Bolingbrook's Ivlow, Bailey look to repeat

602194.png

Bolingbrook's Ivlow, Bailey look to repeat

What was the secret to Bolingbrook's sprint to the Class 8A championship? Aaron Bailey? Overall team quickness? Superior depth? More good players than anyone else? Experienced coaching staff? Luck?

None of the above.

Coach John Ivlow credits his team's success to...peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

"Our philosophy is to keep it simple," he said. "We don't buy into supplement stuff. Our team meal is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Before the state championship game, we made them in the hallway at Urbana High School. That's our pre-game thing.

"We also push whole milk and granola bars. Our unofficial philosophy is: You can't win with fat guys. Our kids are stronger and quicker. Quickness comes from strength. Our kids lift weights. We always have quickness in our favor. We want our kids playing and reacting, not thinking."

Coming off a 5-5 season, Bolingbrook wasn't rated among the top 25 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason. "I wouldn't have rated us, either. But if you did your homework, you would have seen that we had 18 starters back from a playoff team. I always look at teams that have a lot of returning starters. They are the dangerous ones, the ones to look out for," Ivlow said.

So what about next season? No one will overlook Bolingbrook in 2012, not with Bailey and seven other offensive starters returning.

"Next year we will be better offensively," Ivlow said. "And we had a freshman lineman on the varsity, James Jacobsen, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder, who will be as good as (Illinois-bound) Robert Bain. He is a mauler like Bain. He has great potential."

Bailey is excited, too. One of the leading prospects in the class of 2013, he hopes to come back for his final season as a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who bench-presses 300 pounds, squats 300 to 400 and shows marked improvement in his passing skills after working out in the off-season with quarterback guru Jeff Christensen. It is a scary proposition.

"I want to get bigger, faster and stronger. I can be a lot better," Bailey said. "I want to be a quarterback in college or a receiver, not a running back or defensive back. If a team needs a quarterback, I'll be a quarterback. But I'll be a receiver if they want one."

In the meantime, he plans to take a month off "to get my body back together." Then he will join the baseball team. But he also will devise a plan to provide time for football workouts.

"There is no pressure to repeat," Bailey said. "We're not trying to impress anyone. We just want to play our game and don't worry about what others say. We have to stay humble and not let (the state title) get to our head, not worry about the hoopla.

"I trust in God. All things are possible. This season wasn't a surprise. We had a lot of chemistry going in. We were dedicated in the weight room. We knew it was going to be a special season. There was something special about this team. Everyone wanted to win. We were tired of going to the playoff and being satisfied with winning a game or two."

Ivlow's job is easier when it comes to coaching Bailey. "You don't coach Bailey. You put him in a system that he will succeed in. He is a runner who can throw. He is a better thrower than people give him credit for. But the option is the first thing that comes to mind," Ivlow said.

"We just find ways to get him free. We have five or six different options. Sooner or later, it will break, like a chess game. Right now, 70 percent of the schools that are recruiting him want him as an athlete. The other 30 percent want him as a quarterback. What would I do? I'd put him at quarterback running my show in some type of option offense, a shotgun like Northwestern runs."

Ivlow, 41, prides himself as an offense-minded football coach. He learned from his father, who coached at Plainfield for 30 years. He played in the NFL for three years -- he was a fullback on the 1993 Chicago Bears and earned a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers -- and credits his knowledge of the game to former East Leyden product Mike Shanahan, who coached him at San Francisco and Denver.

"In the NFL, you have tests," he said. "You sit in countless hours of meetings. They quiz you on every position, how to block every front. We have a lot of knowledge here. We're not cocky; we're confident. People make things too hard. We stress simplicity. Our motto is: 'Less is more.' We don't have to run the West Coast offense. Our job is to put kids in position to make plays."

A Plainfield graduate of 1988, Ivlow played football at Northwestern for two years, then played for three years at Colorado State. After his NFL career ended, he took five years off. He didn't even watch a game. Looking for a job, he became a policeman. That was 15 years ago.

Slowly but surely, he began to get back into football. He attended Bolingbrook practices. Coach Phil Acton, who was closing out a successful 24-year career, added him to his staff. After one year, Acton retired and Ivlow was hired to succeed him. Nobody was more surprised than Ivlow.

"I was thrown to the wolves," he said. "A lot of people turned the job down rather than take a pay cut. I was surprised to get the job...no experience, only one year on the staff."

But he got a lot of help from staff holdovers, including defensive coordinator Bob Corra, offensive line coach Joe Murnick, defensive line coach Greg Pluth and offensive coordinator Matt Monken. All of them have been with Ivlow since 2002. Former Bolingbrook, Michigan and NFL player Todd Howard has coached the defensive backs for the last five years.

Ten years ago, about the time he was taking over Acton's program, Ivlow became the school resource officer at Bolingbrook High School. He runs a police station within the school. He is one of two officers on duty. Since the Columbine tragedy in Colorado, every high school in the country has at least one policeman in the hallway at all times.

Like Bailey and his teammates, Ivlow and his assistant coaches are still reliving the joys of winning a state championship...before they begin preparing to win another one.

"People wonder how we accumulated all of that quickness on one team," Ivlow said. "They don't get it. There are only a few ways to get fast. You're either born with it or you learn to improve your stride length or your consistency. No matter what, you have to spend a lot of time getting stronger. More than any other exercise, you have to improve your leg strength. You have to pound the iron."

And eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

White Sox need to simplify to rediscover winning ways

stl_hayes_talkback_05-26_640x360_693810243786.jpg

White Sox need to simplify to rediscover winning ways

They’ve done it before this season, and White Sox players are confident they can find it once again.

Once off to a 23-10 start, the White Sox have been brought back to Earth by a stretch during which they’ve lost 11 of 15. Still, they don’t feel like they’re far off the mark, and eight losses since May 10 by two or fewer runs would suggest they aren’t. But the White Sox know they have to get back to what worked before, and that hasn’t occurred in a stretch where they’ve lost five consecutive series.

“It just hasn’t been as tight as it was when we were winning, making the plays, coming up with clutch hits, throwing the ball where you want to throw it and getting the result,” veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “The results have been opposite of what we were like."

The pitching hasn’t been as good in this stretch as it was early. The team has a 4.53 ERA in its past 15 games.

But the offense has been much worse.

A group that averaged 5.6 runs per contest from April 25 to May 9 has averaged 3.8 in its last 15 and only 2.8 over the last dozen. Included in that stretch are nine contests with three or fewer runs, of which the White Sox have won two. In their last 12 games, the White Sox have a .289 team on-base percentage.

“We need to get guys on with less than two outs more, and we need to come through,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “Right now we’re putting a little too much pressure on that instead of just playing our game, maybe a little too much. You’ve got to come back a little bit and understand, take our singles and make the pitcher work. Or, you get on him early, if you get a pitch to hit, we’ve got to do something with it.”

Both Frazier and Rollins said the White Sox merely need to simplify and get back to the basics. Rollins said they need to hit the ball, catch it, execute pitches and score more runs than the other team.

But he knows it isn’t that easy. While it should be, it isn’t.

It’s just that when a team is in a good stretch, there isn’t much to dwell on.

The White Sox have previously shown they’re capable of that state. Now it’s up to them to get back to it.

“When we were doing those things, everything’s going well,” Rollins said. “It’s always like when everything’s going well, everything seems easy. And when they’re not going well, you realize how difficult this game really is.

“We have to find a way to put an end to that. Great series to start that with."

“This game will always give you reminders — ‘Hey, you guys are good, but we’re going to slow you down a little bit.’ You keep at it, it’ll reward.”

Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

stl_hayes_talkback_05-26_640x360_693810243786.jpg

Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jimmy Rollins isn’t happy with his offensive production so far this season. But a slow start hasn’t made the veteran White Sox shortstop any less confident.

Through 142 plate appearances this season, Rollins is hitting .231/.289/.346 with 10 extra-base hits and eight RBIs. But Rollins -- who has played in 33 games -- said prior to Thursday’s rainout he feels fresh. He also doesn’t see a huge difference between how he has been pitched in his first tour of the American League after 15-plus seasons in the National League.  

“I don’t think I’ve done enough,” Rollins said. “I could be hitting .400 and I’d still be wanting to hit .500. But I’m only .200 and some change. I haven’t done enough to help the team and I’ve had plenty of opportunities. The good thing is, that will change also as the season goes along and I start catching that rhythm again.”

Rollins has a career .825 OPS in 2,232 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

This season he’s hitting at a .417 clip in 30 plate appearances with seven RBIs. Rollins also struggled with RISP in 2015, hitting .464. But he spent part of that season dealing with injuries.

Nearly 30 percent through the campaign, Rollins feels healthy.

He has appeared in 33 games as White Sox manager Robin Ventura has given him routine days off to stay sharp. Rollins likes how Ventura has employed those days off, sometimes two at a time to allow Tyler Saladino to develop a rhythm and get at-bats. So far, Rollins said his playing time is what he expected when he opted to sign with the White Sox instead of the San Francisco Giants and others.

As far as switching leagues, Rollins doesn’t know a lot of the pitchers he’s facing but he does know the hitters, which has helped him line up in good position. He thinks the defensive side is a more important component.

“I don’t think it really makes a tremendous difference (hitting),” Rollins said. “If you’re putting good swings on the ball, no matter what league you’re in, you’re going to get hits.”

He expects those hits will come shortly.

Before Thursday’s game was wiped out, Ventura dropped Rollins from second to sixth in the lineup for the second time in a week. Melky Cabrera was scheduled to start in the No. 2 hole and Jose Abreu hit there several times on the team’s last homestand.

“I’ll be able to contribute more and that’ll make the job easier on everybody,” Rollins said. “It goes down the line. One guy is doing good, hitting becomes contagious. The next guy wants to hit, the next guy wants to hit and that turns into nobody wants to make an out and then you grind out those at-bats and you find a way to execute. You might catch the ball, but I’m not making an out. And that’s the difference. Sometimes when you’re trying to get hits, it’s like pitching --- you’re trying to make the pitch. You’ll do whatever it takes, even if that means going outside your box, and when you do that you’re not going to be successful.”

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

hoyer_and_mooney_1_on_1_05-26_640x360_693801027961.jpg

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.