Frankie O: The case for Woody

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Frankie O: The case for Woody

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

In the first winter of the Great Cubs Experiment fans have been eagerly dissecting every move of the Epstein Regime. Im very surprisednot surprised at the reactions Ive been getting at the bar. This has been, so far, a nuke job of the roster and not surprising. After watching what transpired on the field last year, many are happy with that. Very happy. But at the same time, folks have to still pay top dollar to have a front row seat to the laying of the foundation for the end of 104 years, and counting, misery. Ive listened to many season ticket holders about their unhappiness with a lack of return in their investment. Fans want to be part of something good, but at what cost? Going to a game at Wrigley never gets old, but as weve watched in the last 2 Augusts and Septembers, decisions have been made to do other things.

As I look at the latest cash grab up north of the Green Bay Packers though, I begin to wonder. The Packers are having another of their stock offerings where fans have the ability to own a piece of paper, for 250. Whatever! Not to be too greedy, the Packers set an individual limit of 200. How nice! Someone can own 50,000 worth of paper, plus 25 shipping and handling, to show how dedicated they are to the cause. (I think Im more outraged at the 25 bucks. How much can it cost to put someones name on a piece of paper and mail it to them?) The demand has been so great that the team has added 30,000 more to the announced limit of 250,000. That would put the total of the offering at 70 million. And people from Philly are crazy?

I bring this up because, in my opinion, almost everyone is on board here with the transformation that is occurring and the Cubs faithful has been categorized as the most faithful in sports. Of course, the cynic in me cant help but point out that this is the offseason! Once the season starts, and the losses mount, they might be whistling a different tune. It rhymes with Lou. Life is always easy in Theory. Are Cubs fans going to be willing to keep on parting with their hard earned cash for the product they are watching on the field, when they understand they have no chance of competing? Theyre not from Wisconsin!

That is why I think that maybe the new bosses should throw the nostalgic masses a bone.

There are only a handful of Cubs who have captured the imagination of the fans the way Kerry Wood has. With his blazing fastball and quiet demeanor, he burst on the scene and achieved national stardom with his 20 strikeout game in 1998.

I remember that game, but for a different reason.

That spring training, the media was abuzz about the young flame-thrower. He was left off the opening day roster though and did not make his first appearance until April 12th. His first 3 starts were what you would expect of a rookie, 11 innings, never going more than 5 in earning a 1-2 record. Then in his 4th start at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, there was a flash of what made him the 4th overall pick of the 1995 amateur draft. Seven innings pitched, one run allowed and nine ks in an 8-3 win. I was hooked. The fastball! The curve! This kid was big-time! The following Tuesday night was a Harry Carays employee outing in the bleachers at Wrigley.

That would be Tuesday May 5, 1998. To say that we enjoyed a few beverages would be typical understatement on my part. After the game, it came to me that Wood was pitching the next afternoon. Discussing this with a friend at a local establishment, I argued that we had to go see him pitch since it was a day game, the weather was going to be iffy and it would be easy to get tickets. If he pitched like his previous outing, he was going to become the next big thing, and getting to see him would be much more difficult. My friend argued that in my euphoric state that he didnt see any way that I would be able to get up in time and come back into the city to go to the game. As my phone rang the next morning, repeatedly, I was furious that my friend was correct and that this was a game that I would be watching on the TV. Although, I did find time to pick up the phone during the last call I received to express my feelings about his being right in two succinct words. As I tortured myself on the treadmill, while watching the game, to get rid of the evil spirits that where inhabiting my body, the game I was watching was making me feel even sicker. Strikeout after strikeout, in the most dominating game I ever watched. I had to turn it off. I did however listen to the rest of the game on my way into work. 20 strikeouts, no walks and one UGH! Upon arriving, everyone at the restaurant was buzzing and there were three TV stations interviewing customers to get their reactions to one of the biggest days in Cubs history. Did you see it?! Did you see it?!! Yeah, I saw it, now leave me alone! Man, was I ticked-off. I was sure that something was going to happen, and I was right, now I was being mocked about it everywhere I turned. Oh well. At least I have a story to tell when I want people to laugh at me!

This was the beginning of Woods status of not just being another player. Although the progression of his career was not what everyone expected or predicted, due to injury or whatever else, he always maintained that status. He had an aura and a mystique to accompany that right arm.

Something I witnessed later that year forever endeared him to me. My father and brother were in town and we went to a Cubs game that was honoring Harry. We arrived inside Wrigley early so that we could get on the field to have a picture taken, because thats how I roll! My father and brother were wearing new Cubs hats that they had purchased on the way to the stadium. Waiting to get onto the field, we were sitting in the first row of seats almost behind home plate on the Cubs side of the field. At this time rookie-phenom Wood was doing some PR work with some bankers, throwing a ceremonial pitch and having his picture taken. In the meantime, a crowd of youngsters, including my brother, had gathered near the home plate entrance to the Cubs dugout in hopes of getting an autograph.

Upon completion of his work duties with the giddy bankers (Wood fever had caught the entire populace of Chicago) he stopped to oblige the youthful mass on his way into the dugout. My brother came back beaming with his new hat having a pretty cool autograph on it. One that was so cool that a Phillies fan wouldnt get a ton of grief for possessing it. The old man, realizing this point, decided that he would go over and get his signed too. It was comical watching Wood pass over my father time after time, to sign something for a kid. Understanding that it wasnt going to happen, my father backed out of the throng and started his way back. At this point a little guy in the group saw what was happening and told my father to hold on and give the hat to him. As soon as the kid got back in line it was signed. I love the fact that Wood signed for every kid there and wouldnt sign for an old dude who was a Phillies fan, not falling for the subterfuge of him holding a Cubs hat!

I never saw him in person until many years later. Just over a year ago as a matter of fact, at the after funeral reception at Harry Carays for Ron Santo. As he approached the bar, my work wife and I said hello and asked teasingly if he had signed a contract for the 2011 season. We asked knowing that he was a free-agent and everybody who was a fan of the Cubs, including the late Ronnie, would like to see him back in a Cubbies uniform. The sheepish smile he gave the two of us got us thinking, Wow, maybe he will be back. His signing was announced less than a week later and Jim Hendry said their conversation at the reception was where their talks to bring him back started.
But that wasnt hard to guess. He belongs here. The symmetry between him and the Cubs is undeniable.

By this time Id become a fan of his for another reason. I know hes not the only one, not even on his own team, but for purpose of this post, Ill focus on his charitable endeavors. I think because Ive watched him here since he was 20, and have watched him grow into manhood it really resonates.

I dont know when the point is that you get it but he certainly does. I know for myself it was when my children were born. Maybe not so coincidentally, once he got married and had children, Wood has become a charitable force. According to his website, his Kerry Wood Strike Zone Celebrity Bowling Tournament has raised over 2 million for Childrens Memorial Hospital and other Chicago charities. Upon his arrival with the Cubs last year, he and his wife launched The Wood Family Foundation, in which they hope to improve the lives of children in and around the Chicago area through children's charities. You look at the picture of him and his family in the foundation website and its everything that anyone would want in life. And by reading their comments throughout the website, you can feel their need to share their good fortune. The benefit that the Wood family is having on others is admirable and undeniable.

What I also would term as undeniable would be Kid Ks effect on this years Cubs roster. When I first moved here, the Cubs Cub was Mark Grace. Not only was he good, he seemed to do things the right way. A gamer. He was also an influence on the young Kerry Wood, imparting his years of baseball wisdom. I always perceived that hitters wanted nothing to do with pitchers and vice-versa, but these two are so cool, it seemed a natural fit, and you would see them together often.

With this years edition primed to be one of the youngest weve seen in a long time, it only makes sense that the veterans chosen to stay are the right ones. New manager Dale Sveums comments about the apathy he perceived in the Cubs dugout in years past as viewed from across the field is something that is no longer going to be accepted, by anyone, since we have been promised more. What some of the youngsters on the Cubs are going to need is a no-nonsense, modern day, Crash Davis, someone who can appreciate the ups and downs of playing in the Show, someone who knows how to successfully navigate all of the obstacles in playing for the Chicago Cubs.

No one disputes that this is going to take a while, the path of developing young talent always does. In the meantime though, their need to be leaders, on the team and in the field, veterans that have earned the trust of management and the ticket-buying public alike, to show the way forward.

As I read in the papers this week what I consider a game of chicken, I dont get it. I know the mantra for the Epstein lead management is not to pay for past performance, and I get this, if youre talking about A-Rod or Albert Pujols or Alfonso Soriano(!), but they all make mega-mega millions. Were talking here about a set-up reliever that ALL sides agree took less than market value to play here last year. Why not consider that when offering a 2 year deal for appropriate money that would benefit everyone involved. The Cubs are better with Kerry Wood here. Chicago is better with him here as well

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

The White Sox haven’t had much success with runners in scoring position of late. Todd Frazier hasn’t had much all season long.

But Frazier’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night broke a tie and the White Sox held on for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 27,196 at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory was the fourth in five games for the White Sox, who improved to 37-37. Frazier’s hit was the only one with a runner in scoring position in 14 tries for a team that entered the game hitting .245 in those situations. He finished 2-for-4.

Though Frazier has provided the White Sox with plenty of thump, he’s had a trying season with runners in scoring position. He entered his eighth-inning at-bat with Jesse Chavez just 9-for-61 with two home runs and 23 RBIs with runners in scoring position, including a third-inning ground out. But Frazier got a 1-1 fastball from Chavez and ripped it into left field to put the White Sox ahead and end a frustrating night for the offense, particularly the bottom of the order.

The White Sox had left a man in scoring position in all but one inning up until that point. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by Avisail Garcia and pulled ahead in the fifth on a solo homer by Melky Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 against his former team.

Prior to Frazier’s single, Cabrera grounded out to first as Edwin Encarnacion made a spectacular stop and fell down in foul territory. Tim Anderson, who doubled and went to third on a fly ball, didn’t advance on the play. But Frazier made it all moot.

Carlos Rodon had another strong outing, though he surrendered the lead right before he exited.

Rodon struck out eight and tamed a red hot offense for 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander fell behind 1-0 in the second inning and looked as if he may be in trouble before escaping the jam with a strikeout of Junior Lake to strand two. That began a stretch in which Rodon retired 11 of 14 batters and allowed the White Sox to rally for a 2-1 lead.

But Rodon couldn’t hold it, in part because of a sixth-inning balk call by first-base ump Angel Hernandez that earned pitching coach Don Cooper an ejection. Rodon hit Michael Saunders to start the sixth and he advanced on the balk and tagged up on a fly out to center. The extra 90 feet became critical when Kevin Pillar’s infield single tied it. Todd Frazier made a diving stop on the play at first base and Rodon took one too many steps to tag first base just behind the slide of Pillar.

Rodon allowed two earned runs and six hits with two walks.

The White Sox bullpen picked up the slack. Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Zach Duke combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Robertson. Robertson then pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam for his 19th save in 21 tries.

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

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Associated Press

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

NEW YORK (AP) — Not even a broken nose could slow down Tina Charles.

She had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead New York to an 80-79 victory over the Chicago Sky on Friday night for the Liberty's sixth consecutive win — their longest streak in six years.

"I do what my teammates need me to do," Charles said. "I know how much my team relies on me especially not having (Epiphanny Prince) here."

Charles was sporting a clear mask after she broke her nose Wednesday in a double-overtime win over Atlanta.

"It was the first time in my life that I had to wear a mask," the reigning AP player of the week said. "The situation is what it is. It's a contact sport and injuries do happen. I'm just happy that the Hosptial for Special Surgery and our medical staff was able to give me the mask so I could play tonight."

Charles leads the league in scoring and rebounding and had 12 points in the first half to help New York build a 50-40 halftime advantage.

Sugar Rodgers added 13 points for the Liberty (10-4), who are third in the AP power poll. It's the first time since 2001 that New York has won 10 of its first 14 games.

The Liberty led by 11 midway through the fourth before the Sky rallied to 78-77 with 2:24 left. Neither team would score again until Sugar Rodgers hit an acrobatic backdoor floater with 39.5 seconds remaining. Elena Delle Donne answered with a tough pullup nine seconds later.

Chicago let New York run down the clock on its next possession before Charles missed a hook across the lane. Delle Donne got the rebound setting up one final chance for the Sky with just over 2 seconds left, but her jumper from the wing missed.

"Couple things went wrong and we didn't run it to the way we were supposed to," Delle Donne said of the last play. "Things got a little crazy and had to throw up a desperation shot. We wanted more of a post up and that just didn't happen."

She finished with a season-high 31 points to lead Chicago (6-8). Cappie Pondexter added 20 for the seventh-ranked Sky, who have dropped four of five.

Both teams wore warm-up shirts in honor of Orlando club shooting victims. The Liberty donated $10,000 to the OneOrlando fund that was set up to support the victims' families and survivors.

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

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USA Today Sports Images

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

MIAMI - One week into his major league career, Chicago Cubs super-sub Willson Contreras says he's simply trying to contribute and enjoy himself.

So how much fun is he having?

"A lot," Contreras said, practically shouting the words. "A lot."

No wonder - he's batting .412 with three homers, and the latest helped the Cubs break their longest losing streak of the season at four games by beating the Miami Marlins 5-4 Friday night.

Contreras hit a two-run homer in a four-run first inning, and his RBI single in the seventh put the team with the best record in the majors ahead to stay.

Manager Joe Maddon said Contreras' contribution as a reinforcement for the injury-hampered Cubs has been indispensable.

"It's like oxygen - it's absolutely necessary," Maddon said. "The life he has brought to the group is absolutely necessary. He's different in all the best ways."

While Contreras again excelled as a reinforcement, the NL Central leaders endured another setback when second baseman Ben Zobrist left the game after he was hit by a pitch that bruised his left ankle. X-rays were negative, but Zobrist said he'll likely miss at least one game.

Four pitchers held the Marlins to two hits, including Justin Bour's grand slam.

Each team scored four runs in the first inning, when Kris Bryant and Contreras homered for the Cubs. It was the first time in the majors this year that both teams scored at least four runs in the first, according to ESPN.

Despite the early onslaught, both starters settled down before departing with the score still 4-all.

The Cubs' Kyle Hendricks pitched five innings and allowed only one hit - Bour's slam. All four runs were unearned because of an error by shortstop Addison Russell.

"That was the most grinding of a one-hitter," Hendricks said. "It was a weird game."

Miami's Tom Koehler gave up six consecutive hits in the first but still pitched six innings.

Trevor Cahill (1-2) threw a scoreless sixth. Hector Rondon retired all four batters he faced for his second four-out save in a row, and his 13th overall.

Mike Dunn (0-1) retired only one of the five hitters he faced in the seventh, walking two and hitting Zobrist.

"I can't remember the last time I went out there and couldn't throw anything over the plate," Dunn said. "I didn't give the team a chance."

Dunn also allowed a one-out run-scoring single by Contreras, who has eight RBIs after seven games in the big leagues.

"He looks like an established big league hitter," Hendricks said. "He just hits balls hard. It's really fun to watch. To be that young and come up and do it, it's unbelievable. And we need it right now."

Contreras started at catcher and moved to first base late in the game. He's expected to be in the lineup again Saturday, although he's unsure where.

"I don't know if I'm going to play left field or first base; I caught a few flyballs in right field today," he said. "So I'll be ready, man."