Johnson Award (our votes count towards the best pitcher in the National League seeing that our chapter is a National League chapter):

1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD: Made 33 starts, 233.1 IP, 2.28 ERA and won 21 games for a Dodgers team that struggled to score runs. Kershaw led the NL in strikeouts with 248 and notched 2 shut outs.

2. Cliff Lee, PHI: Allowed just 62 earned runs over 232.2 IP, struck out 238 batters and easily led all of baseball with 6 shutouts.

3. Ian Kennedy, ARZ: Quietly won 21 games with a 2.88 ERA to help lead Arizona to the NL West title. There is something to be said about the starting pitcher that performs the best on a team that outperforms expectations.

4. Roy Halladay, PHI: Virtually identical stats to Lee but sported a better ERA at 2.35. Halladay led the NL East winning Phillies with 19 wins. Hamels and Oswalt served Philly well, however it was Halladay that formed the second head of the Phillies dominant two-headed beast along with Lee.

5. Dillon Gee, NYM: Gee finished the season at 13-6 and 114 strikeouts in his rookie campaign. Without Santana and dealing with injuries all season, the Mets were desperate for someone to step up and perform well this season. Gee’s 6-0 start put him among the greatest rookie starts by Mets pitchers of all-time, tied for fourth in the franchise.

While the entire chapter generally submits for each award, this time around, these votes represent input from both myself and Brian at Bullpen Brian. More information about the BBA can be found here. Go Cubs Go!

The BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes: The Goose Gossage Award

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This is the time of year that a handful of posts will reflect on the season that has past and reward those who deserve acknowledgment. As the Cubs’ chapter president of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, you’ll find our chapter votes posted here for numerous awards. The BBA award listed below this post was for the manager of the year. Today, it is for the best relief pitcher in the National League, the Goose Gossage Award.

After much deliberation, our chapter is voting for the following three relievers. From first place through third we vote for:

First place: Craig Kimbrel who set the rookie saves record with 46 and held opposing teams’ batters to a .178 AVG.

Second place: John Axford who went 46/48 in save opportunities. His mustache scores some intangible points here as well.

Third place: Joel Hanrahan due to the fact that he put in 70 appearances and allowed only one home run while only blowing four save opps. After the second half the Pirates had, we felt they should have something to smile about. (The Cubs were lacking a long list of things to smile about in 2011 we realize as well. Thing is, looks like we’re getting Theo Epstein, so we can give this to Pirates. It’s the least we can do.)

More votes to come as well as a Prose and Ivy post about our new pal, Theo. Looking forward to the Cubs and Red Sox making his deal OFFICIAL. Go Cubs Go!

BBA Chicago Cubs Chapter votes: The Connie Mack Award

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In representing the Cubs chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance as president of the chapter, our votes for the BBA’s Connie Mack award which has been created for the alliance to acknowledge the best manager in the NL, here are our first second and third votes for the award. More re: this award and the upcoming awards to come! Go Cubs Go!

Best NL Manager of 2011 votes:

1st place: Kirk Gibson

2nd place: Tony LaRussa

3rd place: Terry Collins

(These votes represent the votes by Bullpen Brian, Prose and Ivy and Cubs Billy Goat Blog).

VIDEO: A Child’s Choice in Cooperstown

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This past weekend, my wife and I took our 10 month old son (ok, 11 months old tomorrow) to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

I hadn’t been to The Hall since I was little, probably younger than 12 at my best guess. No matter which exhibits had been added since I was there, they all felt brand new to me over 20 years later. I knew I would be impressed by the presence of greatness and great achievements that The Hall would present in walking around the treasured hallways. What I didn’t expect was how many times I found myself saying out loud ‘Whoa’ or ‘Wow’ after reading a particular stat or summary of a record performance.

There were so many amazing items that I could have easily spent two days reading everything and taking it all in. I highly recommend going to Cooperstown in the fall considering the summer months are when it is at its busiest. The place was lightly populated for a Sunday afternoon, however, those fans that were there were consumed with the sheer giddiness a place like The Hall provides a fan of any age. Most of us fell in love with the game as kids and when you are around the greatest to ever play the game, that same kid can’t help but come back again and be mesmerized by your childhood heroes once again.

My son has now attended The Hall for the first of many visits. I plan on taking him to a baseball game every single year. The Cubs have basically adopted him as one of their own just as I have set a positive example (I like to think) of what it is to be a Cubs fan. The opportunity to present him, even at this young age, with all of his options in MLB-land of teams to choose to dedicate his life’s loyalty, was to tempting to pass up. While I can tell that even at this young age, he’s leaning towards following through on the path that seems to be his destiny- rooting for the Cubs – I was curious to see what fans of other teams would say to him when presented two questions.

1) Why should my son dedicate his entire life to rooting for your favorite team? Your best reasons.

2) Why shouldn’t he root for the Cubs?

I believe in tradition and families rooting for the same team all together, however I also realize that it means more for the decision to be made after having all the information. Now granted, he isn’t even a year old yet…but it’s never too early to introduce the game of baseball and get him going on backing a team.

With the way the Cubs have treated him in his short time as a baby Cubs fan (a Cubs cub?), there’s no chance he won’t return the loyalty and sentiment once he can talk and understand what it is exactly that he is rooting for and what it is that he’s a part of.

Still, I couldn’t help but be curious as to what fans of other teams would say when given the platform to convince him to choose otherwise.

The results are here for you to enjoy…I’d love to hear your thoughts! (Especially those from Cubs fans interested in putting further reason out there to convince him he is on the right path with our team on the North Side!!) Go Cubs Go!

http://twitter.com/#!/trmb1d/status/116965556095160321

Back, back, back, back, back…

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…gone.

I’ve been working on a number of projects lately, some of them you may be familiar with and others you may not (covering Big 12 football, high school football across the Northeast, writing about the PGA for BensGolf and continuing to write for Baseball Digest for instance). One project I’m really excited about will be posted here on Prose and Ivy in the coming days and I really think you’re going to enjoy it. (Stay tuned!)

Regardless, I’m back.

But like LL Cool J said to his brother Bean, don’t call it a comeback. (Back for two seconds and already a bad joke. Perfect.)

So, this season didn’t go exactly as planned. I think that’s safe to say. No one expected to see our 4 and 5 guys in the rotation hit the DL list after one start a piece. No one expected that September would be littered with call-ups. No one expected the Cubs to let Hendry steer the ship after being let go. However, all of that is exactly what happened.

With Hendry out as Cubs GM, the organization, the players and the fans are looking for a new direction. A new face to put on the team, responsible for making Wrigley Field the greatest magnet school in all the land for the most talented ballplayers in the world. Ricketts may own the team. His brother may go on Undercover Boss and his sister and others may do a great job with the community and representing the team as whole in various public appearances. I believe they do all of those things. Thing is, the most important thing this team needs to do in order to get us back in the win column over and over again in 2012 and beyond is figure out which mixture of players it is going to take to make this team feeling like Leonardo on the Titanic.

Enough with the deck chair shuffling. Let’s actually right this ship.

In order to do that, some huge decisions need to be made. Leave Pena at first or chase after Prince Fielder or King Albert. All of them have their positives and negatives. To try and decipher which of the three will have  a better 2012 or a greater impact on the overall success of the franchise in the coming years is about as guaranteed as playing a scratch off or purchasing a LOTTO ticket. More than likely, what is actually going to happen, is the Cubs will do their due diligence in analyzing the numbers (both the stat lines and the potential salary requests) and then hope for the best. More than likely, for any of three to succeed, the process is going to be less like putting together a strategy to win at Keno and more like simply finding joy in the fact that you found a twenty dollar bill in a jacket pocket that you had no idea you had coming in the first place.

Sometimes, you can do all you can and really, while the effort matters, it’s that little bit of luck that makes the difference in the end. Pena. Fielder. Pujols. Is there a wrong answer in the bunch? No. Is there a right one? Perhaps.

Across the diamond at third base presents another issue for the future GM to solve. Our-Ramis may be someone else’s ‘Ramis’ next season. Is there a better option at third base in the organization or across the league when looking at the vast majority of hot corner handlers in the bigs, than Ramirez? Not really. He is currently hitting .306 with 25 HRs, 92 RBI and 79 runs scored. Still, does he do anything for himself in selling the point to keep him a Cub for 2012 and not buy him out for $2million dollars by possibly exiting his final game as a Cub at Wrigley with a quadricep injury? It doesn’t exactly spell out c-o-n-f-i-d-e-n-c-e.

And it’s not just Rami. This team is old.

We’ve been old for a couple of years now and we are getting older. In fact, I would go as far as saying we were old in 2007. Thing is, when you are winning the Central division in back to back seasons (with a follow up in 2008), you look around the vending concession stations at Wrigley and you hardly notice the beer nozzles any longer. When you are atop the Central, they feel less like Old Style spouts and more like fountains of youth.

Cut to 2011. We didn’t win the division. Not even close. Despite the emergence of Castro, Barney and Campana we are still very, very old. While the rest of the team is giving it their all, as best as they possible can muster up, sometimes it feels a lot like a bunch old, fun ballplayers playing a game they either love, or used to love more than they do now, trying to keep up with a few whipper-snappers looking to play endlessly despite the fact that their older playmates simply can’t keep up.

One of our oldest and most favorite Cubs is also probably no longer going to be on the field next year. With a season ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, I believe it is time to finally cut ties with Kerry Wood. Do I like Kerry Wood? Of course. What Cubs fan doesn’t? Do I wish his wife’s name was Holly? A little. Do I feel his time with the team has run it’s course? Unfortunately, yes. I understand Kerry is willing to give up some wealth in order to play for his beloved team, however, the team can no longer save the wealth and in return lose on health. Wood is simply too risky to rely on in the bullpen role we need him in going forward. Did I think a 7-8-9 setup of Marshall, Wood and Marmol was the strongest potential combo back in April? I sure did. Do I now? No.

Unfortunately, it is time to move Kerry off the field and into some role with the team if Ricketts sees fit to do so. Their special assistant to the GM announced his retirement yesterday. Perhaps that’s a role fit for Kerry. Of course, it’s a lot easier to assist a GM, even in a special capacity when you actually have a GM to assist.

The names of folks that may take over the GM role are at times inspiring, at times hilarious and at times down right horrifying. I would love to see someone with a winning track record come in and embrace the ambiance and environment and intangibles that comes along with being a part of the Cubs. However, I want them to take that, compartmentalize it and then use a winning season….no….many winning seasons to enhance why those things are so great. Because, those things are great, however, even those intangibles aren’t enough of a foundation to make this team what it can be. What we want it to be.

The Cubs are a special organization. In a recent trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was fun to see the plaques of Dawson, Sandberg, Fergie and Ernie. It was even more fascinating to see the plaques and exhibits regarding winners such as Tinker, Evers and Chance. Those Cubs teams are from another time. Another millenium even. I understand that. I mean, you want to talk about being old, those guys are dead. Thing is, that level of success, their level of success with this ballclub is what the current owners, future GM and fanbase need to recognize, expect and aim for.

We have the greatest team in baseball to call our own. They need to do all they can so that we not only call them our own, but also be able to call them the ultimate title in the game: World Champions.

Go Cubs Go!

Hendry out, Irene in.

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Obviously there is a lot to talk about. Thing is, I’m putting the computer on higher ground to protect it among other things from Hurricane Irene. We’re evacuating the city for a couple of days and I’ll be back to talk about all things Cubs once I do. Wish us luck. We get water in our place with a small thunderstorm. This one is going to be a disaster.

Go Cubs Go! And Irene, simply Go Away.

Prosecard from Cubs Nation – Chris Jelinek

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The Cubs have won four straight series and 11 of their last 14 games. On the other hand, Zambrano has quit on the team and Casey Coleman is on his way back to the majors. Never a dull moment with this team and quite frankly, we’re all in this together.

It’s fun to meet other Cubs fans and hear what they think of the season and why they root for the Cubs. In this interview series, I get to do just that. Today’s installment of Prosecard from Cubs Nation is with Chris Jelinek. A Cubs fan since the he was born, he like the rest of us, is still waiting to see the Cubs win it all. You both have so much in common, why not check it out?! Enjoy…Chris Jelinek and his Prosecard from Cubs Nation:

1. Name: Chris Jelinek

2. How long have you been a Cubs fan? Why do you root for the Cubs?:   I have been a Cubs fan since the day I was born (17 years ago). I became a Cubs fan because my dad was and always had the game on. Whenever I came home from school, I would be watching or waiting for the Cubs games to come on. I had the Cubs starting lineup memorized when I was about 7 years old. Always have been and always will be a Cubs fan.

3.  Have you ever seen the Cubs play on the road? What was that experience like? If not, which stadium would you want to see them play in on the road? What do you love about Wrigley?  Yes, I have been to a Cubs game at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and I just recently went to the Crosstown Classic at US Cellular Field. I love Wrigley Field but sometimes it’s cool to see a road game. Fortunately, both road games I went to the Cubs won. I really enjoyed the game at US cellular field because of the rivalry. Cubs won 6-2 so that made the experience a lot better and I got to have bragging rights for the night.

4. At the trade deadline, what moves do you want to see Hendry make? (interview took place before the trade deadline):  Right now I would like to see Hendry possibly clear up some cap space to make a strong push for Pujols or Fielder. Personally, I really like Ramirez, but if possibly I would like to see Soriano and Fukudome get traded. But with Soriano’s contract that will obviously be a tough task. I think Hendry needs to find some good pitching prospects, which are almost ready for the big leagues. So basically, prepare a team that appeals to free agents.

5. What was your impression of the team based on the first half of the season? What are your expectations for the second half?   I didn’t have really high expectations for the Cubs this year, but the first half was terrible. Unfortunately, there were a lot of injuries but that is no excuse. The first half was definitely one to forget, but I was impressed with Castro and Barney. For the second half I’m expecting a close to .500 team. I would like to see top prospect, Brett Jackson, get some playing time and big league experience.

6. You are the Cubs’ GM for a day. What is your first order of business?   If I was the Cubs GM for the day, I would fire Mike Quade and try to hire a manager who has a good playoff record or just experience (Maybe Joe Torre or Joe Girardi). Then after that I would focus on making roster moves. But I believe an experienced manager is what the Cubs really need next year.

7. You are in charge of the Miller Lite ad in right field. Against NL Central opponents, what would you have the sign say?
Astros- “ Houston landed, we have no problem. Cubs will win a series”
Brewers- “Enjoy a victory drink as the Cubs finish the Brew”
Cardinals- “Come watch the Cubs sweep the Cardinals. It will be a like a “Holliday” in the city.
Pirates- “If the Cubs beat the Pirates it will be a safe sail to the division title”
Reds- “Come watch the Cubs keep on “Rolen” as they attempt to beat division rival Cincinnati Reds”

8.  Which Cubs team since 2000 has been your favorite and why?  My favorite Cubs team since 2000 would have to be the 2008 team. Even though they failed in the playoffs, it was a fun team to watch all year. I loved Mark Derosa and his love for the game and willingness to do whatever it took to win a ballgame. And I loved Rich Harden, so when the Cubs made a move for him I was really excited but unfortunately that club didn’t do anything in October.

9. Are there any former Cubs you kept an eye on and followed their career after they left the Cubs?   Definitely. Sammy Sosa was my favorite player growing up, so when he went to Baltimore and Texas I always checked up on him and his HR count. And it may sound strange but I have kept an eye on Mark Prior. I always have wanted to see if he could come back. I also check up on D Lee and Ted Lilly.

10.  You get to write the headline for the Tribune the day after the Cubs win the Series. Give a few examples of headlines you would run:  First headline would be, “The Curse is Reversed! Cubs are World Series Champs!” Second would be, “The Drought is finally over, after 103 years the Cubs have won the pennant!” Third would be, “Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes! Cubs Win the World Series!” The fourth would be, “Cubs Fans, It’s not a dream, The Cubs have won the World Series!” And the last one would be, “Hey, Hey, Hey! Cubs have won the World Series!”

11.  You need to choose a current Cubs player to do one of the following things: attend a bachelor’s party, babysit your kid, handle a business transaction, run the team next season. Who would you select for each and why? I would probably take Matt Garza to the bachelor party because he is always on the edge of the dugout, cheering for the team. So he would probably be a funny guy to have at a party. I would have Ryan Dempster babysit my kids because he is always good with fans at the ballpark and he would probably be a responsible guy to babysit kids. I would have Kerry Wood help with a business transaction because he seems to run a lot of charity events and he would probably be the best Cub to help run a business. And finally, I would have Marlon Byrd run the team. Very enthusiastic player who would be good with motivating players and helping them with mistakes. He has also been around the game for a while now so I would trust that he would have an idea of how the run a ball club.

12. You are selected to write an article about what it was like to be a Cubs fan in 2011. It will be placed in a time capsule and opened in 2111. What would you want to tell those baseball fans of the future? I would tell them our suffering has continued this year. It has been 103 years without a World Series but hopefully one will come soon. We have a young superstar coming up, Starlin Castro. Hopefully you think of Castro they way we think of Cubs great Ernie Banks. And most of all, hopefully the Cubs win multiple World Series titles before 2111.

13. How would you celebrate a Cubs World Series victory?  My Celebration would start inside Wrigley Field because I would be at the game. I would stay at the ballpark celebrating with thousands of fans until the stadium closes. After that, I would party in Wrigleyville all night. I would get a hotel room for about a week and just stay and party in the city for days. I would get the parade and rally site at about 2 or 3 A.M to make sure I’m close to the stage. The parade would be key to the celebration because it will be the most insane thing Chicago has ever seen.

14.  You have to make a choice. Either change the exterior of Wrigley incuding the marquee, or make changes to the scoreboard. One or the other. Which would you change? I would change the scoreboard. I love the scoreboard but I wish there was an opportunity for fans the see replays. I don’t’ want them to change the scoreboard but if came down between the two I would choose the scoreboard. Maybe they can sell the scoreboard and that can help pay Prince Fielder (joking).

Thank you to Chris for playing along and agreeing to be interviewed for this installment of Prosecard from Cubs Nation. If you are interested in being the next Cubs fan to be interviewed, email me at maloney_ryan@yahoo.com or send me a DM on Twitter, @proseandivy and I’ll send you some questions! Go Cubs Go!

Z time has come

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That’s it. It’s over.

Last year we saw Zambrano go from demoted Opening Day starter, to average joe member of the rotation, relegated to the bullpen, off the roster altogether and then back on the team throwing like the effective Zambrano we all know and love.

Effective Zambrano is not coming back this season. Likely, not at all.

Zambrano gave up five home runs to the Atlanta Braves, threw a couple more pitches at Chipper Jones and was ejected from an otherwise uneventful outing. On Bobby Cox night at Turner Field, the Braves were retiring Cox’s number six for the many pennants he helped lead the team to. Never to be out done, Zambrano must have figured, go ahead, retire a number. I’m going to retire altogether.

Zambrano headed to the locker room, cleaned out his things and announced to the Cubs staff that he will be retiring. Blee-blee…blee-blee-blee…that’s all folks.

Zambrano has always had a battle with inner demons. On many nights, he came out the victor and was able to quiet the crazy and pitch the Cubs to a W. On the other nights, Zambrano lost to the demons, lost his control and then lost the game for the Cubs. Worse than contributing a string of not-s0-quality starts? Quitting on your team completely. Walking off the field after being ejected and taking his anger out on Larry ‘Chipper’ Jones, was another start to a horrific outburst by Z. This time, he took it too far. Emotions get hot. Words can be said. Fists may be thrown. It’s not to be tolerated but at least it happens in the heat of the battle. Fighting so hard to help his team, the venom has spilled over a couple of times and led Zambrano to physically attack teammates in the dugout. I believe quitting on them altogether is even worse.

Quitting delivers no fight. It delivers no effort. It only makes you stand out as a loser. As someone who can’t be counted on. As someone who can’t be expected to ride the highs and lows of a season until the story plays itself out come September or October. It’s a long time from April once the fall comes around. The summer is filled with excruciating hot days and a ton of frustration to go along with some wins that make it all worth while. That’s simply the game of baseball. You need to have 25 men altogether willing to keep their hands and feet inside the car and mostly all times and go along for the ride together. Otherwise, you haven’t got a chance.

Zambrano quit on his team and in quitting there is no way for you to give your team a chance. Quade saw that and that is why he berated Zambrano to the media. He didn’t know where he was. He had 24 other guys battling their butts off in Atlanta. Hot, steamy, frustrating to play Atlanta. Atlanta is a good team. The entire National League is chasing Atlanta for the wild card spot. You need everyone in if you’re going to have a chance to go home victorious. The Cubs were lucky to pull out the series victory. Of course, the two games they won? The ones where Zambrano wasn’t pitching, leading the way.

Zambrano, I have always argued, makes the Cubs stronger. Despite the craziness, his talent made this team stronger. Made this team a contender. Sure, their record shows otherwise this year despite Zambrano’s starts. However, now, I believe it is time to say goodbye to Zambrano. He can go anywhere he wants. Good luck finding a team willing to put up with a quitter who is a hot head to boot. Oh, I’m sure he’ll find some contender willing to take a chance on him. Teams have taken chances on worse in the past. However, whomever it is that takes the shot on Zambrano, they need to understand that they are getting garbage. A cramping, hot-headed, unpredictable, lousy teammate, quitting piece of garbage. If you feel a couple of wins might be worth a shot, then go for it. I doubt it will play out favorably.

The Cubs have banned Z from the team completely and he is not being paid for the time. 30 days he has been banned from the team. On the ‘disqualified’ list. Banned. That is a strong word. Disqualified and banned. A couple of words I’m sure no great player wants on their resume. Great players don’t need to worry about it though. They are usually not headcases. And if they are, they usually find a way to avoid the tags of ‘disqualified’ or ‘banned’. I mean, how many great players can you think of that have been disqualified or banned from their team? I can’t think of one.

I can think of a talented player who has extreme mental issues and can’t get a grip on the demons to hang in there and help his team out down the stretch, quitting on them, their fans and the organization after five lousy home runs. I can think of ‘that guy’. Unfortunately, ‘that guy’ was one of ours. Well, is one of ours. For how long though, is yet to be seen.

After 30 days has passed, depending on how this works (can the team trade him if he’s on the DQ list?) when he returns, it needs to be a quick ‘make sure you grab everything out of your locker, Z. The bananas, too.’ type of return. And then back out the door he goes. No therapy. No bullpen assignment. No more games. Proverbial or scheduled.

Zambrano’s time is up. He needs to no longer be a Cub. ASAP.

Go Cubs Go!

New today for Baseball Digest – Christy Mathewson Feature

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Let’s kick this one off with a quick poll.

No dwelling on it. Answer with whichever choice comes to mind naturally after hearing the question.

Which Fab Five was more impressive: Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson…or…Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson?

(I’ll wait for you to stop laughing and then we can carry on with the rest of the piece).

The latter group in the poll represents the very first group of major league baseball players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In 1936, the five men were the first to receive the game’s greatest honor and set the bar for all to follow.  The last name on the list, Mathewson, was born on this day in 1880.

From Factoryville, Pennsylvania, Mathewson grew up playing multiple sports, earning recognition for his skills in baseball and football while attending Bucknell University. Factoryville celebrates Christy Mathewson Day every year on the Saturday closest to his birthday. Bucknell University’s football stadium is named Christy Mathewson Memorial. However, it was his performance on the baseball field that truly cemented his legacy.

Click here to read the entire article. Go Cubs Go!

Unveiling Santo: The fans’ statue

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That’s not a bad idea for a blog. Thing is, I don’t cook.

Cooking is not a passion of mine. Baseball is. And no, I don’t believe Amy Adams should play me in the film adaptation of Prose and Ivy, should there be one. Not that she couldn’t pull it off. I just don’t see it. Have fun suggesting people that should be cast to do so if the time comes in the comments. (why not)

While odd to feature ‘Julie and Julia’ in a post about Santo, still, I like the way Julia Childs not only inspired Adams’ character to do something creative, but also made her feel like everything is going to be alright. She helped steer her further into enjoying and delving into her passion while still making her feel like she wasn’t alone in it all. She was someone she could relate to because they shared the same passion.

I post it because in a way, I believe Ron Santo did the same thing for Cubs fans. In this case, pass10n.

I would suspect that Santo didn’t have a killer bouef bourguignon recipe to share with foodies. He more than likely owned the Cubs cookbook that has been on-sale for charity. However, his gift to Cubs fans wasn’t something you could cook up on a stove or in an oven. Granted, Wrigley Field can hit over 100 degrees on the heat index in the middle of July or August, still, Santo’s gift was his everyman-ness. The fact that Santo seemed to be one of us.

I would also suspect that there are many Cubs fans around ‘Julie’s age who look back on a ballgame that their mother or father took them to. When they share the story with others, perhaps in their best Meg Ryan impression as Adams does here, they get to the part about how they looked upon beautiful Wrigley Field down against the wall along the third base line and it was then that their parent pointed out their all-time favorite ballplayer. However, it wasn’t just any ballplayer. It was Ron Santo. One of the greatest players to wear a Cubs uniform. A man that was loved on and off the field for nearly five decades. It wasn’t just some ballplayer their parent wanted them to see. No. This was RON SANTO.

He cared and wasn’t afraid to share his feelings. He loved the Cubs as the Cubs loved him back. He displayed a passion for the game and the team as a player and then later as a broadcaster. His cheers and groans in the booth came across as a ventriloquist’s act. We as the fans were the ventriloquist and while Santo may have been saying what we wanted to say, if we did say it, it wouldn’t be the same. Often, the sports fans’ voice isn’t heard as if the lips are not moving. Santo gave Cubs fans a voice in the booth and it was a continuation of a special relationship between the two, Santo and the fans.

Watching Santo react after a Cubs win seemed as if a fan had won a contest to suit up for the day and play third base. Certainly many Cubs showed pride and enthusiasm after a Cubs victory throughout the years, but not in an as memorable fashion as Santo. His heel-click, signature celebration displayed the same type of excitement and eutopia-like bliss a fan feels after riding the roller coaster that nine innings of a baseball game can deliver. Any time Santo performed his trademark heel-click, it was if a fan had run onto the field to celebrate with the players and instead of being tackled and arrested, the security guards gave him a uniform and a high-five.

The fan in Santo is what separated him from the rest of the Cubs. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, no doubt about it. Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Billy Williams, Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins among others have all found a place in Cubs’ lore and Cubs fans’ hearts. However, arguably, no Cub was more relatable than Santo. Cub fans loved the Cubs. Santo loved the Cubs. Cubs fans loved Santo and the feeling was mutual. He loved the city. He loved playing at Wrigley Field and more than anything he wanted to bring a championship to Chicago and its fans.

The Santo statue is going to be unveiled today at 5:30pm CT. I can’t imagine that they molded it to take any pose other than the heel-clicking Santo celebration. It is the proper thing to do. It is the only thing to do. To build a Santo statue…as soon as that was agreed upon…I’m guessing the next lines of that meeting went something like: “Great. So, the heel-click, yes?” “Yes.” “Done.”

The statue is going to be unveiled next to the Billy Williams statue, over by the Captain Morgan Club. A perfect location if you ask me. Right over by an area known for fans coming together to celebrate or commisorate over their Cubs. Right by the corner where fans often parade off the L on their way to Wrigley. Right by Williams, another Cubs great. Putting Santo among the greats yet also amongst the fans is the perfect placement.

I look forward to hearing what is written on the statue base. It will be a bittersweet moment for the Santo family, I’m sure, as Ronnie won’t be around to enjoy it with them. The great part about the Santo statue though is that in a way, from now on, he will always will be there, on our side, like one great big good fairy, to quote our surprise casting in Adams, here. A permanent fixture outside of Wrigley, putting the heel-clicking exclamation mark on a Cubs’ win and serving as a reminder that Cubs fans aren’t alone in this after a loss. Great times have existed and while they may be few and far between, the team will continue to reach for that ultimate gift back to the fans. A championship.

It may not happen this year or next or the year after that. However, it will be a great reminder that it hasn’t been for a lack of trying or caring. The players may display some sloppiness and laziness here and there throughout the season and we may receive some bums here and there who truly don’t care. However, Santo is one that did. He cared very much and the feeling from the fans was mutual. It may take some time (even if it’s more than we’d like), but we’re all in this together and everything is going to be okay.

What Santo means to this organization is something that deserves a statue outside of Wrigley, especially seeing how much the organization meant to Santo.

Banks, Williams, Harry and now Santo. And in a way, it will honor the passion and love for the team that the fans hold as well.

Congratulations, Ron. You deserve this honor and I look forward to seeing it soon. Go Cubs Go!

UPDATED: 8/10/11 7:15pm CT: The statue has been unveiled and it really is impressive. Not the heel-clicking pose I expected, but still. A beaut’. Congratulations to Ron and the entire Santo family. Nice job, Cubs. Well done.

photo credit: @CubsInsider

New today for Baseball Digest – Deion Sanders Feature

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Few athletes have had an impact on the MLB, NFL and our overall cultural landscape the way Deion ‘Prime Time’ Sanders did. While never a Cub, his story is an interesting one for baseball fans in general. If you have a minute, take a look!

Excerpt:

If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would have been written not in the morning, but in prime time.

If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would include a link at the bottom of the page leading to its continuation at NFL.com.

If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would include not only a link to a previous Baseball Digest print edition mention of Sanders’ career, it would include a video making it stand out among the rest, done in Flash.

Read the entire article by clicking here!

Go Cubs Go!

Prose and Ivy Tweet of the Day

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Go Cubs Go!

This kid is awesome.

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I’m guessing this kid hates the trade deadline, too. If he reacts like this when his favorite player hands him a baseball, imagine how he’d react to hearing the player was traded.

Fukudome to the Indians. Hopefully there aren’t any little Cubs fans who love Fukudome as much as this kid loves Josh Beckett.

Fukudome wasn’t the answer for the Cubs. Helped us capture a division crown in ’08 and that was about it. A hard worker and a class act but statistically, he didn’t quite live up to the sales pitch. I wish you well in Cleveland, Fukudome. Another former Cub I’ll keep an eye in his post-Cubs career.

Go Cubs Go!

New today for Baseball Digest – Bump Wills Feature

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There are many people in the world who share July 27th as the date they were born.

I’m not so sure any of them have as cool of a name as former Cub, Bump Wills. I wrote this article for today’s Baseball Digest. Happy birthday there, Bump. Check out the excerpt and then click the link to see the entire write-up.

Alex Rodriguez. Leo Durocher. Joe Tinker.

A future Hall of Famer, a current Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform of all-time.

What do they all have in common? They were all born on today’s date, July 27. What else do they have in common? I decided not to focus today’s feature on any of them.

Those three names are well known. We know about A-Rod and how he quickly reached the 500 mark, and then not long after that, the 600 plateau in home run calculations. We know about the BALCO findings, and that he finally admitted to using substances in the early part of the new millenium. We know that he came up with Seattle, signed the largest contract in MLB with the Texas Rangers at 10 years/$252 million and then topped that with a 10 years/$272 million contract when he joined the New York Yankees. We know about his willingness to play third base because Jeter was already the captain and resident of the shortstop position with the Yankees and of course, we know about the ‘Cameron and the popcorn’ incident. (I like calling it an incident. Makes it seem like a big deal while of course, it was not).

Durocher? We know that he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1994 by the veterans committee, won at least 500 games with three different teams, is listed tenth all-time in victories by a manager and finally put an end to the horrible ‘College of Coaches‘ idea that existed with P.K. Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs.

Speaking of the Chicago Cubs, baseball historians and poetry fans alike are well-versed in the likes of Joe Tinker. The man that leads off in the ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance’ poem helped lead the Chicago Cubs through their greatest decade and their last world championship in the early 1900′s.

The three of them have been celebrated time and time again. I have decided they’ve had their birthday cake and eaten, too. (In the case of Rodriguez, it may have even been fed to him by Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson or some other Hollywood startlet). To truly celebrate a birthday in this space and recognize a player few know anything about and some know very little, we need to highlight the career of the deserving, yet relatively unknown.

I present to you: Elliot Taylor ‘Bump’ Wills.

Go Cubs Go!

VIDEO ARCHIVE: (1/6/10) The Hawk is in!

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Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar are about to enjoy a day bestowed upon very few. After stellar MLB careers, numerous awards and endless accolades the two of them will find themselves inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Bert and Roberto. Honors definitely well deserved.

Andre Dawson finally received the call to the Hall, literally, on January 6, 2010. One of my favorite Cubs achieving the accomplishment was a thrill to me as it was long coming, much deserved and only the second time a Cub who spent their glory years in the thick of the decade I grew up in got the call to join the elite of the game. I was disappointed to hear later that the Hall would put Dawson in under the Expos cap despite the Hawk’s wishes, however, the honor is what matters and after the career Dawson had in Montreal, Chicago, Boston and Florida, the last appropriate place for him to call home was Cooperstown.

In honor of Hawk and the rest of the Cubs in the Hall, plus to commemorate Baseball Hall of Fame weekend, here is the video I shot on the day Dawson was elected to be a member of the HOF. Finding out the news at work, in the middle of a quiet training made it tough to contain myself as you’ll hear. I couldn’t wait to rant about it that evening. Check it out:

Congratulations to Bert and Roberto. Always a special day no matter who has received the call. Looking forward to it (along with potentially the first three game winning streak of the season for the Cubs. Great game by Wells today. A clutch start to prove he still belongs in the rotation was definitely needed. The win gave us the first series win after losing nine straight. I think it’s time to shed the ‘only MLB team without a three game win streak’ label next).

Go Cubs Go!

Cubs reach game 100. You know what that means? Syndication!

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The magic number all television shows try to reach is 100. If you can churn out quality content or at the very least, quality ratings (the two almost always go hand in hand, except for Glee. Glee is a show with ratings I could never even begin to explain) for the networks to keep you around long enough, then you have a shot at accomplishing production of 100 episodes. The golden number.

Why is it so golden? Because if you reach 100 times on the air, each time with original content, then you qualify for networks to pick you up on syndication where you live on in re-runs forever and ever and ever. It’s how you maintain a legacy unlike the other shows that never made it. It’s how you become Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens or Frasier instead of say, The Paul Reiser Show. (Poor Paul Reiser. That show should have just ripped off Larry David’s formula since it called itself out on it anyway, lost the friends and just focused on Paul. I still think there’s a place for Paul Reiser on network television. Just needs to find a vehicle people are mad about again).

If footage of the Cubs’ 2011 season were simply various installments of a long-running television show, we would have just witnessed the 100th original episode airing today and the folks at RBC (Ricketts Broadcasting Company) could celebrate the opportunity to rank in millions upon millions in syndication money. The money the networks would pay to air the shows. The money the advertisers would pay to sell their products in reruns. It would all add up over time and today would have been a momentous occasion to be celebrated. Yes, a 4-2 win over the lowly Houston Astros in your 100th game of the season is something to smile about, too. But in this hypothetical world we’re talking about syndication here. The opportunity to re-live and enjoy some of our favorite moments in ‘Cubs 2011’ history over and over again until the end of time.

Take these classic episodes that can live on in re-run lore for years to come, for instance:

The Wrigley Bunch” – Marmol and Zambrano aren’t getting along. Zambrano blames the team’s problems on Marmol and Marmol, cast as the team’s middle reliever can’t get away from media statements that perhaps Marshall would better serve as the club’s closer. Marmol melts down with his now classic outburst of “Marshall, Marshall, Marshall!” A favorite moment among Cubs fans everywhere.

Different Folks” – Wells and Cashner go down with injuries and Quade is put in a rather uncomfortable situation of trying to replace his number four and five starters. Half a dozen new cast members are brought in and rotated to fill the roles. Among them, newcomer Casey Coleman is cast as the promising young replacement pitcher who struggles through outing after outing. While mostly a dramatic time in the series, Coleman does end up with one of the most memorable lines in the history of the series: “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Riggins?”. T-shirt and toy companies pick up on the pop culture trail the line is blazing and kids all over Cubs nation are seen wearing the shirts and saying the line.

Family Tries” – The organization has a plan going into the draft. After much collaborating they decide it would be best to try and draft talent that will help the club in the future. A plan that most others would think to be obvious, however, for this comedic ensemble, nothing is obvious. They plan to draft the son of a famous, popular, successful athlete to come up through the ranks and become another great baseball player. The problem? They get the kid and sign him, only the former great athlete that produced this draft pick? Wayne Gretzky. Interesting strategy. Hilarious outcome.

T*R*E*N*D*S” – The one where Carlos Marmol blows a save. This will be a recurring theme appearing throughout the series and fans will recognize the storyline coming a mile away. The producers, not quite sure how to get it just right, will attempt the story nearly 10 times over the course of the 100 episodes. A heartwarming season where Zambrano consoles Marmol after new teen heart-throb, Ramon Ortiz does laps with Marmol to try and get his head right with a classic ‘I’ll be there for you’ highlights the story arc. Marmol ends up getting his act together in the end and the problem is once again solved in the thirty minute alloted story window.

Judge Quade” – Sassy, take no-guff, judge of talent, team manager Mike Quade is the focus of this highlight/Best Of show, one of the last to air before the 100th episode came to fruition. Blowouts with umpires with Quade judging their calls of outs around the bases, an argument with Ryan Dempster, starting pitcher and fundraiser extraordinaire at the top of the dugout steps as a result of Judge Quade judging it was time to take Demp out early and an animated conversation between Quade, team all-star Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney about how to judge balls in the sun based on previous case precedents are just part of the fun with this classic Cubs episode.

100 original airings of Cubs 2011 and there are sixty-two more to come. The hi-jinx, comedy, drama, mystery and despair is what has made the series one of the more interesting things to watch this year. Critics have complained the cast is too old and it’s time to bring in new talent. Time to write off the old. Producers are still dealing with how exactly the series is going to end and what exactly the story arc will be. Once they have figured it out, they should know better what type of casting will need to be done. Then again, depending on the talent available for the next part of the season, they might simply work around the cast and the script will take care of itself.

Cubs baseball was on the air 100 times already this season. Sixty-two more to go. The hypothetical allows the celebration of syndication and an incredible opportunity. In reality, we’re looking at fifth place in the Central (40-60) and hope that the second half makes up for the complications we’ve seen in the first half.

The Astros are a good team to have in town to re-work this Cubs 2011 script. I’ve seen the first 10o episodes and let me tell you, a rewrite might not be possible, but it sure could use a whole new direction. Tomorrow, hopefully, the re-work does in fact continue. Go Cubs Go!

“I’ll trade you my apple and box of Lunchables for your delicious chocolate pudding snack”

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Alfonso Soriano. Marlon Byrd. Aramis Ramirez. Kosuke Fukudome. John Grabow. Carlos Marmol.

I hate the trade deadline. I seriously hate it.

Like a thirsty man lying in the middle of desert with vultures swarming all around him (or in our case, seagulls). You lie there fighting to stay alive while they flock in groups just waiting for you to finally give up.

Or like a meal during Sunday dinner when you’re sitting there eating your food, some of it just alright, some of it you’re not so sure about whether you want to eat it or not or maybe save it for later. Fat relatives who have already had their share, sitting there bored yet happy with their bellies full of delicious goodness, enjoying the best part of their day yet they still feel the need to lean over with their grubby paws and their silver forks asking that annoying question ‘are you done with that? can I have it?’ only without the decency to wait until you’ve decided you actually are done and finished with this year’s meal.

You know what? NO! I’m not done with it. Maybe I just want to play with food a little while longer if you don’t mind. What are you in such a rush for? You’re clearly happy with the meal you’ve eaten. Gloating in your head of the table chair at the meal you produced and amazingly effective you were in consuming it all and beating the rest of us to the finish line. Now you have the gall to sit there and try to take the best parts of my meal, or the scraps I’m not so sure whether I want any longer before I officially stop trying myself? That is just wrong.

Or like a kid sitting in his school cafeteria. Off in the corner while the cool kids celebrate their popularity and their yearbook signatures and their game winning kickball run they scored in recess a period earlier, for the third day in a row. Just sitting there with his misfit toy lunch of random, no name-brand pieces to eat except perhaps one delicious pride and joy in the entire brown bag lunch. Eating the rest of it because you have to, pieces that no one else would ever want and no one else in the room, all those hot lunch eaters got to avoid sitting in the position you’re in looking at the roster of so called ‘edible treats’ you’ve been dealt to ‘enjoy’ that day. Sitting there trying to decide when to call it a day with all of that so that you can get to the one piece that actually makes all of your lunches worth experiencing. And then those kids who have it all. Those kids who don’t want for anything, have the nerve to come over with what they’ve projected as scraps (probably even pieces they bullied from other kids) and try to deal with you to get your amazing, pudding snack.

“Hey, kid”, they say. “I’ll trade you this apple and a box of ‘Lunchables’ for your chocolate pudding, right here, right now.”

“What?!? An apple and a box of Lunchables for my chocolate pudding? Seriously? What am I going to do with an apple and a lunchable?”

“Kid, look”, they say. “We sit across from you in the same cafeteria day after day after day. We know what you bring to the table. We’ve seen your lunches all year and quite honestly, they’re mediocre at best.”

This doesn’t help at all.

“Look at our lunches”, they say. “Our lunches are amazing. Every thing about them, stellar. Your pudding is being wasted on a lunch that is hardly even average day in a day out. You add an apple and a box of Lunchables to your lunch and now we’re starting to get somewhere. You take your chocolate pudding and put it in my lunch bag? I have the best lunch in the cafeteria.”

It’s hard to argue with.

“Come on”, they say. “You’ve enjoyed the chocolate pudding long enough. You could use a new direction. Give me the pudding. Let me use it and help it hit it’s full potential as a contributor to the best lunch in school. You’re wasting what it brings to the table. Come on. Take the apple and lunchables. You may not like it now, but later I believe you’ll really come around to the idea. What do you say?”

“What do I say? Hmm….how about I say NO. Stop! I’m not done yet. Alright?!? I’m not done with the food on my plate so take your little greedy forks and back off. I’m not so sure I’m ready to stop putting up a fight so the vultures and look around for another body and see what they can pick off of them. And as for the chocolate pudding? What’s the rush?!? It’s July 21st. Technically I have another 10 days or so to enjoy my chocolate pudding before I can’t take your apple and Lunchables. I LIKE having my chocolate pudding. It’s what makes the lunch enjoyable. Sure the rest of it is below average, but it’s my lunch and my decision and I just may stick with it.

I know you need the chocolate pudding. I know what it could do for your lunch. Make you even cooler. Make what you bring to the table the best in the cafe. Well, I’m not so sure that I’m done with it yet. And I’m not so sure I don’t want to save it for later.

So back off. Give me some room. And let me think about this. I’m not so crazy about your stupid apple and box of Lunchables even though it may be better for me in the long run. And you fat relatives at the dinner table who already had enough to eat…same goes for you.

Everybody just chill out. I understand it looks like I have a lot for you to take. I understand why you want to take it. However, thing is. Maybe I’m not done yet. And maybe, just maybe…I want to save it for later.”

That’s what the trade deadline feels like to me.

I don’t like it.

Go Cubs Go!

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NEW FEATURE: “The Beat”

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I figured today would be a great opportunity to kick off a new feature on Prose and Ivy called, “The Beat”. Given that the Cubs (along with the rest of MLB) are off today, why not use the time to present you a little something different?

Last night’s All-Star Game featured 68 of the greatest players in the game today. 34 of them were admitted into the All-Star Game Rookie Class of 2011, making their first All-Star appearances. Starlin Castro was one of the rookie stand outs with two stolen bases and the recording of the game’s final out. While the game counted for home-field advantage in the World Series yet again, tomorrow the game results will once again reflect in the overall standings and the Cubs will begin their second-half of the season digging out of the hole they have created for themselves.

One of the surprise MLB teams of the first half and one of the squads the Cubs are chasing in the NL Central are the Pittsburgh Pirates. At one game behind the Brewers and Cardinals, the Pirates have accomplished what many thought was still a couple years away – contending in what is always a tight, competitive division. A great story, the Pirates are giving their fans a lot to cheer about and the impact the team is having as a surprise standout squad must be fun for those covering the team on a daily basis.

This article is to kick off a new feature here about beat reporters. Hence, I’ve named the feature “The Beat”. Writing about a major league baseball team day in and day out is a thrill for anyone with the means to communicate with a vast audience. However, beat reporters have access like no one else. They are with the team every day and are the connection between fan and organization. Social media is making the distance between the two grow smaller and smaller, with different blog platforms available and networks such as Facebook and Twitter. However, it’s the beat reporters that know the little nuances of the individual players and the team as a whole the best and have the inside scoop on the teams’ daily operations.

To go from blogger to beat reporter is a jump many bloggers dream of making. My interview for this first installment of “The Beat” is with Kristy Robinson who recently accomplished just that.

A Pittsburgh Pirates beat reporter for Ohio Valley Athletics, Kristy Robinson has what you call ‘a dream job’. I asked her about the opportunity she landed this season and what it’s been like for her to cover her favorite team at the professional level. Here is what she had to say:

Tell me about your experience writing an MLBlog. When did you start writing, how long did you keep it fresh with consistently original content and how did that opportunity lead to covering the Pittsburgh Pirates as a beat reporter for Ohio Valley Athletics?

KR: I started writing my MLBlog during January of 2010. I originally started it because I had just bought a season ticket with the Pirates and wanted to share my experience with that. After a few months, and people started reading it, I turned it over to be more informative. I’ve wanted to be a reporter for a long time and the response I got from it was incredible. I updated the site everyday, multiple times a day. I had such a great time writing on ‘Hands off my Pirates Booty’ and was sad I had to stop posting on that site. But I’m so grateful for that experience because Its lead me to where I am today.

I saved every penny I could and used it for a trip to Spring Training this March. I went for eight days and did coverage from the Major League camp to the Minor Leagues and provided everything I could get my hands on. That experience, and hard work, is what landed me the job I have today. When I heard about the opportunity with OVAthletics, I didn’t think I had a shot. I really didn’t have much experience, but I know you don’t get anywhere sitting on your behind. So I applied and my MLBlog impressed them, and that’s how I got the opportunity.
 
What type of material did you generally produce on your blog? What type of content do you feel caught the eye of people at OVAthletics, leading to this great opportunity?
 

KR: Since I didn’t have the access I have now, most of my posts on my blog were limited. I did recaps of the games, and did news and notes from what I saw while at PNC Park. If I used quotes for news that broke, I obviously had to credit the news source. I couldn’t get interviews, but I tried to provide as much insight and information that I could.

Like I said above, I really think my spring training trip is what landed me the job. I worked so hard while I was down there. I went to Pirate City when the players reported by 9:00 am, stayed there until noon, then went to the Pirates games at McKechnie Field. After the game, I’d head back to my hotel, post on everything from the day, grab a quick bite to eat and go to bed. I was fortunate to be able to get some interviews with the players while I was in Bradenton as well, so that helped make for some great reads.
 
What is a normal day like for a beat reporter? What is your day like at PNC when covering a Pirates game?
 
KR: I’m not sure what’s normal for everyone else. But for me, I arrive to PNC Park by 2 o’clock. I read over the game notes, prep for player interviews, and the pregame meeting with Manager Clint Hurdle. I try to map out what stories I’m looking to write on the day. I head down the clubhouse at 3:30 to talk to the players, then Hurdle is at 4:00. I absolutely love watching batting practice, so after Hurdle’s session is over, I go out on the field and watch BP for 15 or 20 minutes. There’s something about that sound of the crack of the bat that puts you in a good mood. Then I head up to the press box and finish the pregame notes, and try to write at least two stories, sometimes three if it’s a busy news day. Then from there, I watch the game and take notes. Once the game is over, I head down to the press conference room for Hurdle’s postgame session, then head into the clubhouse for players reactions. I head back upstairs and finish the recap, and sometimes another post if something big happened. I usually leave the ballpark by midnight. It makes for a long day, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.
 
Any lessons you’ve learned about covering a professional team that you unfortunately had to learn the hard way?
 
KR: Not really anything I can think of. But I’m still a rookie in this industry. I’ve still got a lot to learn.
 
Aside from your MLBlog, what other experience did you have that you feel led to this opportunity?
 
KR: I went to school for Broadcasting, so being a writer was new for me. I’m sure my love for the game, and knowledge of baseball and the Pirates were a big reason for the job.
 
Why do you believe the Pirates are proving to be contenders in the Central this year? What is that a member of the team knew, or a die-hard fan would know about them, but the average baseball fan would not have going into this season?
 

KR: The Pirates have a lot of talented players. Guys like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata (to name a few) are showing just how talented they are.The pitching staff has been huge this season. Charlie Morton has had a remarkable turnaround. Then guys like Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens have been really solid. Everyone in the ‘pen has been fantastic as well, Jose Veras, Tony Watson, Chris Resop, Joel Hanrahan. The team has been dealing with a lot of injuries this year too, and the young guys that have came up here have been tremendous stepping in.

I know going from 105 loses in 2010, to one game out of 1st place by the All-Star is a big jump, but every year there are several teams that surprise everybody. Last year it was the San Diego Padres, the Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants. Why can’t the Pirates be that team this year? There will continue to be people who don’t believe in this team, but definitely opened some eyes so far. It’s obviously a long season, but if they can continue to play like they did in the first half, it will be a fun division to watch.
 
How much impact do you believe Hurdle has had on the Pirates? Why do you believe he has been successful with a squad that other managers were unable to squeeze very many wins out of?
 
KR: Clint has made a HUGE impact on this team and it was noticeable it from day one in Bradenton. I know there are some people who don’t believe a Manager doesn’t make a difference, but I’m not one of them. When you walk into the Pirates clubhouse, it’s different. There is so much team chemistry. This team truly believes that they can beat anyone. No matter if it’s the Red Sox or the Astros. They are resilient, they play unselfish ball. They all want to win, and they don’t care who gets the credit for it. That wasn’t the mindset last year, and the years before that. Hurdle has used this line before when speaking about his impact on the team, and he says, “there’s a time to be a manager and there’s a time to be a couch.” That’s been key for these guys. Most of them are young and don’t have much major league experience. Hurdle knows when they need smacked on their backside and then when the mental side comes into play. He keeps these guys loose, having fun and taking each game one at a time. Hurdle just has this presence about him. When he speaks, you listen. He’s so knowledgeable about the game, and honest. I never leave a pregame session without a laugh, and learning something new. I respect him so much.
 
What is the Pirates organization like to work with on a daily basis?
 
KR: Honestly? A dream come true. I grew up watching the Pirates, and to be able to cover them, is special. Everyone in that organization, from the top to the bottom, has been very welcoming from day one and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. 
 
Was there an interview you conducted that stands out as a favorite in your time covering the team as a beat reporter? Was there an interview that stands out as an especially hard one to conduct (perhaps after a hard loss, injury news, etc)?
 

KR: My very first was was with Pirates catching prospect Tony Sanchez, so that one will always remain a favorite. One that really stands out was when Michael McKenry hit his first major league home run, a three-run shot, which lead to the win. After the game, I asked him how it felt to get his very first curtain call and he said, “That’s a little boy dream of mine. Who doesn’t like a curtain call? That was awesome. You see Cal Ripken’s and big name people do that. I got one and I’m 26-years-old and I have little over two months in the big leagues. That’s awesome.” His smile was up to his eyes. It was such a great moment, and reminds me why I love this game so much and why I want to cover those moments to fans.

Hard losses are always tough. I think talking to Evan Meek, after he was placed on the DL for the second time, was a tough one. He’s a good guy, and you hate to see them struggle.
 
What is your end-goal when it comes to sports writing? What type of opportunity do you hope your time with OVAthletics leads to in the future?
 
KR: My end goal is to get into sideline reporting or hosting. That’s been a dream of mine for a long time. But I honestly love the writing aspect of it as well. This is only my first year in the industry, and I realize I have a lot of mountains to climb before i get there, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Whether it’s writing, on-air reporting, or hosting, I just want to be a part of this wonderful game.
 
What advice would you give bloggers who are looking for opportunities to become a credentialed MLB beat reporter?
 
KR: Never give up. Never, ever. Keep working hard. There is no dream, or goal that you can’t reach if you work your butt off for.
 
Thanks to Kristy for taking the time to answer the questions over the All-Star break! Looking forward to seeing if we can catch your Pirates in the Central this year. If you want to follow Kristy on Twitter you can at @Kristy_Robinson. Hope you liked the new feature. Looking forward to tomorrow when the Cubs are back on the field. Go Cubs Go!
 

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Starlin Castro: The Making of an MLB All-Star

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The MLB All-Star game is at 8pm EST tonight on FOX and it’s time to celebrate Starlin Castro’s successful first half of the 2011 season and election by the fans as a member of the National League All-Star team.

Castro is the youngest Cubs player to ever represent the team in the summer classic. Not since Shawon Dunston has a shortstop represented the Cubs in the All-Star game and tonight, once Tulo is finally yanked from the game, Cubs fans will once again have a talented shortstop of their own on the field among the league’s best.

As far as I’m concerned, Tulo should not have even been in the running to start for the National League. The only two players that should have received votes to start for the NL team were Castro and Reyes. Reyes is having an unbelievable year and Castro is among the league leaders in many offensive categories. Reyes is blazing a comeback trail as one of the more exciting players to watch in the game and Castro is arguably THE most exciting young player in all of baseball. Tulo is a talented player, but is not having the season Reyes or Castro are having.

I’m excited for Castro and will be watching this evening waiting patiently for Bochy to pull the Tool and put in ‘All-Starlin’. There are so many MLB fans across the world that are hardly familiar with Castro, aside from the random highlight on MLB or ESPN, or his SI cover shot. It’s exciting they will finally get a chance to see what we as Cubs fans are treated to on a daily basis.

Dunston had an incredible arm and if he were playing today, I’m sure we’d find him on MANY web-gem segments on SportsCenter. Castro has the same potential to be lethal in the field as he is still young and working out defensive kinks. His offensive skills are improving all the time and I’m happy to hear he is aiming high. He was quoted as saying he’d like to be a hall of fame player. Good. He should feel that way and aim that high. Otherwise, why bother playing the game. It’s impressive to see a young player step up as a leader on the team as well. It takes a very special player to be able to stand out among the veterans and earn their respect based on the way you carry yourself on and off the field, day in and day out.

Castro blasted on to the MLB scene last year with a six RBI performance including an MLB debut 3-run home run in his first at-bat. He didn’t even play AAA ball, being called up from AA ball. This season he has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, voted into the All-Star game and once again is competing for the NL batting title (currently in ninth place in the NL for AVG).

The sky is the limit for Castro. This will more than likely be the first of many trips to the All-Star stage. Let’s hope his enthusiasm, work ethic and outlook on the game don’t change. I don’t want to see a day where we hear Starlin Castro has decided to turn down an offer to play in the All-Star game. Especially considering the fact that he’ll probably be voted in by the fans year in and year out, not just simply as an NL manager selection. Ramirez turned down the opportunity this year, however I understand putting family first especially after hearing the offer so last minute.

I don’t foresee Castro being in that position for a long time. After MLB fans get a look at Castro on the grand stage, I’m sure many will submit their votes for him in the future and Reyes, Tulo and all other NL shortstops will be waiting to find out if it will be their number that is called to sub in for Castro, not the other way around. I hope Castro puts on a true display of his abilities tonight. I expect nothing less.

Congratulations on your first trip to the MLB All-Star game, Starlin. A great step in the right direction as we could very well be watching a hall of fame caliber career and plaque worthy player in the making.

Go Cubs Go!

Happy Belated Birthday, Andre Dawson

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No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday.

That quote comes from Ryne Sandberg’s Hall of Fame induction speech, one of the key pieces of the ‘put Dawson in the Hall’ campaign, if you ask me.

A star with the Expos and a superstar with the Cubs, Hawk is one of my favorite Cubs of all-time.

Per Wikipedia: Dawson finished his career with 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, 314 stolen bases, and 1,591 RBI. He is one of only six players in major league history to record over 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in his career (300-300 club); the other players to accomplish this are Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Reggie Sanders and Steve Finley. Dawson is also one of only three members of the 400 HR-300 SB club, along with Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

Talk about being in excellent company (aside from Barry Bonds).

I believe the Cubs should retire number eight in honor of Dawson. His career slugging percentage of .507 while in a Cubs uniform is fourth all-time for the team. He won the MVP with the Cubs in 1987, a team that went 76-85, finishing last in the NL East. In tying in the All-Star festivities, Dawson also won the HR Derby in 1987. On every available platform imaginable, Dawson was showcased as a great Cub on and off the field. Every stage that is, except a World Series. I’m guessing it must have been incredibly bittersweet for Dawson for him to win his first and only ring with the Florida Marlins in 2003. To receive a ring after playing and being a part of the game for so many years, I’m sure that is an unreal feeling. However, for the Marlins to do it the way they did, plowing through the favored Cubs at Wrigley, highlighted by ‘The Bartman Game’…I’m sure Hawk deep down had some uncomfortable feelings in watching his then current team do in his old team that way.

Andre Dawson’s story is largely why I respect the organization as much as I do. If you read my writing on a regular basis, you know how much I respect the history of the team and classy way in which members of the team and front office handle themselves with the media, other organizations as well as the fan base. The Cubs held the same appeal to Dawson. After his final season in Montreal in 1986, Dawson was in need of a ballclub whose home field was natural grass and not turf, to give his ailing knees a long needed break. Think about how many teams back then played on natural grass. Only a handful played on astroturf. The league was practically a buffet of natural grass sites for Dawson to sign with as a free agent.

He selected Wrigley Field and the Cubs as his destination of choice.

After general manager Dallas Green turned initial talks down, Dawson and his agent approached him at the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa with a blank contract. Pay me what you will…I want to be a part of the Cubs’ organization. Green eventually came around and made a lowball offer. $500,000 salary plus $250,000 if he made the all-star team, started the all-star team or won the NL MVP.

Dawson accomplished all three. The fact that he reached all three goals is stunning in and of itself. However, I admire the fact that he wanted to be a part of the Cubs so badly, that he was willing to play for any amount. The list of people that would offer to do that for the Cubs is extremely short, however those people are the type of people you want to be a part of the organization. After locking himself into the Cubs fold, he then made sure that the Cubs weren’t let down including a stat line that showcased 49 HR’s for the season.

Winning an MVP with a losing ballclub, especially one that comes in last place is a special thing. There are many things in sports you sit around wondering if it will ever happen again. In today’s sports culture, I’m not so sure that it will. Nowadays, winning takes precedence. If you have two players who put up similar numbers and one of them is on a division winning team and the other is in last place, no dice last place player…the hardward is going to the division champ. Back then, it was more about the title of the award. Who was the most valuable player in the league? Who was producing the most? Period. And the answer was Andre Dawson.

When Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he requested his plaque show him enshrined wearing a Cubs cap. I believe that the player should have the say as to which hat he wears in the Hall. I believe it will tell you a lot about the player and how he felt about his time spent with the various teams along his career’s timeline. Considering how successful Dawson was with Montreal, it says a lot about how he felt regarding his time with the Cubs. And using Boggs as an example as I have before, imagine if Wade Boggs went into the Hall wearing a Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat as he requested? What does that say for how he felt about the Red Sox once all was said and done?

Baseball is more than just numbers. Allowing players to choose the cap they want to wear in the Hall adds to the lore. Dawson wanted a Cubs hat. I believe he should have had his wish granted.

Yesterday, The Hawk turned 57. Look at the on-line stats and awards and you’ll find his resume to include 8 all-star appearances, 8 gold gloves, an MVP, 4 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year Award (1977), time with the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins; and stats that read: .274 AVG, 2,774 Hits, 438 HR, 1,591 RBI. Impressive to say the least.

Add in the intangibles and Dawson is easily one of the greatest to play the game. The game believes it and has inducted him justly. It’s time for the Cubs to throw a belated birthday present Dawson’s way and hang a new flag at Wrigley. #8: DAWSON. Happy belated birthday, Andre. Go Cubs Go!

We Don’t Need To Be Buyers or Sellers. We Need To Be Keyzer Soze.

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I had an amazing trip to Chicago this week. Flew in to O’Hare Airport on Sunday afternoon, caught the make-up game against the Rockies on Monday, doubleheader against the Giants on Tuesday (day game was another PPD make-up) and then flew back to New York on Wednesday. One win, two losses, a ton of robot unicorn attack plays and a pink, pink sunburn to show for it. Incredible way to spend your days indeed.

Is there a place where apple juice and peanuts taste better than in a coach class seat on a Delta Shuttle plane? I venture to guess no. No, there is not. Sitting there, next to my Delta neighbor on our way to the Windy City, she ordered cookies and a Coke. I had the peanuts and apple juice. Cookies and coke? This is a flight. You’re 40,000 feet in the air. Have the apple juice and peanuts and ride like a king, or queen in this case. Some people just don’t know what they’re missing.

On the flight there and back I was reading a book I picked up recently, ‘Veeck, As In Wreck’. Fascinating tale of Bill Veeck, Jr’s time as a true baseball man working his way up the ranks from selling programs at Comiskey, to owning his own baseball team. The things he would do to draw a crowd to the park and the promotions he would run to add entertainment value to the paying customers’ experience were at times hilarious and usually brilliant. Reading the stories brings you behind the curtain and into the mind of Veeck where anything is possible and not everything is what it seems. Home field advantage was taken to a new level, raffles were rigged for the highest entertainment possible and one time he even made it appear as if it had rained hard enough to postpone a game by three hours even though only a couple drops had fallen. As long as he was doing all he could to keep his team/business running, the team winning and the people paying, he was happy. Baseball minds of that time didn’t always appreciate Veeck’s strategies however these same people that were against some of his practices were also the folks that would be included on a long list of people who either took a long time to see past the surface or never quite got there in ending up ‘getting it’.

Monday’s game against the Rockies was a make up game for a contest that had been postponed back in April. I like it when people call baseball games a ‘contest’. It’s certainly a contest where your odds are pretty good of winning. Think of all the contests you’ve entered in your lifetime. I bet you would have taken 50-50 odds every time. I enjoy it because it seems out of place and it never ceases to amuse me. It is a game. You play the game. You win the game. You lose the game. You don’t have a contest. Sure there are many contests within the game. Who can get the other team to 27 outs first? Who can score the most runs? Who can tally the most hits? Who can keep their starting pitcher in the game the longest? Who will win the battle of the stolen base, the runner or the catcher? There are lots of contests going on within the game. However, baseball is a game. Not, a contest.

The game was incredible. It was threatened by rain once again in the early morning however the skies cleared up in time to hit up the local bagel shop and down a quick cinnamon raisin bagel and coffee before heading to Wrigley. It was not necessary that the rain stop in time for me to have breakfast mind you. It was simply a nice thing to have happen, not having to worry about the weather on my way to the game.

My friend, Michael, and I headed to the stadium and picked up his ticket from will call. Will Call. Another term I’m not so crazy about. Why not ‘Will Pick Up’? ‘Will Call’ sounds like they will call you. I am pretty sure that baseball teams don’t have people on stand by to call you up if your ticket is left in the Will Call booth a few innings into the game to see if you’re on your way, need a ride, or want to arrange for someone to bring the ticket to them somewhere. I mean, those ticket fees and service fees are high enough where I could see justifying such a service being in included, I simply don’t believe that is the case.

We immediately hit the snacks before heading to our seats. Michael hit up the peanut guy. I went straight for the nachos. Now, if Michael was on a plane at the time, I would have commended him for making such an outstanding decision. The fact that he was at a baseball game, I could also appreciate the choice given that it’s such a traditional game-viewing snack companion. Only Cracker Jack could have earned the same response. However, while I enjoy the occasional bag of peanuts and cracker jack at a baseball game when at Wrigley, you always start your day off with one thing. The nachos.

I’m not talking about the helmet nachos. I saw a woman walking around with what was an official MLB helmet size nacho order. It was covered in cheese and jalapeno and looked like it was about to kill someone, namely the woman carrying it back to her seat. No, not those nachos. I’m not suggesting you bring tofu, but come on people. Let’s not try to kill ourselves at one game, in one inning. Let’s let the unhealthy food get us over time. Take in a few years of Cubs baseball before you completely jam shut your arteries. No, I’m talking about the regular nacho. The most delicious treat in all of baseball. The Wrigley Nachos. Not sure why they yell out ‘I need a cold nacho’ when I order them because while the nachos are cold and the jalapenos aren’t included…the cheese is HOT. For about 10 minutes that is. In that 10 minutes though? Find your seat at Wrigley Field (especially where I was, section 110…best seats in baseball) and experience the best 10 minutes of your life. Delicious.

The woman that sat us in our seats was named Lenore (above) and she was very friendly. She fit the Confines perfectly. She was amped to find out I was sitting in her section as her son’s name is Ryan as well. He also lives in New York. It was like a paying customer/section valet match made in heaven. Lenore was awesome and the Cubs should be proud to have her on board. Mr. Ricketts, if you are reading this, Lenore is the best. She said she loves working for the Cubs and it showed. Good people. Just saying.

The Cubs then went off on the Rockies pitching like in no other game I have seen all year. An amazing welcome and kickoff to the three games in two days trip I was on. Ten hits, including four home runs later (two a piece by Ramirez and Pena) and I was proudly singing ‘Go Cubs Go’ louder than Michael would have cared to hear. Here is a picture of my victorious pose after the game, transformed into what it would have looked like had someone commemorated the event with a collector’s coin:

Campana was in center. DeWitt was at second base. Otherwise, the line up was what the Cubs and Cubs fans thought we’d be getting this year all along. And the results were just as ideal as well. Without all the injuries, this team could have been firing at this level of cylinder all year and who knows where we’d be in the standings now. Once this team stops limping, they will be exposed for the team they truly have been behind the DL lists all along. I believe that. It’s coming and it’s going to be fun to watch.

We need to stop limping around and start competing. Byrd is on his way back, slowly but surely. Barney is back. Zambrano went out with lower back pain today so who knows where that is headed and Cashner is still working his way back. If this team is able to stop limping around and show the world their true self, much like Kevin Spacey did as Keyzer Soze at the end of The Usual Suspects, I like our chances in making a true run of it very much.

While we are limping around though, Tuesday was more of what the team has presented as of late and it was more of the usual suspect play.

The World Champion San Francisco Giants were in town. These weren’t the Colorado Rockies. It was the Freak, the Panda and the Beard. Before the trip I figured Garza was our best bet at a win. Other than Garza, we were going to see Doug Davis against the Giants and then Rodrigo Lopez as well. Unfortunately I was right. The first game was beautiful with seats in the shade and more amazing nachos. After that it was downhill from there as the Giants destroyed the Cubs. The night cap didn’t go much better and I walked out of Wrigley with a trip record of 1-2. Forget trying to win three in a row (which is what I wanted – would have been the team’s first time this season). I would have been lucky to see either Davis or Lopez walk away with the W. In both the Tuesday afternoon game and the night cap, a five-run inning would prove to be too much to handle. A controversial call at the plate helped blow one of the games, but overall, we just weren’t as good on Tuesday as we were on Monday.

I thoroughly enjoyed singing Go, Cubs Go and belted out the seventh inning stretch at all three games like nobody’s business. You have to though, right? You’re at Wrigley Field. The greatest stadium in all of baseball (sit down Mr. Gammons, you’ve had your say). You’re there watching the Cubs on a beautiful weekday afternoon and as was the case on Monday, the Cubs just put on a power display to excite the masses. How do you simply sing any song in that situation? You don’t. You belt it. I did. And it was awesome.

While I was in town on Tuesday, I had a chance to meet with Kevin Saghy, the Cubs’ public relations and marketing specialist. Like Lenore, you can tell he loves working for the Cubs. It was great to thank him in person for what he and the Cubs did for my son Rhys when he had his surgery this past December. If you haven’t already read the story about it on Cubs.com, you can check it out here. I encourage you to check out the link as it’s a great example of the Cubs going out of their way for a fan in a way that is certainly not required, but very much appreciated.

As I write this, the Cubs are tied with the Giants 1-1 in the top of the 12th inning. Rami came through huge with a solo shot to tie the game in the ninth and change the momentum of the game after the crowd saw Zambrano leave in the second. Kerry Wood is due back off the DL tomorrow. The team I watched Monday is the team I believe this team can be on a regular basis. The fact that Zambrano went out with pain so early and yet the team hung in to shut out the Giants the rest of the way and then tied it to go to extra innings shows that we’re not giving up today and shows well as far as the rest of the season is concerned, too.

The team is slowly getting a few key guys back and I’m happy to hear Hendry isn’t planning a ‘fire sale’ just yet.  The trade deadline isn’t for another month. Stranger things have happened than a ballclub coming back from being down 11 games on June 30th.

We don’t need a fire sale. We need the team to stop scrambling to find the missing pieces on the depth chart that are going to keep this thing together. We need this team to stop limping and show it’s true colors. We need this team stop messing around, get on a run and show what it’s truly capable of. We need it to show that we have one more good run in these veterans and that we’re not really the limping team the fans, league and media have followed so far in 2011. We need it to prove that the team is much, much more than that.

We see that happen…and the rest of the league won’t know what hit ’em.  Go Cubs Go!

(And ‘Robot Unicorn Attack’? If you’re not familiar with it, click here. I’m addicted.)

See You On Monday, Section 110!

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Looking forward to catching the make up game against the Rockies at Wrigley on Monday! Looks like we’re getting Garza on Monday in the make-up match-up. Tuesday will be loaded with Cubs baseball as well. Doug Davis will get one of the two games and possibly Lopez or someone up from the minors to get the other. I’ll be at the stadium for both games of the doubleheader. Three games, two days. Can’t wait! (You’d think the best shot to win is Garza against the Rockies on Monday and not Davis and Pitcher X against the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants. However, as we saw in Boston at Fenway, it doesn’t always work out that way! Seriously, can’t wait!!) Go Cubs Go!

http://twitter.com/croquet037/status/82196088148332544

Baseball’s Never Been, Never Will Be ‘Just a Game’.

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Now that I got the stupidity of the day out of my system (see the “article” that follows this one…they can’t all be gold), I thought I’d take this space to write something much less ridiculous.

The game of baseball is something I hear people complain about way too often. Not so much from those who are fans of the game, although those people have their complaints as well (strike zones, realignment, All-Star Game intricacies, instant replays, the DH, asterisks, Series throwing conspiracy theories, etc). I’m talking more so about the people who only take the game for what it is on the surface. Nine innings. Twenty seven outs. Nine players. A ball, a glove and a bat. Some dirt, some grass and unpredictable weather.

“It’s boring”.

“It takes too long”.

“Nothing ever happens”.

And on, and on.

What these people fail to recognize is what the sport is aside from the score sheets. Aside from the box scores. Aside from the record books. Beyond the greatest ballplayers of all-time, their stats and their plaques. More than Cracker Jack, peanuts, hot dogs and beer. The cold April games, the cool Fall nights and the scorching Summer afternoons.

Beyond all of that. If you look beyond all of that, you will find a game that provides great opportunity. Not only in fame and fortune to those who play it. Not only to the parents who share the joy of the game with their children. Not only the fact that the game has been there as a distraction during times of war and as a sense of normalcy after national tragic events. The game is all of that and more. The beautiful thing about the game is that you don’t know when something amazing is going to happen and the fact that the possibility exists for something incredible to happen is there all of the time. And I don’t mean simply home runs, no-hitters, walk-off victories and perfect games.

I’m talking about the game as a venue to do some good. It serves as an amazing platform to raise awareness on a number of social issues and to raise funds for organizations looking to find cures for a long list of illnesses.

I recently featured a Youtube video with Brian Wilson and Cody Ross of the San Francisco Giants teaming up with Keenan Cahill. Cahill is a favorite on Youtube and has accrued millions of views for his lip-synching videos. The Giants teamed up with him to help raise awareness for Maroteaux-Lamy disorder (the disease Cahill suffers from) and to help raise funds for Cahill’s family who face medical bills for Cahill for prescriptions that are often extremely expensive.

Another article I recently posted described what the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) accomplishes with it’s hard work year in and year out. This past May, they honored the Ricketts family and the Cubs at Wrigley Field with their highest honor, the Best of Illinois award. With Ron Santo a huge part of the Cubs’ family for decades and having suffered from diabetes his entire life, the organization and the Ricketts family have been huge proponents in raising awareness and helping raise funds to find a cure.

When people show up to the ballpark all year long, often between 2-3 million people per season per team, those fans are capable of doing much more than simply voting their favorite players into an All-Star game, willing a game-ending strike out, or singing Sweet Caroline. If given the right opportunity, they make a difference in areas that matter way more than what happens on a baseball field. They can in fact help fund organizations that are working day and night to find cures. You think seeing the Cubs win the World Series would change your life? Think about if their mere existence helped build an opportunity for complete strangers to unite and fund a cure for a disease you or a loved one has suffered from or passed away because of. Now, that would really affect your life. And you’d have more to show for it than just a commemorative SI issue and a sweatshirt to show for it.

Vice President Joe Biden was in town yesterday at a CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy) event reassuring folks in Chicago who support the organization that a cure is possible. Obama advisor, David Axelrod, introduced Biden to the crowd and the Vice President went on to acknowledge Axelrod’s wife for her commitment and thanked her for starting the organization. Axelrod and his wife, Susan, have worked hard to help find a cure since their daughter started suffering from seizures at the age of seven months. The city of Chicago showed up in droves. 900 people were in attendance and over $800,000 was raised. Axelrod supports Chicago baseball following both the Cubs and the White Sox. Obama is 100% a White Sox fan although has admitted to checking all scores of the day during late night episodes of Sportscenter. You know the two of them set aside their North side/South side differences when it comes to something much more important than who wins the BP Cup this season.

The baseball community is a powerful thing. When fans work with other fans, millions of people can be focused on finding a cure for one thing and that is an incredible opportunity. A friend of mine, Alison, lost her brother, Christopher, to what is known as Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) in 2002.

Christopher Donalty/DonaltyCure.com

Christopher was a talented pitcher from Utica, NY, a star player for both the Proctor High Raiders and Utica Post’s American Legion team. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to lose him so unexpectedly and suddenly. You can read more about Christopher here and find details about the upcoming CURE fundraiser the Donalty family is arranging for this September 17th.

I know how large Cubs Nation is. It’s pretty obvious…’nation’…it’s in the name. Cubs fans are everywhere. If you happen to be a Cubs fan and read this blog and are in the Utica area, I encourage you to attend and donate if you can. Even if you’re not in Utica area, this little gadget called the Internet is like throwing us all in the same backyard anyway. You may have missed the Biden and Axelrod CURE event last night in Chicago and you may only find ballot boxes at your local ballpark for All-Star voting. However, often, MLB gets involved in making a difference outside of the scorecards and I encourage you to get involved as well. If you don’t see the opportunity to get involved with CURE at Wrigley and you or someone you know has had their life affected by the disease, take advantage of the link provided above.

Baseball fans are capable of accomplishing all sorts of feats together. Yes, much, much greater than ‘the wave’.

The next time you hear someone complain about the game of baseball, feel free to kick off your argument of how great the sport is with mentions of ‘hardest thing to do in sports is hit a 95 MPH fastball’, or ‘there is no clock, someone HAS to win’ or ‘how can you not like America’s favorite pastime’. Once those arguments fail, as they usually do, throw in the fact that baseball is another great opportunity for millions of people to have some fun, unite resources and truly do some good.

I’d like to see them argue with that.

The Crosstown Classic continues tonight. Cubs/Sox at US Cellular. Davis on the mound for the Cubs. More Cubs-specific content to come. Until then, as always, Go Cubs Go! And seriously, why not root for your team to do well, while the fans step up and do some good?

Cubs Rap!

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And now, a ridiculous musical interlude. Gimme a beat…

I like the Cubs cuz they are great.

I root for them when they’re at home plate.

Rooting for Cubs is good clean fun.

I always clap when they hit home runs.

One time I went and then they lost.

I then had dinner. A salad. Tossed.

I watched the News recap the game.

I hoped they won. Still lost. So lame.

I like Wrigley and Ernie’s statue.

Stay alert. Foul balls come at you.

I like nachos. I like cheese.

I don’t like ticket service fees.

Right now the standings make me sad.

I felt that way about ‘My Two Dads’.

Whatever happened to Paul Reiser.

I drink Corona not Budweiser.

This rap is just off my head.

Had to do work. Wrote this instead.

Sorry if you didn’t like it.

Baseball’s not football. They don’t hike it.

I think Starlin Castro’s awesome.

Retire 8 for Andre Dawson.

I like the Cubs cuz they are great.

I root for Cubs when they’re at home plate.

One day I hope they win it all.

Result: twelve day Wrigleyville pub crawl.

People will be so damn happy.

Like they are when I’m done rapping.

Go Cubs.

Go.

Go Cubs.

Go.

Like getting tagged at the plate….we out!  Byrd to your mother.

I need to get more sleep.

Carlos. Cool, Calm, Collected.

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It had been about  a year prior that Zambrano displayed more rage than the machine had ever season. Like a cross between Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil and a Real Housewife from New Jersey. If there had been a dining room table next to that Gatorade water cooler, it too would have ended up in some other location than it initially started. It was a scene that put into a very loud visual, the thoughts that probably the rest of the team and fan base were feeling at the time. It didn’t turn out exactly the way Z imagined as it was a long road through anger management and bullpen sessions until he could find his way back to the starting line up.

The one-time ace found himself outside the lines of the organization after choosing to cross one. He may have spot on in his disgust and anger, however it clearly wasn’t the time, place or way to handle it.

Cut to yesterday against the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox.

Zambrano on the mound and fuming after giving up a two run bomb to make the score 3-0 in favor of the Sox. You could see it unfolding in front of your eyes. The wick was in one hand. The match was in the other. The fuse was ready to be lit and soon to follow could be another huge explosion.

Only, something different happened this time. The fuse was left untouched. The match was blown out. Zambrano kept his composure. Last year it was his teammates’ sloppy play that put him in a tough spot. This year it was his own pitching and poor location. Perhaps that was why we didn’t see Carlos explode into another lowlight for Sportscenter. Perhaps it is easier for him to forgive himself as opposed to forgiving his teammates. I mean, just recently he said in an outburst to the media that the team was playing like a AAA club and directed comments at Marmol as well. More likely? Those anger management sessions may have paid off and he is learning from his mistakes.

It was a display of Carlos slowly crawling back to the respected member of this team that he once was not too long ago. And it was good to see.

By keeping his cool, he was able to stay in the game and put forth one of his best pitching performances of the season. How many times do you recall a Cubs starting pitcher going eight innings this season? Forget Russell, Davis and Coleman. Those guys had a chance, but never really had a shot. Dempster and Garza? I can’t remember the last time I saw them end a game with a stat line that included 8IP. Zambrano could have easily put the nail in his Cubs coffin and likely the season with another meltdown like last year. We lose Zambrano and we can forget about 2011.

Yes, many of you have already started looking ahead to 2012. I don’t blame you. 9.5 games out on June 20th and still a large contingent of the team is in healing mode as opposed to reeling mode. We haven’t been able to reel off three wins in a row this year and although the rest of the Central has struggled as of late, we’ve only been able to pick up 2.5 games in the past couple weeks. Don’t be so quick to leave though. We have picked up 2.5 games in the past couple weeks.

Pujols just went down with an injury and will be out for six weeks. That should put a crimp in the Cardinals chances for sure. We lost some ground to the Pirates lately but they are coming back down to Earth. The Brewers and Reds refuse to kick it into a gear that will leave the rest of the Central in their proverbial dust. It’s still a possibility for 2011. I have no percentage regarding how likely. Just simply a fact that it’s still a possibility for 2011…only…we’ll need Zambrano to make it happen.

If the Cubs were to trade Zambrano, I would have to see it as them giving up on the season. Dempster got the starting nod for Opening Day this year thus giving him the role essentially as the team’s ace. Skill wise though, Zambrano is still the most talented guy on the squad. He hasn’t been on the DL as of yet this season, leads the team in wins and isn’t looking to ask for a trade. He has mentioned he’d waive his no-trade clause if asked, but he doesn’t want to go. Is that just political rhetoric? Is that just Z being PC? PC Z? Maybe. I believe he wants to win here. No one gets that upset about something that they don’t care about. No one gets that heated over something time and again unless it matters to them.

We’ve seen Zambrano lose it on a few occasions. He obviously cares. The good thing to take away from yesterday though, aside from the win over the Sox, is that he clearly not only cares about the Cubs winning, but he now also cares about how he directs that passion. Even if he had no one else to point a finger at, he could have easily had a mental meltdown and thrown in the towel on the day after giving up that home run early on. He could have seen the game as Apollo Creed getting the crap beat out of him by Drago…a lost cause. D.O.A after that home run.

He did not.

Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to stay in the game, keep fighting, and show people he has changed. Like Rocky said, he if they can change and he can change then the whole world can change. I would have liked to have seen Zambrano make this speech at US Cellular after the game:

That would be nice. But I’ll take us starting with Big Z first and then going from there. Big Z. Cool. Calm. Collected.

Well done, Carlos. That anger management stuff appears to be working out. Keep it up. This one’s for you.

Go Cubs Go!

Two Teams, One Cup

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It’s June 20th and you know what that means! THE CROSSTOWN CLASSIC!

Two teams, one cup.

Oh, Chicago baseball fans, how our BP Cup do runneth over.

The BP Cup is perfectly named as it means about as much as the home runs count that are hit in batting practice. Last year the Cup went to the South side. It has resided in the hands of folks like Adam Dunn, Ozzie Guillen and A.J. Pierzynski. The players, I’m sure because it is a ‘Cup’ after all, took it home with them. Took it on trips with them. Took it places some of them may even be too embarassed to share. They took it their loved ones who had never seen the Sox win the Cup since it’s inception all they way back in 2010. Every single White Sox player plus Ozzie had their hands on it for a whole year. 

Do we really want it after who knows what those guys have done with it? I mean, it was reported that on Sunday, Ozzie passed a kidney stone. I’m just saying.

If the White Sox think as highly of the Cup as many Cubs fans do, there is a possibility that the kidney stone saw the inside of the BP Cup. If there were a series they probably wouldn’t mind winning, it’s this one. Keep the Cup, White Sox. It’s all you.

You can have it. Proudly display it in your trophy case. Build a statue outside US Cellular Field to commemorate it’s greatness. Years from now, chant at Cubs fans “Two-thousand-ten!” “Two thousand-ten!” and make us feel awful about the drought.

One year since the last time a Chicago team won the BP Cup and it wasn’t the Cubs. When oh WHEN, will a Cubs fan in my family get to see the Cubs win the Cup!?! How unfair. How can the baseball gods do this to us. Why should the Sox fans get all the fun? Why should they get to raise the Cup year in and year out?

What about us Cubs fans? What about Blackhawks fans? Why must we make them be so specific in their chants of ‘We want the Cup!”. Now they have to say “We want the Stanley Cup! The hockey one! Not that crappy promotional good for nothing baseball meaningless trophy Cup!” That chant is SOOO long. But so be it. Whatever White Sox. You feel the need to have a trophy that makes you feel good about yourself? So be it. Keep it. We don’t even want a ribbon for participation.

Let’s rename the Cup in fact. No more BP Cup. Let’s just call it US Cellular Cup. Forget engraving the names of every ballplayer that wins the Cup on to it’s illustrious sides. Let’s just engrave, PROPERTY OF THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX on to it. We’ll show up for six games every season and make sure you have your little trophy so you can have some meaningless piece of metal to make you feel good about yourself.

Better yet, we’ll win the series and STILL give you the cup. Like a little kid hoping for a foul ball, standing by the dugout with our glove on next to clumsy adult-sized you. We will catch the ball and then hand it to you because in our life, the prize, as cool as it is to you, will never mean that much to us.

How’s that sound? We’ll win the series, you keep the cup. We know how much it means to you.

You’re welcome.

Go Cubs Go!

For Father’s Day: My Cubs Family Video

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Go Cubs Go! (Give us Dads out there a W to cap off Father’s Day tonight!)