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

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Throw the names Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. all in a hat and pick one. It doesn't matter which name you pull out. They're all studs.

Anybody who plays fantasy football should know who the top wide receivers in the game are.

Check out that parity. Only one player that we disagree on.

Analyzing the top guys and telling you which one to draft isn't rocket science. That's why we're here to give you advice on who to target, which sleepers to keep an eye on and the busts for the 2016 season.

Top Targets

Eric Decker, NYJ: When will Decker get his due?? Dude's had his own TV show, has a celebrity wife, played with Peyton Manning and now plays in the biggest city in the U.S. and yet he's still an afterthought in fantasy. Decker has proven to be one of the most consistent players in the league over the last few seasons and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. He's had four straight years of at least 74 catches and 962 yards and scored double digit TDs in three of those four seasons. Last year, he scored 12 TDs in 12 different games, earning double digit fantasy points in nine of his final 10 games. For a guy that's going in the fifth round as the No. 24 WR, that's incredible value. — Tony Andracki

A.J Green, CIN: I know it's a little bit of a "Captain Obvious" moment to tell you that you should target Green, but I'm going to explain why anyway. Currently, Green has an ADP of 13, which has him falling out of the first round in many leagues. Outside of the "Big 3" Green is arguably the safest wide receiver to target in your draft and should be snatched up if he's available anywhere close to the end of the first or the start of the second round. Gone from the Bengals are wide receivers Marvin Jones and Muhamed Sanu, meaning the target burden is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Green in 2016. He should easily blow his 2015 targets (132) out of the water with only Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and the Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard tandem as the only trusted targets for quarterback Andy Dalton. As a WR1, Green is an excellent piece to build your team around. — Scott Krinch

Sleepers

Donte Moncrief, IND: Moncrief is a sixth-round pick right now, but count on a higher return on your investment than that. The third-year wideout has a rather high floor considering he's not yet an established name and his ceiling could eclipse that of teammate TY Hilton. Moncrief has a great rapport with Andrew Luck, who should be happy, healthy and back to his dominant self in 2016. Everything here spells breakout this season. — TA

Kevin White, CHI: The wait is over. Bears fans and fantasy players alike are happy to finally see White return to full health. White, the 7th overall selection in 2015 who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, has been drawing rave reviews throughout the preseason, being compared to Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne by Bears' wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. White heads into the 2016 season as the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Equipped with off the charts athleticism and speed for his 6-foot-3 frame, White is expected to play a significant role in the Bears offense. His 8th/9th round ADP puts him behind wideouts like DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, all players that may have a higher floor than White, but don't possess the type of ceiling that he does. If you want a high upside guy in the later rounds, White is your man. — SK

Busts

Allen Hurns, JAX: I hate to label Hurns as a bust heading into the 2016 season because I really like him as a player on the upstart Jaguars offense. However, the problem I have with Hurns is the fact that he's going off the board before the likes of Tyler Lockett, Sterling Shepard and Kevin White. The three aforementioned wide receivers all have massive ceilings next season, while Hurns will undoubtedly see a decline in last season's numbers. I can't see Hurns repeating his 2015 stretch where he went seven straight weeks with a receiving touchdown. Blake Bortles is going to spread the wealth between Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee and Hurns, in addition to having a full season of Julius Thomas. If you're expecting another big year from Hurns, temper your enthusiasm. There are too many targets to go around in Jacksonville. — SK

Sammy Watkins, BUF: This isn't about Watkins' talent level. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. But he's being drafted in the third round and I simply don't think he will provide that kind of value. From the No. 12 WR on the board, you'd expect him to be a guy you set and forget in your lineup every week and Watkins is not that. For starters, there is his injury history (he missed three full games last season and was limited for a few others) and he already has a foot issue this season. Then factor in the fact the Bills offense under Tyrod Taylor is not a passing offense and more about ball control and letting Taylor improve or use his legs. Watkins will have some big games, but he won't be consistent enough to warrant such an investment. — TA

Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

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Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

"Those who stay will be champions."

That's the familiar motto of Michigan football.

Well, consider that motto co-opted by the Wolverines' in-state rival.

Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, tweeted out this image Thursday. Check out the slogan on the right.

Whoa!

Now, this is certainly nothing new, social-media flaps between the two programs. Jim Harbaugh makes a habit of going after people on Twitter, and Mark Dantonio has had his own veiled Twitter shots at Harbaugh & Co. in the past, too.

And, truthfully, Michigan State has reason to boast, as it's the program that's done the most winning in the Great Lakes State in recent seasons. Dantonio has led the Spartans to a trio of conference championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the past three seasons alone, the Spartans are 36-5 with two conference titles, wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Michigan has won double-digit games in a single season just twice since 2006.

So while riffing on the Wolverines' motto raised a few eyebrows, the Spartans aren't wrong.

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

This time last year, Ohio State’s quarterback battle was the biggest story in college football.

One candidate led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record and a spot in the Big Ten title game, not to mention his fifth-place finish in voting for the Heisman Trophy. The other candidate led the Buckeyes to wins in the conference championship game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, delivering Ohio State its 11th national title in program history.

It was an unenviable decision, and Urban Meyer took forever to actually make it, starting Cardale Jones over the season’s first few games while continuing to play J.T. Barrett. And all the while, the Buckeyes’ offense struggled. Barrett was eventually handed the starting job and put up some big numbers while Ezekiel Elliott carried the offense. But that indecision at the game’s most important position, well it wasn’t what you want on the quest to repeat as national champs.

“I feel like it was a little difficult, but you just try to put yourself in the best position to play. That’s all I tried to do was to focus on what I can control,” Barrett said during Big Ten Media Days. “That was something that coach Meyer tried to do his best as far as me and Cardale and who was going to give Ohio State the best opportunity to win games.”

Even though the Buckeyes only lost one game last season, the quarterback merry-go-round and a comparatively unimpressive offense were the talks of the season — and maybe why it wasn’t back-to-back national titles for Ohio State.

According to Meyer, Barrett had some things working against him that kept him out of the starting role for the season’s first few weeks. This season, there will be no such controversy. Barrett is the guy, without question, and that should be a big help in a year when the Buckeyes are transitioning from an experienced group to a young one.

“He did not have a great training camp last year for whatever reason,” Meyer said. “We had a great conversation, actually drove him to the airport on the way here, talking about that. And there was a lot of distraction with Cardale, with who is going to be playing quarterback. And he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal. So he didn't have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year. And I anticipate he'll be as good a quarterback as we've had. It's his show and he knows it and he's prepared.”

Barrett won’t have Elliott to help him out this season — though there are high hopes for Elliott’s successor, Mike Weber — but his numbers from last season and the season before showed he’s more than capable of being one of the best players in the Big Ten. In 2015, Barrett completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushing 115 times for 682 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Of course Buckeyes fans will be happy to see the same kind of season he had in 2014, when he excelled after being thrust into the starting role after Braxton Miller was injured for the season. That year, Barrett completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns plus 938 rushing yards and 11 additional touchdowns.

Barrett should deliver another sensational season as a redshirt junior, but it’s the offense around him that brings question marks. No one knows what to expect from the youth at almost every other position, be it Weber, inexperienced wideouts or an offensive line that will see a true freshman starter. It makes that comparatively lackluster offensive season a year ago — the Buckeyes still averaged more than 35 points a game and scored at least 28 points all but twice — all the more difficult to correct considering the youth around Barrett.

“As an offense last year, we didn’t function like we knew we could have,” Barrett said. “So seeing that go down last year and knowing the time it’s going to take in order to make sure that we improve and get better and maximize everybody at the wide receiver position and also me as a quarterback. Just having that in the back of our minds, knowing we’ve got to put this work in to make sure that shows on Saturdays.”

But Ohio State remains confident, with those projecting more big things for the Buckeyes doing so mostly because of Barrett. Meyer called this team his most talented group yet in Columbus, an almost shocking statement following the past two seasons, which featured one of the best collections of college talent ever.

Barrett likes the young guys, too, but he echoes the concerns of his coach, too, namely getting this inexperienced group up to snuff before a tough non-conference test at Oklahoma and a rigorous schedule in the Big Ten East Division.

“I feel like the talent’s still there, it’s just more of the experience that’s lacking,” Barrett said. “So with the experience lacking, the confidence might not be there. The talent may be there when we’re out there running drills on a Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock. But being able to get the experience and the confidence for these guys to be able to go out there and know that they’ll be able to make a play on Saturday, I think that’s something that needs to be developed.”