5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the rising stars on the Chicago Tribune sports staff whos daily task this time of year is covering the most loved and most hated college football team on the planet: The Notre Dame Fighting Irisha New Jersey native who now calls Wrigleyville his homehere are 5 Questions withBRIAN HAMILTON!

BIO: Chicago Tribune sportswriter Brian Hamilton was assigned to the Notre Dame beat in July 2007. Since joining the Tribune in September 2005, Brian has covered everything from the Illinois high school cheerleading championships to the WNBA to the Final Four to Super Bowl XLI to the Winter Olympics to the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run, nearly all of it without embarrassment. In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity.

Prior to arriving at the Tribune, Brian spent six years scraping permafrost off his notebook while working in Minnesota at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and mainly covering college football, basketball and the NBA's Timberwolves. This after attending one of the best schools for journalism in America, Northwestern University, and taking full advantage by majoring in English and creative writing while dropping his one journalism class after two weeks.

Brian grew up on the north side of Westfield, N.J., and now lives in Lakeview.

1) CSNChicago.com: Brian, college football fans across the country are still talking about that wild finish to the Notre Dame-Michigan State game a couple Saturdays ago, in particular, the non delay of game call in OT that many Irish fans felt was grossly mishandled by the officiating crew. What was your take on that controversial moment and do you think that kind of loss hurts the Irish coachesplayers mindset going forward (they werent very competitive at home against 9 Stanford this past weekend)?

Hamilton: Well, if it hurts them moving forward, then Brian Kelly has no shot at teaching this group of players how to win, because that means they aren't buying into one of his core philosophies, one that most coaches have: Leave a loss behind after 24 hours. So I don't expect it to have much carryover. Unless, of course, they keep losing close games again and again and again, and then you can start talking about a cumulative effect. But for the near-term, I think they're fine mentally.

As for the call, someone with way, way more free time than I have broke down the sequence frame-by-frame. And the conclusion was that between the stadium play clock not the clock on ESPN's graphic -- hitting :00 and the snap of the ball, there was merely a fraction of a second of time. Like so small that it's not humanly possible for an official to take his eye from the clock, move it to the snap and determine the snap was late. But I'm of the same mindset as Brian Kelly regardless: If the Irish line up differently or two of them simply don't get run over by Michigan State players, it's moot, because they'd probably have prevented the touchdown anyway.

2) CSNChicago.com: The arrival of Brian Kelly as head coach this season is widely considered one of the best moves the ND football program has made in yearsnot only for the short term, but more for the long-term potential success of the program. With all the hype and great expectations associated with Kellys hiring, will anything short of a national title in, lets say, 4-5 years be considered a failure?

Hamilton: I'd alter that a bit and say that anything less than contention for a BCS bowl within three years probably would be a disappointment. While there are some veterans on this team, there is a lot of talent among the underclassmen, too, and the starting quarterback began this season with three years of eligibility. And the 2011 recruiting class contains two significant top 100 defensive line recruits in Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch that, in a couple years, should be pretty formidable. Assuming those guys stick with their commitments, of course.

In other words, they have some guys who will fill some holes that have plagued Notre Dame for years. But a national title run may require some luck, or some real affection for the college game from guys like Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. At this point, it's absurd or delusional to think that one or both won't seriously entertain the thought of the NFL after this season. If they come back, the Irish should be a BCS team next year and anything less would be a disappointment. If they don't, the bar gets reset a bit lower for 2011.

3) CSNChicago.com: Recently, Notre DameNFL legend Joe Montana debunked the Rudy myth involving the diminutive, yet determined ND walk-on Daniel Rudy Ruettiger stating the crowd wasnt chanting RUDY, RUDY! at the end of that Georgia Tech game and that his teammates were only playing around when they carried him off the field. Your opinion: sour grapes on Montanas part or, since movies do take liberties with real life stories, is he probably right about this one?

Hamilton: This shocked me exactly zero percent, considering that even the most mature college upperclassmen are still college kids. They certainly have the capacity for compassion, but they also have a perhaps even greater capacity for humor and good, old-fashioned, no-harm-no-foul needling. If what happened was what Joe Montana says what happened, and you're shocked by it, you're also the type of person that's stunned to learn college kids sleep late, skip class and occasionally enjoy a frosty adult beverage.

On top of that, was what Montana said really all that bad? Was it really all that mean? I didn't see it that way, but then I'd take "Hoosiers" over "Rudy" pretty much any hour of any day.

4) CSNChicago.com: Youve traveled around the country visiting some of the nations best college football stadiums for a number of years now. In terms of fan atmosphere, facilities, playing field, etc., whats your favorite stadium to visitand least favorite?

Hamilton: Before I get assailed by emails from SEC or Big 12 fans, I will remind them that my college football writing career has involved two teams: Minnesota and Notre Dame, a Holtz-ian itinerary that has sort of restricted my stadium visits. That said, of the places I've been, nothing sticks out more in my mind than a Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium. The press box literally shakes before the fourth-quarter, when the crowd goes nuts to House of Pain's "Jump Around. It's a huge place, the crowd is insanely into it and it's always electric.

Other highlights? There is nothing like the view at the Rose Bowl. Gorgeous place to watch a game, although Lewis & Clark made it to the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to get to your parking lot there. I wish Notre Dame would schedule a home-and-home with Iowa, and play Washington at Washington every year. Ohio Stadium (The Horseshoe) is just impressive, period. Notre Dame Stadium, for the record, is not the best but not anywhere near the worst place to work a college football game.

The worst? Well, I'm pathologically jealous of all Minnesota writers who get to watch games at TCF Bank Stadium, as six years of Metrodome home games for the Gophers felt like weekly visits to the fifth circle of hell. And I'm gonna get killed for this, but if I never cover another game at Penn State, I'll be thrilled. Atmosphere is great, but it's impossible to get to and the press box is antiquated at best. The accommodations in State College? My last hotel room there didn't have a WINDOW. No joke. It takes ages to fight through traffic and then tailgaters curse at you for driving to your assigned parking spot. Repeat: ASSIGNED parking spot. Way, way too much hassle for one day or night of work.

5) CSNChicago.com: Name your top three favorite local establishments that you consider to be hidden gems in our fine city (provide a brief line or two on why you like each one).

Hamilton: After several false starts, we finally made it to A Tavola (2148 W. Chicago) and we were not disappointed. Absolutely no better place to go for an exceptionally warm, cozy atmosphere, great service, wine and food. Brown sage butter gnocchi? Yes, please.

It's not really "hidden" at least not when my friends from New Jersey visit and make a point to go but I enjoyed The Bristol (2152 N. Damen) the couple times I've visited. Nothing like killing the annoyance of a table wait with an upstairs anteroom essentially dedicated to drinking.

And, again, not exactly hidden, but I have yet to go wrong with the brisket & gravy at Southport Grocery (3552 N. Southport). And other sources familiar with eating breakfast with me have yet to go wrong with the bread pudding pancakes there.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you would like to plug Brian? CSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it

Hamilton: Well, I'd hope that everyone would attend my upcoming charity fundraiser at Sunda, benefitting my two favorite causes: Saving the Midwest Aboriginal Muskrat, and getting Lauren Conrad to hook up with Devin Aromashodu.

Seriously, though, just click on the many posts from me and my Tribune colleagues at ChicagoBreakingSports.com, and follow my Twitter account: @ChiTribHamilton. And also, if you see Teddy Greenstein around, just yell "PLAYOFF!" in his face really, really loud. He loves that.

Hamilton LINKS:

Chicago TribuneCollege Sports

Chicago Breaking SportsNotre Dame

Brian Hamilton on Twitter

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

[SHOP: Get your own Jake Arrieta jersey]

This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

[SHOP: Get your Addison Russell jersey here]

Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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