Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cubs Spring Training Preview...

For the first time in over a century, the Cubs will report to Spring Training as the defending World Series Champions.  The 108 year drought is over, now the quest to win it again, begins. 

Last year manager Joe Maddon used “Embrace the Target” as the team’s rallying cry.  This after an improbable playoff appearance in 2015 and a trip to the NLCS.  Now the target is firmly on the Cubs’ backs as the 2017 season begins. 

This year according to MLB.com, at Maddon’s opening press conference today, the themes will be: 1. Be uncomfortable, 2. Authenticity, 3. That's Cub, and, 4. Don’t forget the heartbeat.  Interpret how you want, but it seems like Maddon won’t stand for complacency off of last year’s performance and crazy offseason.  An offseason that included countless appearances on late night and daytime television programs and a trip to the White House. 

As for the actual baseball outlook, Maddon plans to emphasize many of the same principals he did last season, telling MLB.com, "I think we have our best opportunity to repeat by pitching and playing defense that we've done in the past.”

Most of the core group from last season is back.  The notable exception is Dexter Fowler, who signed a free-agent deal with the Cardinals.  While Fowler’s prowess at the top of the order (.277/.393/.449) will be missed the Cubs do have several options at this spot. Realizing that the entire infield returns, including swing guy Javy Baez is certainly a plus. The emergence of his game in the post-season, combined with the way Addison Russell bounced back in the playoffs has fans drooling over the possibilities of what is to come.  Add in All-Stars Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and NL MVP Kris Bryant and the optimism is at all time high levels.  

Looking at the outfield, the Cubs will use a platoon of Albert Almora Jr, and Jon Jay in CF. Kyle Schwarber will be the main man in LF at least to start the season, and the thoughts of him being healthy and in for the long haul this year is a plus.  Jason Heyward’s down season offensively didn’t affect his defense, and the 184-million dollar man has been working on his swing all off-season.  He has to be better this year than last right? 

As told to MLB.com
The rotation returns basically intact.  Jason Hammel is gone to the Royals, with Mike Montgomery getting the first shot at the 5th spot this spring. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lackey are all back and coming in off of respectable seasons a year ago.  Brett Anderson adds some depth if healthy. The free-agent made only 4 starts for the Dodgers last season (after undergoing back surgery in March 2016), but in 2015 won 10 games in 31 starts in LA. Keep the names Caleb Smith (Rule 5 Draft pick), Eddie Butler (acquired from Rockies) and Alec Mills in mind for further pitching depth. 

Some changes were made in the bullpen this off-season.  Aroldis Chapman signed as a free agent with the Yankees, Trevor Cahill is now with his hometown Padres and Travis Wood signed with Kansas City yesterday.  Wade Davis is the new closer.  The Cubs gave up Jorge Soler in a trade with the Royals to get him. Davis made only 45 appearances last year after going on the DL with a right forearm strain, but he saved a career best 27 games. He was the closer on the Royals World Series Championship in 2015, and had an ERA of only 0.94.  A proven commodity and a guy that used to pitch for Maddon in Tampa Bay, makes the loss of Chapman easier to take. Many of the familiar faces are back, including Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr will feature prominently. Newcomer Koji Uehara will provide some veteran experience in the back end of the pen. 

The biggest one as mentioned a bit earlier will be production from the leadoff spot.  Fowler leaves a big hole at the top of the lineup.  Early contenders to fill in the blank so to speak are Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist. Of the two, Zobrist has the most experience (duh!) in the spot. All time Zobrist is a .238/.330/.376 slash line hitter, with 17 homers in 705 career appearances in the top spot.  Schwarber has just 8 career appearances as a leadoff hitter, hitting .375 with an OBP of .375 as well.  Zobrist offers a switch hitting option, while Schwarber is a good contact hitter.  Neither are the ‘pototypical’ leadoff hitters, but that notion has kind of gone by the wayside recently.  An option that could evolve later, with some seasoning and development is Almora Jr.  This is worth keeping an eye on as the Spring moves along. 

Will Kyle Schwarber catch this season? According to the beat reporters on scene in Arizona the plan is to use Schwarber in LF everyday, and be the third “emergency” catcher”.  He meets with doctors today to see if he can be cleared to catch. 

Who will catch Jon Lester?  With David Ross in retirement, here’s your answer…


Seemingly the Cubs have an excellent chance to repeat this season.  Lots of things still have to go right.  Health is always an issue with every MLB team, as they traverse the 162 game schedule in only 6 months time.  Don’t expect too many surprises when it comes to the 25 man roster to open the season.  This team should repeat as Central Division champions for sure, but will face some big competition when it comes to the NLDS and NLCS.  This team though is built to win, with depth and versatility.  Bottom line: Repeat. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MLB Considering Changes to Extra Innings Rules...

One of the most interesting games I ever broadcast was an extra inning game between the Padres and the Rockies in San Diego.  It was April 17 2008, which bled into April 18, after 22 innings, 42 players and 6 hours and 16 minutes of baseball. The contest didn't feature a single position player pitching, but did use a total of 15 hurlers, many needing to go multiple innings.  Who won?  Oh it was the Rockies 2-1.

I bring that game up because Major League Baseball is considering a change in rules when it comes to extra innings games.  The proposal which will be tried out in the rookie level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this year, will place a runner at 2nd base to begin each inning after 9 frames are completed.  This is according to a Yahoo Sports report published online Wednesday. MLB will study the in-game scenarios this year to decide if the rule should be used at higher levels of minor league ball or even at the Big League level.

A variation of this rule has been used in international baseball for almost 10 years and will be used in the World Baseball Classic this spring. 

Joe Torre, MLB's Chief Baseball Officer was quoted as saying, "Let's see what it looks like." The former Yankees manager and major leaguer, is a strong proponent of the testing. "It's not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing in a utility infielder to pitch. As much as it's nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time."

"Its baseball. I'm just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn't mean you're going to score. You're just trying to play baseball."

This line of thinking is wrong on so many levels in my opinion.  Take Torre's first point, about not wanting to see a position player wind up pitching in a game. First of all, it's a rare occasion. I'm sure those in attendance (those who stayed for all 16 innings) at the Cubs/Rockies game July 29, 2014, would beg to differ at how fun it was to watch then Cubs catcher John Baker pitch. Not only did he pitch, he scored the winning run and became the 1st position player to ever win a game in the history of the franchise. Fans enjoyed it. The players enjoyed it. The game played itself out as it has for over a century.
                        As mentioned in a Yahoo.com Sports Report

The only people that didn't enjoy the outing by Baker, were then manager Rick Renteria who didn't want to overuse his bullpen and then Colorado manager Walt Weiss who's team couldn't get to the Cubs catcher.  Weiss saying, "I think he was smart enough to know that if he stayed below the hitting speed he was going to be effective and that's what he did."

Again, these are rare happenings in baseball and to over react to change the rules of the game to speed it up like this is insane.

Cubs catcher John Baker pitches in extra innings 7/29/14
In this day and age of minute attention spans, I'm not surprised that baseball is thinking in this way, but come on, this game has been great for so long, this particular change seems unnecessary.  Why not a home run derby after 9 innings instead?  That way the game will end sooner. Much in the way the NHL has used the shootout (another horrible rule to me, a tie is a point in hockey, leaving without a winner is fine with me) and soccer goes to penalty kicks.

Extra innings is filled with drama, strategy and management of a team's pitching staff and bench.  Don't 'dumb this down' for the hard core fan base.

Not only will this rule change how the games are decided, but how will statistics be affected?  Former Major League pitcher and now MLB Network analyst, Dan Plesac took to Twitter today "...who (pitcher) gets the L or W? Is it a TEAM loss or win?" Very good question. Baseball is a game with statistics for everything.  How will these new extra inning games be scored in respect to not just W's and L's for players, but ERA, FIP, batting average w/RISP and so forth?  I know this is a minor point, but one that does need to be thought about, considering how, stats equal dollar signs for players come contract time.

There is a simple solution. I've said this countless times before, expand the roster.  Not to 40, not even to 30. Seems like 26, 27 or even 28 might do the trick.  Even if you want to do it like the NFL does, where you have a 53 man "roster" but dress only 45 at game time, do a 30 man, and dress 26-28.  If you think that's too many how about a 27 man roster, with 25 eligible each night, but one player can be designated to be activated only in extra innings. I'm spitballing here, but this has got to be better than a drastic change to an already great game.

I understand that things have to change to survive sometimes.  Its just difficult to see the rationale behind this type of move.  I am willing to see how this experiment in the minors turns out. Will it shorten extra innings?  Will it save time?  Will it save pitchers' arms? I guess where there's a will there's a way, but is it the right way to go?

Monday, November 21, 2016

After A Great Year, Baseball Could Be Even Better

I'm not sure about you, but I'm still flying high after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series.  I've been surfing YouTube checking out fan reaction videos and "mashups" and it still gives me goosebumps to see that wild celebration after the Game 7 victory in Cleveland. How great were the playoffs in general?  How can people say baseball is boring?  Amazing post season all the way around and a great showing for MLB. 

With that in mind it's been tough to 'turn the page' on '16, but we need to get ready for 2017.   First thing is first for baseball, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the Players Association expires December 1, 2016.  While there isn't much concern over a work stoppage, many new things could come into play, such as roster expansion, a limit on call ups in September and other things involving International Signings.  I'll include some links at the bottom of the page, so you can read up on the latest information from the many extremely talented baseball writers around the country. 

About 3 months ago, I was traveling back to Chicago from New York where I was doing an MLB Plus broadcast for MLB.com and I started thinking.  Yes, sometimes that can be a very dangerous thing, but in this case I used my sometimes wandering mind for good, not evil.  I love the game of baseball.  It's the first sport I truly gravitated to as a kid.  I love the strategy, the games within the game, and all the tradition involved.  The game could still be better. So I thought of a few improvements I'd like to see made, whether they be part of the new CBA or not, these are my thoughts ordered as they came to me in a stream of conscienceness.  Again some of these thoughts have been articulated by writers far better than me, and I'll have those links available at the bottom of this article. 

1. Make the All-Star Game what it was intended to be again, AN EXHIBITION...

I know, this stupid rule actually helped the Cubs in the World Series, being able to use Kyle Schwarber in four games rather than just three, and it paid off.  I've seen some artcles recently where Commissioner Manfred said he's fine with the All-Star Game counting.  I say its just his way of protecting the legacy of Bud Selig, who was embarrassed in his home town of Milwaukee in 2002 when the game ended in a tie. He over reacted, plain and simple and now we're left with a rule that doesn't belong in baseball. 
Bud Selig (Daily Herald)

Since each team has to be represented, is it really fair to count the game?  Is each All-Star roster made up of the actual best in each league? Players come up with 'injuries' to miss the game wanting instead to spend some rare in season off time with their families.  You have situations that come up where a retiring player is treated with meatball pitches down the middle to make that player shine.  In some cases players have admitted before the game of that intention, so how can you do that and still make the game count?   I would much rather see the best of the best, showing us why they are so great. Show off those skills and let the guys enjoy themselves. Eliminate this nonsensical rule. 

2.  Modify roster numbers...

Baseball has used a 25 man roster for a long time.  According to the Baseball Almanac, rosters were set at 25 in 1914.  Maybe its time for a change? Recently teams were able to carry a 26th man for Day/Night Doubleheaders, so maybe the time has come for a couple of more players to be added. This would please the MLBPA, meaning more money for more players.  I think it would please ownerships/front offices too, with roster flexibility and not having to burn 'options' on players or risk exposing players to waivers if they are out of minor league options. 

Joe Maddon has been in favor of a change
to the rule of rosters expanding to 40 players
September 1. (MLB.com)

My suggestion would be a roster of 28, allowing basically a manager to keep an extra pitcher, catcher and position player. 
Especially early in a season it would be nice for teams to have a little extra as teams try to figure out their best combinations.  April weather and rain outs also factor in, plus pitchers tend not to go as deep in games early in a season as they will later in the year.  

For September 1, eliminate the 40 man expansion to the roster and keep it at 28.  If that wasn't agreeable, I could see a situation where you could expand to 35 and use a 30 man "active" roster to keep it more on line with the rest of the regular season rules. 

3.  Do something to enhance Interleague Play...

I think the current incarnation of Interleague play has run it's course. In the beginning it was new, fresh and exciting.  Now, well not so much. I don't buy into having an inter league series every day, I think it's bad for the game and the traditional matchups. I mean the Cubs opened up the 2016 in ANAHEIM. Really?

It has become reality due to the 15/15 team split with both leagues having an equal amount of teams. There has to be a way to make it work where you can play more games within your division or league during the season to eliminate those holes in the schedule.  Go back to the way it was, with each NL division playing a certain AL division and that's it.  Of course there would be notable exceptions with Cubs/Sox, Yankees/Mets, Dodgers/Angels and Giants/A's. 

If it has to stay in its current form, why not add a different twist to the games?  When an IL series is in an NL park, why not play AL rules and vice versa?  Give the fan bases a chance to see the other league's rules first hand. Could be interesting. 

4. Shorten the season...

The schedule is another bone of contention, not because of it’s effect on the players or coaches but on the overall money to be made with more games.  The season lasts about 6 months, and each team has around 18 days off.  Because of rainouts and other unforeseen situations, teams are forced to extend themselves past the mandated maximum of 20 games in a row without a day off.  A lighter schedule could help alleviate some of these extended stresses. 

Baseball used a 154 game schedule until 1961 in the American League and 1962 in the National League.  To mitigate the loss of revenue the new schedule could be enhanced to include a couple of day-night double headers, two games, and two gates to appease the owners. 

Trust me when I tell you, having traveled with a major league team for the better part of 12 years, it’s a grind, physically and mentally. 

5.  Install a General Manager in charge of umpires

Never has a group of men been in mainly everyone’s cross hairs than today’s baseball umpires.  It’s a thankless job with no home games, but also no real accountability.  I’ve always thought, if a player isn’t cutting it at the big league level, he’s sent down to Triple-A, and another player comes up to take his place.  Why not do the same with the umps? 

Joe West (Getty Images)
The union representing the umps will never let this happen, they have it too good.  First class travel, no meetings after a game to go over it, like college basketball refs and other arbiters. But come on, with all the new technology and ‘umpire strike zones’ being generated by some teams to use in their pitcher/catcher gameplan meetings, can’t we set a standard for umping?  

Name somebody outside of the MLB  offices as the “GM of the umps”, he can have a staff that covers games and grades performances based on the previously mentioned new technology and the old fashioned charting an ump’s performance in person. hey, if a guy is consistently miscalling the zone, get him out.  If he’s constantly being overturned by replay, get him out.  If he’s resting on previous laurels, get him out.   This would set up a better game over all with an umpire calling it like his job depends on it, because it would in this ‘pipe dream’ scenario of mine.  I’d love to see it happen, but it won’t. I think I'll call it the Joe West Rule. 


Again just my thoughts on how to improve an already great game! 

Here are some links to great stories by the very talented baseball writers around the country...

Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) of Fox on the possibility of a change in roster numbers in the new CBA...

Jason Stark (@jaysonst) of ESPN examines why MLB's 2016 Postseason was a "game changer"...

Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl ) of The Bleacher Report thinks this is the 1st of many MVP Awards for Kris Bryant...

Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) of the NY Times reports on CBA Progress between MLB and the Players Association...

As always would love to hear your thoughts and comments on these posts so feel free to let me know what you think. I appreciate you checking out the blog! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Bloom is Off this Rose

Growing up in Chicago, my favorite players were always local guys, Rick Monday, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and guys like that.  But as a youngster, who started playing little league baseball in 1976, Pete Rose was a guy I loved to watch play.

As a diminutive hitter, I adopted the Rose "crouch" from the left side of the plate, to make it harder for pitchers to throw to me.  When they couldn't, I'd run down to first base after a walk, just like Rose.

I'm probably not alone in this.  Surely kids of my generation would probably tell you the same thing. "Charlie Hustle" was the guy we all wanted to play like. Always on the move, flopping into 2nd base, and the best thing as a kid, always getting dirty.

Now I just feel kind of dirty for admiring him like I did.  Ok, not as a player, but for the person. A man who claimed to respect the game of baseball, did the one thing that you are not supposed to do: gamble on the great American game.  Then instead of copping to it, he denied, and denied and denied it, resulting in a lifetime ban from the game he loved.  The game that crowned him the All-Time hit leader.  The game that made him a household name.  The game that now, he'd give anything to be a part of again.

In September, Rose met with the new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in hopes of being reinstated.  Those hopes were dashed as Manfred denied the petition yesterday.

Today during a press conference in of all places, Las Vegas, Rose talked about the tone of his meeting with Manfred, saying, "I tried to be as honest as I could with the commissioner, and I think he appreciated that."  Now from all reports, Rose admitted in the meeting that he still gambles and on baseball.  Wow. So maybe honesty for Rose wasn't the best policy here.

Manfred released a statement yesterday on his decision to keep Rose out of baseball:
 "In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989. Absent such credible evidence, allowing him to work in the game presents an unacceptable risk of a future violation by him of Rule 21, and thus to the integrity of our sport. I, therefore, must reject Mr. Rose's application for reinstatement."
I'm not saying that everyone that played the game is an honest, sincere and clean cut person.  All you have to do is look back as recently as the late 90's when PED's and steroids ruled the headlines of baseball.  But some of those 'accused' of usage, came clean, apologized, admitted mistakes and were embraced by the game again.  Some. Not all.  Now Rose falls into the latter category. I know in a book he admitted to gambling on baseball as the manager of the Reds.  But has he really admitted it to himself?  Doesn't sound like it.  I'm not trying to be high and mighty here, I'm not perfect, but if he really loves the game like he says couldn't he work on being more truthful with himself?

The statements he's made at his press conference don't lead you to believe he is, or ever will be.  Rose said today that he'll continue "the path of trying to reconfigure my life," and he feels that eventually Major League Baseball will want him back.

Baseball doesn't want him around.  Can you blame it?  If Rose were reinstated, there's a chance he'd be hired by a team as a coach, consultant or front office guy.  Baseball doesn't want Rose influencing players, kids who are still developing as people not to mention players.

Part of me feels badly for Rose.  He's 74 years old, and doesn't sound like he'll ever change. It's truly sad, when arguably the best hitter in the game, will not be a part of it, and will not be in the Hall of Fame.

I hope he'll eventually realize what is going on and make amends.  Not likely, this Rose has too many thorns.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Captain Serious Is Seriously Someone To Respect...

He's only 27 years old and already Jonathan Toews has collected 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Gold Medals, 1 Conn Smythe Trophy and 1 Frank J. Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the league.  Not a bad resume for a full career, but he's far from finished.

The Blackhawks hit the jackpot in back to back drafts, building toward what we are seeing today.  In the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, then GM Dale Tallon selected Toews with the 3rd overall pick.  The kid out of North Dakota made an immediate impact on the Hawks.   Toews played 64 games, scoring 24 goals recording 34 assists.  The next season, with the first overall pick, the Blackhawks nabbed Patrick Kane, and as they say the rest is history.

The organization showed its' faith in the young player, by naming him the 34th captain in team history in July of 2008. The decision by then coach Denis Savard and then GM Dale Tallon, made Toews the third youngest captain in NHL history.  "There's an aura about him," Tallon said. "He has leadership ability naturally.  It's not something he needs to work hard at.  He just is that kind of kid. We felt we might as well move forward with it and let him grow at that position."  Savard added, "It's a natural fit.  Personally, when I sit down with the staff and my coaches, I know that I've got my mind made up.  I don't care how young you are. He's the type of person that is going to be a great captain for us."  Looking back, wow, what an understatement.

Toews himself that July day nearly 7 years ago, didn't seem overwhelmed by the promotion.  "When people consider you for so much responsibility at such an age, it's awesome," said Toews. "I enjoy the game. It's my life, and it's my passion.  I do take it very seriously, and maybe that's one of the things that rubs off on the other guys."  Thus the birth of Captain Serious.  But have any truer words been uttered by a 20 year old?

The last part of his quote is what amazes me as a fan and as someone who was around Toews for a brief period in 2014.  How does this guy, command so much respect, from not only younger players, but from established veterans and coaches?  To me it's a presence that he has.  Not a rah rah guy by any means, but as he said, Toews has a passion for this game.  He does live it. Why not, he's really good at it.

The other thing about Toews, he gets it. After winning the first of his 3 Stanley Cup's, he hoisted the trophy, then passed it to Marian Hossa who had missed out on winning the cup the two previous years.  In 2013 after hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, veteran Michal Handzus was next to receive it.  Finally, after the third cup, Toews passed it to Kimmo Timonen the 16 year veteran, who was playing his last ever NHL game.  Aretha Franklin spelled it out, Toews has a genuine R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the game and those who play it.  Maybe that has something to do with the way he is looked at by those he leads.

There are many in the game that respect the 27 year old center.  Included among them, a guy that wore the #19 prominently for the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman, who happens to be the Tampa Bay Lightning GM.  Yzerman thinks Toews is a better player than he ever was.  "Just a better hockey player," said the Hall of Fame player. "The reality is Jonathan's bigger, stronger - better.  I'm not sure I could even take him in a race either, so he's probably faster [too]."  Toews responded in a fashion you'd expect, "Steve is a very complimentary person, and I don't think he'd say anything less than that," Toews said.  "I just take that with a grain of salt.  I think everyone here knows that's pretty much untrue, but it obviously means a lot to hear any sort of praise from a guy like that."

Chicago, feel fortunate that this guy and his running mate Kane are a part of your hockey team. With the surrounding cast in doubt now, because of another ridiculously low salary cap, these guys will make sure the Blackhawks stay competitive. He may not like the monicker of "Captain Serious", but Hawks fans are seriously glad he's here.

Spieth halfway to the season Grand Slam

Masters and US Open Champion Jordan Spieth is halfway to the season grand slam in golf.  He won the US Open after Dustin Johnson 3-putt the 18th hole.  The 21-year old Spieth is the youngest US Open champion since 1923, and the youngest ever to win both the Masters and Open in the same year.  He's in some pretty exclusive company, joining the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer having won both majors in the same season.

Now with the British Open up next, could he possibly win his third major of the season?  Don't bet against him.

By the way, was it just me in thinking the course at Chambers Bay looked like a British Open course? Dry grass in the fairways, huge rough and some almost unfair greens made it look that way to me. Several of the pros complained about the greens, but after all this is a US Open, and it's not supposed to be easy.

*Quotes in Jonathan Toews entry from Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2008, written by Chris Kuc 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Musings...

Just a few thoughts this Monday afternoon...

Bears Release McDonald
I'm not sure what the Bears were expecting from Ray McDonald, but today they got exactly what a lot of people thought would happen from the beginning.  McDonald was released this afternoon after a morning arrest in Northern California on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment.  McDonald has a checkered history to say the least, one so littered in legal issues, that the 49'ers cut him loose in December.

Here's the statement released by GM Ryan Pace today:
"We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear,"  the statement continued, "He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him."
There's two schools of thought here, kudos for the quick response, and what the heck were you thinking in signing him in the first place? This was a highly questionable signing from the beginning. This was not actually a second chance for McDonald, it was more like a third or fourth, so there are many wondering why take a chance on this guy, instead of say somebody else?

Again, not a real shock to me how this eventually turned out.  Hopefully the Bears can move on from this, I think they'll be able to for sure.

Big 10 and Bradley
Big 10 baseball is back and with a vengeance.  The conference put 5 teams into the NCAA's for the first time ever.  It boasts the #6 overall seed as well in Illinois.  From doing some games on BTN this spring, I was impressed with the quality of play by the schools, great pitching, and all the teams seemed very fundamentally sound.  What a tribute to the Administrators that took a serious look at baseball at their Universities and identified that facilities needed to be upgraded, and money needed to be spent to get and keep quality coaches. I applaud them and the proof of success is in the preverbal pudding.

My alma mater Bradley University is also in the field competing to get to the college world series for the first time since 1968!  Yes, that was even before I attended the fine school in Peoria.  Kind of tying in with my above statement, the Braves are the #2 seed in the Louisville bracket and will face #3 Michigan.  Let's go Braves!!

Memorial Day...
I hope you are all enjoying your holiday, but also keeping in mind what it actually means.  This holiday is to honor those who gave their lives in service of defending this great nation of ours.

My time in San Diego, really brought the message home, about what military service is all about. I came into contact with so many brave men and women, old, young and in between, who are making a sacrifice to keep us enjoying our freedoms here in the US. Before living there, I probably would have found it odd to walk up to a person in military uniform and just say "thank you for your service".  I'd never experienced it before, but now it's almost routine to me, whether it be at the bank, at a restaurant or in an airport.  I'm not preaching to you, trust me, everyone is free to enjoy/observe the holiday as they choose, but isn't that the beauty of living in this great country?

Social Media/Photography
For those new to my blog, welcome, and for those vets, please continue to support this blog, I do appreciate it.  For the regulars, please indulge me for a minute to again let the 'newbies' know where to follow me for social media and my photography.

Twitter: twitter.com/Andy_Masur1
Facebook: facebook.com/AndyMasurBroadcaster
Instagram: instagram.com/andy_masur

For my photography, 2 places to visit:
Flickr:  flickr.com/Andy_Masur
Photoshelter: andymasurphoto.photoshelter.com

Thanks!!  Have a great week!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kane and Rose Oh No!

As if it's not hard enough to be a Chicago sports fan, dealing with disappointment and heartache seem to be as much a part of our lives as that second city chip on all of our shoulders.   Tuesday night was a bad night.  I mean the kind of night that you walk around your house, apartment, condo, shaking your head as if a member of the family was hurt, or lost.  This is how seriously we are invested in our teams.  This city is so unique in that.  As that 90's song said, "We get knocked down, but we get up again..." true huh?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - United Center.  First Period.

Patrick Kane moves toward the boards, and is tripped up falling awkwardly into said barrier.  Gets up slowly, wincing in pain and is helped to the dressing room.  He does not return to the game. Can anyone imagine the Blackhawks winning a championship without the league's leading scorer?  Ugh.

Patrick Kane (USA Today)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - Advocate Center.  News breaks during Hawks game.

Derrick Rose reports pain in his right knee.  Further examination determines torn meniscus.  Surgery. Out for an extended period of time, maybe the season.  This after the news of Kane leaving the game is like a sucker punch to the "lower body".  The Bulls, were tied for first in the Central Division with Cleveland. Now the former #1 pick and Chicago native Rose is out again.  Double ugh.

Derrick Rose (CBS Sports)

Lets fast forward to present day, and what we know.

Kane had surgery to repair a broken left clavicle, and is out for up to 12 weeks.  To those mathematically challenged like myself, it's 3 months.  That means the playoffs could be in doubt for #88. Can the Hawks hoist the Stanley Cup without the dynamic scorer.  I think we need to delve into that.

The placement of Kane on long term injury (LTI) allows GM Stan Bowman a little more cap flexibility.  Without getting into the technical finances, Bowman can now acquire a player that maybe he couldn't have before the injury.  While I'd rather have Kane than some of the other names out there, at least the Hawks can try to better themselves in the meantime.   According to "The Fourth Period" the Hawks remain interested in Arizona winger Antoine Vermette and Calgary forward Curtis Glencross.   Vermette has scored 13 goals, and has 22 assists good for 35 points.  Glencross has 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points.  The two players combined have one less point, 63, than Kane has 64 (27 goals, 37 assists).   Both players are 32 years old.

Even if the Hawks don't acquire a little scoring help, they do have a talented roster.  Think of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and now with Kris Versteeg stepping up the scoring punch, it may not be as devastating as we thought.  It will come down to shoring up the defense to me.

The Hawks have fire power with the above mentioned names, but the blue line to me has been the problem and disappointment to this time in the season.  I wish I had a dollar for every Johnny Oduya turnover in the middle of the ice.  I'll take a quarter for each of the David Runblad miscues as well.  I might be able to have a nice night on the town with those two windfalls.  The other defensive key for the Hawks to sustain themselves in the absence of Kane is goaltending.  Corey Crawford will need to be somewhere between where he's playing now, and the guy that guided the Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 2013 (should have been the Conn Smythe winner).

Obviously this will be a tough road to the Cup without Kane, but I wouldn't ever bet against the grit and determination of Toews, and the coaching ability of Joel Quenneville.  The West is tough, so getting there will not be easy.  I'm still a glass half full guy.

Now as far as Rose is concerned, am I the only one who feels like the team will be ok without him?  Come on, the core of this team (Gibson, Butler, Noah) have probably played more games without Rose than with him over the last few years, and have been able to contend in the East.  These guys are more used to seeing Rose in a suit, than suited up to play with them.  This should not be a mental blow, this should be a "same old song" situation for the group.

This year the team has a little more inside presence with Pau Gasol and his constant double-doubles, and a more efficient Jimmy Butler, who is averaging over 20 points a game.  Tony Snell is starting to emerge, Aaron Brooks is adding 10 points a game and Nikola Mirotic is starting to find his stride in the NBA.  There is talk of adding Nate Robinson to the mix, the guy that starred for the Bulls in the 2012-2013 season, was bought out by the Celtics and is a free agent.

As I stated with the Hawks, the Bulls will have to find a way to compensate for Rose's scoring ability, but it's the defense that has been a disappointment for the team this season.  The Bulls are giving up 98.7 points per game, which is just 12th in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau has stressed defense since he took over the Bulls, and the highest opponent's points per game a team under Thib's has allowed is 92.9, in 2012.  Defense to me will be a bigger priority for this team if it wants to win the conference and get into the NBA championship picture.

Obviously you'd rather have a guy like Rose in your lineup to compete with the LeBron James' of the world, but he may not be there.  Rose has not had a track record of returning early from injury, so let's just say he's out for the season, something that could be a reality.  It's a reality that is far too real to Bulls fans.

Hang in there fans, and remember if it gets too tough for you to take, and the Hawks and Bulls go into a tailspin without their two superstars, baseball season starts in a little over a month!

Andy Masur is a freelance broadcaster with over 15 years of MLB and NCAA Hoops play-by-play to his credit.  Andy is an amateur photographer and occasional blogger.   You can follow Andy on twitter at @Andy_Masur1 and keep up to date with him on his personal website, www.andy-masur.com