Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 10:52 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Given the date of this post, I was seriously considering writing about a Cubs-Sox World Series and then ending with the two words that would be appropriate. But having a child with said date as their birthday, Ive come to learn that the trick ending with the negative twist is not usually a crowd pleaser. Being a man of the people, Im nothing if not a pleaser! Ive found that indifference or outright denial, and then having something positive occur out of nowhere is much more fun. (Also making me a cool dad!)
While I cant claim indifference here, I have a vested interest, I can be honest in that I do not expect a Red-Line Series come October. That being said, this kinder, gentler Frankie O (Going third person never gets old!) can see a lot of positives happening here in Chicago on the local diamonds.

Of course, on the southside, there is a lot of expectation, since, as the team has reminded us in their advertising campaign, they are All in. What makes me optimistic is that this year they also have a D.H. (In fact my advertising campaign for them would be: The Chicago White Sox. Were putting the hitter back in the designated hitter! P.S. Good guys wear black!) I know that Mark Kotsay hit the hardest .239 that folks in these parts have ever seen, but enough is enough. The addition of Adam Dunn has Sox fans very excited. And with good reason, hes a run-producing machine. Something else I notice about him in this age of enhancement is the fact that he has averaged over 158 games played during the last 7 seasons. Thats not typical lately of large, power guys. Not saying, just saying. So it should be safe to pencil in the 38 homers and 100 RBI that he has averaged in that span. (2 choices here: Frankie O kiss of death! or, How you like your Kotsay now?!!)

Its hard to remember in the disappointment of how last season ended, that for most of the year this was a very good team, albeit a streaky one. After a 24-33 start, that left them almost double-digits out of first place, they finished the year on a torrid 64-41 stretch. Included in this was the 20-5 that put them back in the race and then the collapse down the stretch. Ill try not to remember September and focus on the beginning. Pennants arent won in April and May, but because of this teams performance during that time last year, the ability to win one was definitely lost. In fact the Sox have made a habit of getting out to slow starts recently. I do not think that will be the case this year. The increased payroll and advertising campaign are telling us thats not an option. The fact that the competition at the top of the division with the Tigers and Twins is expected to be microscopic close also behooves them to jump out early. The X-factor in all of this will be Jake Peavy.

His ability to come back from a detached muscle in his right (pitching) shoulder, I think will determine their fate. They are a good team without him, but they are a title contender with him. I have to admit, I dont really feel good about his situation so far. Its confusing to me about who is in charge. How does he get sick, then not touch a ball for over a week, then be allowed to throw over 80 pitches? Which then results in his being put on the DL since he now has shoulder tendinitis? This to me tells of the urgency to get off to a good start that is being felt by everyone in the organization. All in!!

On the northside, things are a little harder to figure. The realist in me wants to say 4th place in the central, but who saw the Padres 90 win season at this time a year ago? The Padres gagged the division and missed the playoffs by a game, but thats not the point. Every year there are one or two teams that come out of nowhere and are in the mix until the end. The way the Cubs finished last year under Mike Quade, pardon me Lou, left a lot of Cubs fans feeling all giddy about their chances this year. Not to burst bubbles, but did you notice that the Astros and Orioles finished with very similar 50 game records to end the season as the Cubs last year? How do you feel about the Astros or Orioles chances this year? I thought so.

Personally, I see this as a bridge year to the true vision of the new ownership regime. About 50 million will be coming off the books after this season. Increased revenue will be coming the Cubs way after their new facility is built in Mesa. Building a state-of-the-art training academy in the Dominican Republic should hopefully help mine that talent rich region for future stars. And we all know that every possible way to increase the revenue stream at Wrigley Field is being considered. These things are all related. The number one goal needs to be to put a winning product on the field. This will enable many of the things that ownership wants to accomplish, off the field, to happen. While you definitely need to spend to win in this game, true success is sustained if you can grow your own talent.

As much as I love my Phillies spending cash to acquire and retain top-notch talent, Im not very optimistic where they are going to be in a few years since they have pillaged their farm system in the process. Aside from my stated preference that they break the bank to get Albert Pujols, it would be very prudent if the Cubs were able hit the reset button, and grow a little slow. I know, theres the whole 103 year thing and all, and the urgency that it brings to the faithful, but the Marlins (or Yankees) way of just buying a title is not going to happen here. Just look at the Soriano and Zambrano contracts to understand why. Starlin Castro is the real deal and a good start.

I think Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin have bright futures. I cant wait to see Brett Jackson in the outfield later this summer. Having them learn their craft around such solid pros as Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd is a good thing. (And having them surround Pujols next year would be a great one! Not to mention having it buy more time. Sorry, cant help myself.) Dumping a malcontent such as Carlos Silva has earned a lot of respect. It seems as though the Cubs have been dealing with that issue in several different forms over the years.

I take this as a sign that the ownership wants to do it the right way. I have no problem with that, its their money. The issue is that you do not win with good intentions. You win with talent and motivated talent at that. This year I get the good vibe and the motivation that come with the new Quade era, how could you not? But in the end, for this year, it is going to take more than that alone. The times, they are a changing, but sometimes, its the same as it ever was.

So where does that leave us? Full of anticipation I hope. Why ruin the upcoming season with a lot of doom and gloom speculation? Baseball, more than any other sport, is a novel we cant put down. Its full of plot twists and surprises. Heroes and villains. Thats why we watch, well that and fantasy addictions. But its all about the ending. And as much as anyone wants to tell you they know, they dont. So feel free to dream a little dream. If you think that a Chicago World Series is possible, go ahead and think it. Reality will rear its pesky head soon enough. And remember this, If I was to tell you, with a straight face, on this day last year that the post-season (and subsequent off-season) was going to be dominated by a freakish black beard, you would have surely looked at me and replied, April Fools!

Three former Illini sign with NFL teams following NFL Draft

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Three former Illini sign with NFL teams following NFL Draft

Illinois saw three players selected in this past weekend's NFL Draft, and after the festivities were over, three more signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.

Running back Josh Ferguson signed with the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver Geronimo Allison signed with the Green Bay Packers, and cornerback/return man V'Angelo Bentley signed with the New England Patriots.

Ferguson, a Naperville native and a Joliet Catholic product, had a strong career in Champaign. He was hampered by injuries last season, playing in just nine games, and finished second on the team with 708 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 280 receiving yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns.

Ferguson ranks second in program history in all-purpose yardage with 4,474 yards, sixth in rushing with 2,586 yards and third in receptions with 168 catches. He owns the program records for receiving yards by a running back (1,507) and receptions by a running back (168).

Allison joined the Illini two offseasons ago, transferring in from junior college. He started 12 of the team's 13 games during the 2014 season, ranking second on the team with 598 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Last season, Allison played in all 12 games, catching a team-high 56 passes for a team-high 882 yards and three touchdowns.

Bentley carved out his own corner of the program record book, becoming the only Illinois player ever to score touchdowns via a kick return, punt return, interception return and fumble return. He's the program leader in kick-return yardage with 1,860 yards, and he ranks fourth all-time in punt-return yardage with 550 yards. Last season, Bentley ranked fifth on the Illini defense with 54 tackles.

These three join the trio of Illini who were drafted over the weekend. Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illinois product drafted since 2013 when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 44 pick in the second round. Offensive lineman Ted Karras was picked at No. 221 by the Patriots, and safety Clayton Fejedelem was drafted at No. 245 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

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NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

You can bet Brian Kelly is going to hammer home the number 51,251,888 in the coming weeks and months. 

That’s the estimated total contract dollar value Notre Dame’s seven draftees will earn, second among college football programs only to Ohio State (which, according to Spotrac.com, is a gargantuan $117,499,008). It’s a sexy number that’ll be used to entice recruits across the nation, as well as players within the program who face the decision to stay at Notre Dame or turn pro after a junior season. 

Notre Dame’s draft-week success is a strong indicator that the program’s player development — especially on the offensive side of the ball — is in a good place. 

Ronnie Stanley was Notre Dame’s first top-10 pick in 22 years, and Will Fuller’s decision to leave South Bend after three seasons paid off when the Houston Texans selected him 21st overall. Nick Martin was a second-round pick, while C.J. Prosise went in the third round. While it was a minor surprise to see Chris Brown go undrafted, those four players represent major player development successes. 

Kelly and a cavalcade of Irish personnel successfully pitched Stanley on returning to Notre Dame for his senior season, and he improved his stock from mid-first-round status to being the first offensive lineman taken off the board (Laremy Tunsil’s bizarre Thursday certainly helped push Stanley up, too). Like Stanley, Martin was a Harry Hiestand success story, having steadily developed his game to the point where the Texans traded up two picks to nab him with the 50th selection. 

Hiestand is one of Notre Dame’s more respected position coaches in recent memory. It’s not just from within the program, too — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave a shout-out to Hiestand, who coached the Chicago Bears offensive line from 2005-2009, in introducing Stanley last week. Having an NFL coach praise a college position coach is an awfully strong endorsement to pitch to recruits. 

But the emergences of Fuller and Prosise as Day 1 and Day 2 picks were almost more impressive. 

Fuller was overlooked coming out of high school in Philadelphia, and even after a breakout 2014 season, one early NFL mock draft had Corey Robinson, not Fuller, projected as a first-round pick. But under Mike Denbrock’s watch, Fuller developed from a raw speed burner into a refined, NFL-ready receiver. 

A year ago, it would’ve been difficult to see Prosise as a third-round pick only a few months into his move to running back. Prosise himself admitted it in December that the idea of passing on a fifth year to enter the draft hadn’t really entered his mind until after last season — he figured he’d play a graduate year at Notre Dame and then see where his career would take him.

Instead, Prosise was an immediate success from Autry Denson’s position group, becoming Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. His explosive playmaking ability and versatility from the two years he spent at wide receiver made him an intriguing pick for the Seattle Seahawks. 

Notre Dame also had three defensive players drafted, one from each unit. Jaylon Smith would’ve joined Stanley and Fuller as first-round picks had it not been for the concerns over nerve damage in his surgically-repaired knee; even despite those, though, the Dallas Cowboys used an early second-round pick on him. 

Sheldon Day (Jacksonville Jaguars) and KeiVarae Russell (Kansas City Chiefs) were fourth-round picks, both landing in spots where they’ll have good opportunities to succeed right away. 

It’s true that Notre Dame only had one player drafted in 2015 (tight end Ben Koyack, who went in the seventh round to Jacksonville). But had Stanley and Day declared, it would’ve been more, and both those guys are success stories in the sense of getting a degree from the prestigious Mendoza College of Business (and, in Stanley’s case, improving his draft stock). 

Plenty of college football’s elite programs can trot out gaudy signing bonus numbers and Pro Bowl appearances for former players, though. Those are a good hook for plenty of blue-chip recruits. 

But for some recruits — and plenty of parents — Notre Dame has another pitch to offer. Robinson and Steve Elmer are excellent examples of what can be done outside of football at Notre Dame, be it being elected student body president and starting a charity or leaving football to take a job in Washington D.C. after graduating in three and a half years. 

And whatever the message may be, it’s working. Notre Dame ranks fourth in Rivals.com’s team recruiting rankings for the class of 2017. 

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

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Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.

But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.

Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.

"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.

"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."

Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.

"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."

The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.