Frankie O's Blog: 2016 Olympic Dream?

Frankie O's Blog: 2016 Olympic Dream?

Thursday, October 8th
Like most Chicagoans, I was, to say the least, a little surprised by the decision not to have Chicago as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. You would think a jaded, old cynic such as yours truly would know better, but Ill admit, they got me. When the idea of the games in Chicago was first announced, my first impression was, cool, Ill finally get to go to one. Again, this was a purely romantic notion, not a practical one. I was reminded of this in my conversations at the bar about the bid. Most of the people I talked to were split: Half of the people loved the idea of the games as a way to show off our city and participate in a world event. The others thought that all of the political wrangling and corruption that would come with it, not to mention the disruption of their lives here during the games, was too big a price to pay, let someone else have it! For me none of the thoughts of congestion in the city, availability of any tickets, price gouging of everything (Parking? Are you kidding me? Then again I could just do it on the Ryan!) and most important, the politics involved came to mind. The way I look at it, Ive dealt with all of these things my whole life anyway! I was merely thinking of my many indelible memories of the Olympics, which were mostly of athletic feats and endeavors.

It should be viewed as ironic that my first real memory of the Olympics was in 1972. The horror that happened in Munich was a bit much for a 10 year old to fathom. What I could understand though, was the fact that the U.S. basketball team got robbed of a gold medal. Can they really just add time to the clock? I asked. It wasnt until many years later that I realized that controversial decisions on and off the field of play were just part of the whole Olympic package, in fact, they sometimes heightened the experience.

In the next games held four years later, I was mesmerized by Franz Klammers electrifying downhill in Innsbruck. It was really the first time that I understood what it meant for these athletes to represent their country, and the pressure that comes with it. Since then, I could list probably a combination of around 100 individuals and national teams that anyone would know the story of (Olga, Mary Lou, Tanya, Sugar Ray, Greg..etc.). The packaging and the pageantry of the Olympic Games was, and is, something to behold. Will anyone forget Michael Phelps' reach to the finish of the race that he appeared to have lost? It will live forever. What will also live forever are the names of the cities that have hosted the Games. Now some of the Winter Games have been held in slightly remote locations, since they need mountains, thats going to happen, but the host cities of the Summer Games are ones that no one will forget. I can list the ones of my lifetime off the top of my head without thinking. I thought that Chicago would be a worthy name on that list.

So, as the process was going on, I paid only a little attention to it: One, because it would take a while and two, because if anyone knew how to work the system it would be this town. The term, Chicago politics exists for a reason! I would just wait until the announcement, sure of the name I would hear. One thing that gave me confidence was the fact that from every estimate that I saw, the most money, for all, would be made by having Chicago as the host city. Now if theres one thing thats spoken in every language, its the word: profit. The folks at the I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee) dont exactly have a great reputation when it comes to graft and corruption. In fact, from the things that came out in wake of the Salt Lake City bid scandal, theyre brazen and obscene about it. The thing that came from that incident for me, is that they had the feeling that they were above us all, that as the caretakers of such a precious entity, that they should be pampered and given anything they want. Whatever! Of course, since then they have promised that their process of city selection is a pure one. Yeah, right. The funny thing is, I thought this would play into our hands. Chicago knows how to play this game! We were obvious front-runners, the conventional wisdom being: Rio was too dangerous and unpredictable. Tokyo was done in by being too close in time to Beijing. Likewise for Madrid being too close (next up) to London in 2012. My concern was because of the old-boy network involved, that the bid of Madrid was being organized by Juan-Antonio Sammarachs son. Now the elder is a player. He ran the show for 21 years. I knew he would be shown a lot of respect, but still, the I.O.C. has shown an unwillingness to put consecutive Games close together geographically. So, I thought, it would be close, but Chicago had the inside track. (Side note: In a display that was utterly shameless, the elder Sammarach during Madrids presentation asked the committee to consider the fact that he was near the end of his time. We needed a guy like that on our side!)

Boy was I wrong. Seems the biggest obstacle for Chicago was a little thing called the U.S.O.C. (United States Olympic Committee) While I was worried about the big egos at the I.O.C., and for good reason, I failed to recognize that the organization running the show in this country is an out of touch mess. The thing that I keep reading about is personal relationships and how we dont obviously have a lot of them with I.O.C. members. This appears be true since there is a lot of in-fighting now apparent between the U.S.O.C. and its member organizations about how the bid was presented and handled. One thing being, and even I cant understand this, that the two people at the head of the U.S.O.C. werent even present for the 1st presentation of the formal bid over the summer. How can this happen? Didnt anyone tell them how this would look? Did they care? Or was something else going on? The root of most conflict is about money and it seems that our organization is as greedy as any other. Around the same time as the presentation, it seems that the idea of an Olympic TV Network was being hatched up by the new hierarchy at the U.S.O.C. You know what that meant: more dollars for the U.S. and less for everyone else. How do you think that went over? The idea was scrapped, but the message was sent and received. Now how would you expect the I.O.C. to react, when their biggest partner was starting to look out for only their own self interests? Show them whos the boss, thats how!

So as we gathered in the bar on Friday morning, none of us realized that we didnt have a chance. The deal was sealed long before the Leader of the Free World hopped on Air Force One and went to Copenhagen to help with the final pitch. Still as the TV blared and the bar continued to fill, I was convinced that Chicago was the right city for the Games and now was the right time and, once it became official, most of the dissenters here would hop on-board.

I can still see the stunned faces in front of me as the first round results were being read. People were still listening, not realizing that the first words out of Jacques Rogges mouth were, youre done! What? Did this really just happen? All of that work, down the drain? So much for the decorations, is it too late to cancel the band?

Like I said, I was stunned. But I did it to myself. I should have known better. You cant convince me that Chicago didnt have the best city and bid. Unfortunately, that wasnt all that mattered. What mattered was an organization that relies on secret ballots and no accountability can decide to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. If you dont want to play by their rules, theyll kick you out of the game. The U.S.O.C. needs to get its act together. The abominable bid they put together for New York four years ago for 2012 is one thing, to follow it up with this is not acceptable. The shame of it is the I.O.C. can say they gave Rio de Janeiro the bid to open a part of the world up that they have never been to before and they can make a good point about that. But lets not kid ourselves this wasnt about Rios win, it was about the U.S.O.C.s humbling (I hope) loss. The shame was it had to happen at our great citys expense and means I probably wont see a Summer Games in this country during my lifetime. I still love the Olympics and the notions that, at their core, they stand for, that for those two weeks in time they can elevate us above the pettiness that exists in our lives and we can celebrate through athletic competition and brotherhood. I guess I really am nave. I should have realized that the entire Olympic experience is really just a mirror of who we truly are.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

SAN DIEGO – Within 24 hours at Petco Park, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras handled the wild movement of Jake Arrieta’s pitches and framed the edges of the strike zone for Kyle Hendricks, showing the dexterity to handle a playoff rotation.

Contreras looked ready for prime time on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, helping shut down the San Diego Padres and complete a three-game sweep where two National League Cy Young Award candidates found a rhythm while throwing to a rookie catcher.

“Everything’s a lot easier,” Contreras said after a 6-3 victory. “I’m way more comfortable right now, because my first week everything was speeding up on me. But now I’m able to slow down the game and do my job.” 

The day after Arrieta fell one inning short of a two-hit, complete-game shutout, Hendricks credited Contreras for calling more curveballs and getting him through a stretch where the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings. 

“From the get-go, I wasn’t shaking him off,” Hendricks said. “We’ve been rolling for the last five, six starts, at least. It’s been easy.” 

Contreras has now caught Arrieta twice, and got one-start exposure to Jon Lester, while developing chemistry with Hendricks, John Lackey and Jason Hammel, which means veteran catcher Miguel Montero might not have a spot on the postseason roster if this continues.

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Contreras is a dynamic presence, launching his eighth home run on Wednesday afternoon and keeping the Padres stationary after Tuesday night’s laser throw to pick off a runner at third base. 

“I was waiting for somebody to run,” Contreras said. “But they didn’t run, so I’ll have to save it for another game.”

The Cubs are nearing the point where a 24-year-old player who didn’t make his big-league debut until June 17 could be behind the plate for the biggest games in franchise history.

“In this clubhouse, we are like a family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable the first day. You don’t even know that you are a rookie who just came up.”

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

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Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

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The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

If all continues to go well, Miguel Gonzalez could pitch in a rehab start as soon as Friday.

On the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin, the White Sox starter said he felt good during a second bullpen session on Wednesday.

Gonzalez, who is 2-6 with a 4.05 ERA in 19 games (18 starts), threw 30 pitches. He previously threw a bullpen session on Friday and felt some discomfort the following day. But Gonzalez said he has made progress since he received treatment on Saturday.

“A lot better,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t feel anything while I was throwing my bullpen, which is great. I’m happy with the results today and come back tomorrow and we’ll see.”

Gonzalez left an Aug. 11 start at Kansas City in the bottom of the second inning. Though he wasn’t yet sure if he’d head out on a rehab assignment, Gonzalez said he was on the third day of a five-day schedule in which he was supposed to start. But it’s also possible the White Sox could have Gonzalez first throw a simulated game.

“We're going to have him go back out there again and do a little bit more, that looks more like starting in a game where he's going to throw for a little while, sit down, get back up,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Simulate some innings and hopefully after he does that a couple time he can go out for a rehab assignment.”