Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

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Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

HOUSTONThis citys Houston good, Omer Asik said. A little bit hotter than Chicago.

Besides the change in weather, the former Bulls center is thriving on the court, averaging 10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, albeit for a 4-7 team. His new squad, the Rockets, host the Bulls at the Toyota Center in a battle of two clubs trying to snap losing streaks two consecutive defeats for the Bulls, a trio of losses for Houston Wednesday night.

Im really excited. I spent two years with them and we had a really good team, and good friendships with everybody, Asik told CSNChicago.com after the Rockets morning shootaround. Its going to be really interesting to play against them.

Asik, a native of Turkey whose mastery of English is far better than he lets on, has fond memories of his time in Chicago, despite signing a three-year, nearly 25 million contract with the Rockets as a free agent over the summer.

Actually, it wasnt totally my decision either. Its just happened like that, whatever happened and Im just moving forward, he said, referring to the Bulls decision not to match Houstons back-loaded offer sheet, which included a 15 million salary for the final year of the deal. I had a really good coach, Thibs, and really good, experienced teammates that helped me a lot in my first two seasons and Im very happy that I started my NBA career with them.

I watch some Bulls games, but not much. But theyve been playing very good, like they always do, continued Asik, who noted that the Bulls are used to playing without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who missed 27 regular-season games last year. Of course, when you play without the MVP, its a little bit tough, but I think theyve been playing very good, especially on defense.

Asik shrugged off praise for his offensive development, but did refer to the challenges of playing with one of the NBAs youngest teams, led by the dynamic backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

Im trying to play hard, like usual. Im just trying to win the games to help the team. Thats all I can do, try to get better, he explained. Lin and Harden are really talented and James played last season in the Finals, which is a good experience at a young age and playing with them, we dont know each other yet, but I think itll get better.

Added Rockets interim head coach Kelvin Sampson, who is filling in for regular head coach Kevin McHale while the Hall of Famer deals with a family issue: Sometimes when a guy I think he averaged 14 minutes a game prior to coming here theres always a little bit of a mystery factor. What would he do if he had 30 minutes or 35 minutes?

Hes one of a handful -- 10 guys maybe -- in the NBA, thats averaging a double-double. I think that Omer has to never forget who he is, though. Sometimes, theres a double-edged sword with working with guys on their offense. They want to go to games and start experimenting. Id rather you experiment in practice, hoss, continued Sampson, who was familiar with Asik from his time as an assistant coach with Milwaukee, a Central Division rival of the Bulls.

He needs to be more sure of whats going on come game time. But Omer is more of a facilitator for us than a scorer. I think thats part of his growth as he gets older and more experienced, that he hes going to get more comfortable with catching the ball and scoring. Hes not there yet, but hes trying. But we dont want him trying at the expense of getting other guys shots. Omer needs to run the floor, needs to set good screens.

Fire's Brandon Vincent trying to 'enjoy the moment' at MLS All-Star Game

Fire's Brandon Vincent trying to 'enjoy the moment' at MLS All-Star Game

All-star games always come with extra hoopla and attention and bring the biggest stars together in one place for a few days.

The national soccer media has descended upon San Jose for the MLS All-Star Game, which will take place Thursday. For Chicago Fire rookie defender Brandon Vincent, who was selected to the MLS All-Stars, he gets to fly a bit under the radar.

“I’m not one of the superstars so I’m not one of the top guys for the media, but there has been a lot of fanfare,” Vincent said. “I had a couple appearances out playing soccer tennis with a couple fans. It’s been great. Having the open training in front of the fans has been really cool.”

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For Vincent, the trip to San Jose is a bit of a homecoming as well. Vincent just completed a standout four-year career at Stanford in the fall, capped off by a national title. He said he has seen some friends and that his family will be in town for the game.

“This is my first go at a big thing like this,” Vincent said. “It’s a lot to take in. Obviously I’m really lucky to be a part of it and it’s really exciting and I’m happy to be here.”

The MLS All-Stars have had two training sessions ahead of Thursday’s game against Arsenal. This meant Vincent has been training alongside Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa among other MLS stars.

“I’ve pinched myself sometimes seeing these players who are absolutely legendary players and world-class,” Vincent said. “It’s pretty crazy to think that I’ve grown up watching these guys on TV and I get to take the field with them one time. It’s amazing.”

Because Vincent is a rookie this can be viewed as more of a learning experience. At least that’s how Fire coach Veljko Paunovic has talked about his left back’s selection.

“It’s a great achievement and we are very happy for him to be there,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to help him also having that experience to learn from, the more experienced guys on the All-Star team.

“The only thing is that whatever minutes (he plays are) for him and for us to build his overall performance, his experience and become the player that we are all looking for.”

Paunovic said he spoke with Dom Kinnear, who is coaching the All-Stars, on Monday during meetings in San Jose. Paunovic didn’t want to influence Kinnear’s decision on how much to play Vincent. Vincent said the players haven’t heard much about how much they will play other than that there will be a lot of rotation as they game goes on.

The All-Star nod goes along with Vincent’s recent senior national team call up and appearance back in early February. Comparing the two is tough, but Vincent was able to break it down.

“The national team has been something that’s been a dream of mine so getting that call up was I think the biggest, but this has been just as cool honestly,” he said. “I had no idea this was coming. It was such a pleasant surprise that I can’t help but enjoy it and enjoy the moment.”

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Aroldis Chapman lost the press conference, which won’t matter if the Cubs win the World Series. That’s the calculated decision chairman Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and their inner circle made in trading for the 105-mph closer from the New York Yankees.

But Chapman’s lost-in-translation introduction to the Chicago media (and, by extension, the fans) should force the Cubs – and anyone covering the team – to reassess that system-wide failure.

That’s not diminishing the seriousness of the allegations Chapman faced after a domestic dispute in South Florida last October, leading to a 30-game suspension to start this season. Or completely falling for the sleepy/nervous defense presented after Chapman – under repeated questioning – said he had no recollection of the off-the-field expectations Ricketts outlined during that phone call the Cubs absolutely needed before closing the deal with the Yankees.

Major League Baseball required all teams to hire a Spanish-language translator this season, and the Cubs deployed quality-assurance coach Henry Blanco, a widely respected former big-league catcher who doesn’t have any real experience handling such a sensitive media session. This wasn’t asking Jorge Soler about a hamstring injury or a game-winning home run. Chapman’s agent, Barry Praver, watched the entire scene unfold in the visiting dugout on Tuesday afternoon before a crosstown game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

ESPN’s Pedro Gomez – who asked the only question in Spanish during the group scrum – then got a one-on-one interview with Chapman that yielded more insight into the player and the conversation with ownership. 

“I really don’t know what happened there,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Whether it was miscommunication (or he was) misunderstood, I don’t know.

“That’s already over. We got to move in a different direction. Whatever happened yesterday, we just want to be on the positive side and move forward.”

Ricketts – who released a statement when the trade became official on Monday afternoon and appeared on the team’s flagship radio station (WSCR-AM 670) on Tuesday morning – declined to comment when approached by reporters before another crosstown game on Wednesday at Wrigley Field: “I think we’ve said enough this week.”

At a time when newspapers are diminished and old/new media is fracturing, there simply aren’t enough Spanish speakers within the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Chapman – an All-Star performer who is 28 years old and has been in the big leagues since 2010 – doesn’t really speak any English and grew up within a society that most of us will never understand.

Even for native speakers and proficient translators, there are linguistics variations in Spanish and wide cultural gaps among those born in Cuba (Chapman and Soler), Venezuela (Blanco and Montero) and the Dominican Republic. There are also fundamental personality differences, with Chapman being described as an observer, quiet and withdrawn during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.

While the talkative Montero, 33, didn’t know any English when he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a teenager, he picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana.

“I just kept on practicing, asking questions,” Montero said. “I remember people laughing about my accent or whatever. And I never really cared. That’s what a lot of Latin guys get intimidated by, because they don’t want people to make fun of them. That’s why they get intimidated. That’s why they don’t learn.

“That wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care if you laughed. I didn’t care about any of that, because this is not my language, you know? It’s something that I (was) learning and I became fairly good. Good enough.”

That’s why Montero can understand MLB’s directive to hire translators and still see the limitations.

“It’s OK,” Montero said. “But on the other hand, I feel like it’s important for us to learn the language. Not only as a player, but when your career’s over, you’re bilingual. You can actually use it for different areas (of your life) later on.

“That was my biggest goal. If I didn’t make it to the big leagues, at least I’m going to be bilingual, and I can do something because it’s productive for any other job.”

Chapman has one job between here and October – to win the franchise’s first World Series in more than a century – and that success or failure is how he will ultimately be remembered in Chicago.

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.

The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.

Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.

“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”

His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.

So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.

“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”

Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.   

Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.

“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”

Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.

“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”