Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

As anyone who knows me can tell you, or even someone who unwittingly comes into my proximity, the sports affliction I possess is pretty serious. At front and center of this is rooting for my teams, those that I grew up following with a passion being raised in the Philadelphia area: The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed by their travails and exploits. Some might even call the enthusiasm I have for my teams a borderline mental disorder. I dont know about that, but, at this point, what can I do?

Even moving over 700 miles away hasnt dampened my fervor. That this would puzzle some people puzzles me even more. Among the top-5 questions that I get asked at the bar is about which of the cities teams that I root for: Philadelphia or Chicago? I often viewed this query as being ignorant to what being a fan is all about. You dance with who brung ya. Obviously, switching allegiances to any flavor of the monthduring my lifetime could have saved me years of heartache. We all know Yankees or Dallas Cowboys fans that have never set foot in either city. But Im too far in at this point. A parallel might be: for better or for worse. Why must my teams torture me? WHY?!! Ive come to the realization that this is the VERY reason that they were put on this earth: To mess with my mental well-being at every opportunity. (Wow! That is quite a parallel!)

I know some of you are saying, But, Frankie O, you had the Phillies of 08. And Ill reply: Do the math! Since 1983 4 teams per year, 1 freaking title! ONE. 1 out of 116. Whatever!

The thing that probably drives me most crazy is the spectacular way in which my teams choose to lose. There are no easy ways out when you can make your failure one for the ages. I need only mention The football Dream Team, the 2011 baseball Cardinals or a humongously crazy Russian goalie. And thats all in just the last year!

As you notice, I only referenced three teams. Thats because almost since I moved here 17 years ago, the Sixers, already regulated to 4 status, were gradually losing my interest. Now remember Im talking Frankie O interest, (Whenever you can go 3rd person, DO IT!) so compared to someone normal, I still spent way too much time on them. But even during the run to the NBA Finals in 2001, the team did not conjure the passion in me the way the other 3 teams did. Call it the Iverson effect. Talented player, but he seemed to me to represent what I didnt like about the NBA. Not that it was just him, the Jerry Stackhouse-Derrick Coleman didnt help things either, but the selfishness of their basketball was hard to watch. My nickname for Iverson was 9 for 27 since that was his shooting line every night. Im not kidding, look it up!

Anyway, in retrospect, what has now happened now should make sense. My memories of Doctor J, Mo Cheeks or Bobby Jones will never be tarnished or go away. But to sound my age, basketball was better then. Old school! This all would contribute to make me what they would call vulnerable. It wasis my weakest link.

Now the Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises in the NBA and renowned around the world. Thank you Michael Jordan! I moved here just at the end of his hiatus in 1995. Watching the Bulls and living here during the Second Three, was very cool. But as Ive written before, there was a disconnect for me, since I wasnt from here. I didnt feel that I had earned the right to be a Bulls fan and hopping on the bandwagon while they were winning titles was in bad form. I did however share the anger when they were disbanded way too early for all of our enjoyment. Any NBA fan should have felt that way.

That led to the Dark Ages for basketball in this town: Six straight years of missing the playoffs. 119-341. Ouch! Yet all during that time I watched. Of course when you spend most of your nights in a bar you cant help yourself, but still, watching those teams night after night takes some sort of devotion. (Or sickness, which is right up my alley!)

Then Scott Skiles took over as coach and along with an infusion of talent, thats when the team began to be fun to watch. Now mind you, this wasnt top-of-the-mountain talent, but they seemed to get the most out of it and this appealed to me. Theres something about scrappy teams.

Each of these teams met an early demise, but again, this is the NBA, where superior talent always wins and the Bulls still didnt have that. Scrappy teams get a wink for pluck and then have a nice summer.

Then, in a lottery winning moment, the Bulls hit the lottery-literally and Derrick Rose became a Bull, a home-grown talent as good as any player in the league. Bring in a coach as focused as Rose is talented and for the Bulls it was: game on!

During my time here, there are these little games within the game that occur when a team from Philly plays a team from Chicago. This I have written ad nauseam and I do mean nauseam! But every time, it was never in doubt for whom I was rooting. This has led to many uncomfortable moments, on both sides, but only when my team lost! Rest assured, I will have to live with the memory of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and not be at all happy. But no grudges and no worries, its not like that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Close, but not quite.

Imagine the surprise of Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren when he sat at the bar on the eve of the Flyers-Hawks game here a year later and Frankie O (3-ball!) let it all out. That was very cool. Cooler yet was the fact that Holmgren seemed to encourage me to get it all out. Love that guy!

Its a torment that I will have to carry by myself, (Along with a select 3 others that are in my same boat.) and since thats the way it is I will just have to deal until my pain is eased, some year. (Not that any of the teams seem to be in much hurry!)

Which brings me to a crossroad, and a confession.

When it became apparent, that the Bulls and Sixers were going to meet in the playoffs this year, I had a decision to make. I was asked a bunch about it but not as much by those who knew me well, Im sure they just assumed what the answer would be. Those who did ask, and did know me, just kind of gave me blank looks. Awkward!!

They must have been thinking: Who is this imposter? This cant be Frankie O! (There should be a drinking game where every time I type Frankie O, you have to drink when you read it! Twice in 2 sentences! Boo-Ya!)

Well, it is. Ive come out of the closet. The Bulls have been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. Like I said, what I have is a sickness! Even rooting for a team where I live is not something I take lightly or without guilt. Im a Philly fan for crying out loud! How could this have happened? But the Sixers and I have been growing apart for a while now, might as well face facts. I was ripe for the picking.

This series has forced me to be honest about my dishonesty, because, in a way, thats how I feel. Still I cant deny the feelings that I have for the Bulls. They are the type of team that I want to root for. They play hard. They show up every night. And most importantly, they havent broken my heart year after year! They are something shiny and new.

It was hardest to tell my kids, but I think they understand. It will be confusing for them for a while, but well get through it. In fact, my son even watched Game Six with me in his Bulls tee shirt.

Young minds, they heal fast!

It is here that we get to the series and the kick in the stomach that it was for Bulls fans, like me, in fact, especially me. I cant help feeling that Ive watched this before, say for the last 28 years!

This wasnt supposed to happen! I cant help but feel a little responsible. Is this because of me? Is this the curse of Frankie O? (Chug-a-lug!)

Have I now brought a lifetime of suffering to new, unsuspecting masses?

If so, my bad, I couldnt help myself. The allure of the Bulls was too big, too fast and too strong. Im only a man, and a weak one at that.

So bear with me as we move forward. What doesnt kill us only makes us stronger, at least thats what people I know have been telling me forever.

But there was a certain familiarity as I watched the Bulls season blow-up right in front of my face. Ive been experiencing this for as long as I can remember. If only the Bulls....

I guess the grass really isnt greener. Its just grass 730 miles west, same as it ever was.

White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

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White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

He has been described as a pain in the ass, one of a kind, a great hitter and RBI man and a dynamic player, one they’d love to never face again.

Yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the White Sox clubhouse who thinks baseball will be better off without David Ortiz, who is playing in his final regular season at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night.

Ortiz, who homered for the Boston Red Sox and drove in three runs in a Wednesday night victory, announced before the season that 2016 would be his final one. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the White Sox presented Ortiz with cigars and a humidor as a retirement gift.

“I personally believe there will never be another one like him,” White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He was literally out of baseball and then he figured stuff out, he did it and he’s been nothing but wonderful to the game.”

Ortiz has been one of the sport’s most popular figures for nearly a decade — unless you’re an opposing pitcher. Carlos Rodon learned on Wednesday night what Ortiz, 40, can do to mistake fastballs, a lesson previously learned by 508 pitching victims.

Somehow, White Sox closer David Robertson has never surrendered a homer to Ortiz despite facing him 15 times in his career. Robertson has got the best of a majority of their meetings, holding Ortiz to a .214/.267/.286 slash line with only three hits in 14 at-bats. But it doesn’t make it easier when they do battle, Robertson said.

“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Robertson said. “He’s been that powerful left-handed bat that you just don’t want to see late in the game. He’s been an exceptional hitter who’s smart in the box. He’s just a deadly threat every time he comes to the plate.

“I just feel like it’s a dog fight every time I face him. He knows everything I’ve got and I know where he can hit it. I hope I come out on top.”

White Sox reliever Zach Duke has only faced Ortiz three times. But he knows the book on Ortiz and has even more respect after “Big Papi” dribbled a run-scoring single through a vacated hole in the White Sox shift on Wednesday night for an insurance run. Duke could see that Ortiz wanted to hit the ball to the left side earlier in the at-bat. So the left-hander tried to get a fastball inside on Ortiz’s quick hands and the slugger still managed to get inside of the pitch enough to bounce it into left field.

“He’s going to take what you give him in those situations because he wants the RBI,” Duke said. “He’s got that kind of ability to exploit whatever defenses give him. I could tell he was trying to do it on the breaking ball before it, he was even trying to shoot that the other way. I’m like ‘All right, I need to give him the heater’ and he got inside of that still. Tip my hat.”

But the bat is only part of Ortiz’s lure.

He’s not just a great player, one who has helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles. Players think Ortiz is a fantastic spokesperson and ambassador for baseball because he clearly enjoys the game and it shows.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed with that assessment, noting baseball is better off in part because of Ortiz.

“He’s been a dynamic player, another case for a (designated hitter) who’s going to make it into the Hall of Fame because he’s had such an impact on every game he’s been in, in the lineup, where he’s at, playoff games, clutch moments,” Ventura said. “All those things and the Boston Strong thing. He can speak, too. He’s had a lot of important moments in Boston. It transcends a lot of things in our game.

“He means a lot of things to a lot of people.”

Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

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Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

A few hundred feet away from a White Sox clubhouse in which players are somewhat confused by baseball’s new second base sliding rule, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to focus on the positives of the edict put in place prior to the 2016 season. 

After Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada both suffered serious injuries on takeout slides last year, MLB added a rule that stipulates players must make a “bona fide” effort to slide into, not around or past, second base. Intentionally grabbing a player’s leg to disrupt a throw is now illegal, as are late slides that take a player out of the baseline or past second base. 

The rule, in effect, is clear: “Just slide into the bag,” White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. 

But the implementation of it hasn’t been consistent. Last weekend in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox thought they had a triple play turned when Manny Machado reached out and grabbed second baseman Brett Lawrie until it was a ruled clean slide. 

“I don’t feel like anybody has a feel on it, to be honest with you,” Lawrie said, explaining what happened to him at Camden Yards. “… Unfortunately, that goes against one of the points in the rule and when you don’t follow through with that, you tell everybody that, well, nobody really knows and you guys just don’t really get it yet.”

Lawrie’s gripe is that different umpires and review crews will have different gray areas for what’s acceptable at second base and what’s not. When the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista grabbed Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe’s leg on a ninth-inning double play attempt, a review determined Bautista’s actions violated the rule, and he was ruled out to end an early April game. That was the first high-profile instance of the new rule being enforced, and was one that resonated across major league clubhouses. It’s what Lawrie pointed to when discussing the non-call in Baltimore. 

Manfred understands the adjustment period for players and umpires regarding the rule. As was the case when MLB implemented its rule to cut down on collisions at home plate, there was bound to be some confusion for everyone in getting used to playing the game a different way. 

But Manfred doesn’t expect whatever problems do exist to last for long. 

“Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Manfred said. “There has certainly been one in respect to the slide rule, but I focus on the positive. Number one, I do think the rule serves a really important purpose and that is protecting players and I think even in the last couple of weeks, you see us getting more to the kind of equilibrium that we reached with respect to the home plate rule and quite frankly, we got there a little faster at second base than we did at home plate.”

Rollins, a 17-year major league veteran, similarly compared the second base rule to the home plate one and expressed optimism that the wrinkles of it will be ironed out in the future.

“We see a guy get called out for reaching across and grabbing a player and then it happens to us trying to turn a triple play and they interpret it as a clean slide when clearly (Machado) reached out and grabbed Brett,” Rollins said. “It’s like the home plate rule, there’s still a lot of things to work out. But the home plate rule, they said slide in and we’ll go look at it and hopefully get it right, and they eventually got that right. It’ll be the same thing at second.” 

Alize Jones could be X (or W) factor in Notre Dame's offense

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Alize Jones could be X (or W) factor in Notre Dame's offense

It’s an awfully lofty compliment when Notre Dame fans compare you favorably to a Michigan player, someone who has to be reflexively hated for the "M" on his maize and blue jersey. 

But that’s what Alize Jones saw come across his Twitter feed when he committed to Notre Dame in January 2015. The athletic 6-foof-4, 240 pound Las Vegas native immediately drew comparisons to Devin Funchess, the former Michigan tight-end-turned-wide-receiver who starred for the Wolverines from 2012-2014. 

“They were all like, guarantee he’s going to be a Devin Funchess,” Jones smiled. 

Jones’ size and athletic ability — as well as a thinned tight end depth chart — opened the door for him to play as a true freshman last fall. That’s a rarity, too: The last Irish tight end to record a reception in his first year on campus was Ben Koyack, who had one catch in 2011. Jones caught 13 passes for 190 yards, highlighted by a 45-yard fourth quarter reception against Temple that set up DeShone Kizer’s game-winning toss to Will Fuller. 

While those numbers represent a solid season for a freshman receiver or tight end — even Fuller only had seven catches his first year — Jones wasn’t close to satisfied with it. 

“Just watching film after practices and games, just seeing all the mistakes that I made, it’s like, man, I didn’t take enough time and I don’t think I took it serious last year,” Jones said during spring practice. “I think that my head was just — personally, I don’t think I was ready for it.”

For Jones, playing as a freshman was an eye-opening experience as he learned what it takes to succeed at the college level. Talent and recruiting hype don’t guarantee a player can arrive on a college campus and play well right away. Jones came to understand the necessity of knowing the entire offense, not just his position, and spent spring practice watching film and meeting with teammates and coaches to improve in that area. 

“His confidence is growing,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said, “but it’s real confidence in his knowledge of what we’re doing.”

Armed with that offensive knowledge, and with the freshman jitters gone, Jones seems to be in line for an expanded role, gauging from what we saw during spring practice and comments from his head coach.

“He’s got multi-dimensional opportunities,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a big-time athlete that can do some things for us.”

Some of those things Kelly alluded to include playing receiver on the boundary, which is Notre Dame’s “W” position. With Corey Robinson’s football future still undecided — and even if he does return to play in 2016 — there’s an opening for Jones to be that Funchess-type tight end who makes an impact at receiver. 

Jones said he’s spent plenty of time watching how bigger NFL receivers use their size and athleticism to beat opposing cornerbacks. 

“God’s blessed them with size, blessed me with size. You just gotta use it.,” Jones said. “And it’s tough when a defender has a 6-foot-5 guy, 230 pounds, and you have to defend. What are you gonna do? The ball’s up in the air, you gotta go get it. It’s tough to defend that.”

But Jones doesn’t just watch bigger, Calvin Johnson-esque receivers. He’s studied guys like Fuller — the smaller, quicker variety of receivers. 

“I want to be able to play like a smaller guy but in a big man’s body,” Jones said. “Even though the tight end position has been predicated on bigger guys, I want to still be fast. I want to be that fast guy, that athletic guy where I can play receiver if need be. So I really have been harping on that this offseason.”

Part of the learning curve for Jones, too, was going from playing in front of a few thousand fans at Bishop Gorman High School — Ronnie Stanley’s alma mater, too — to the sold-out crowds at Notre Dame Stadium and hostile road environments like Clemson’s Death Valley. But he’s been there, done that now, and wants games to feel more like practice this fall. 

It’s all adding up to Jones aligning himself to being a key part of Notre Dame’s offensive equation the fall — no matter what position he’s playing. 

“I know what it’s like to play Clemson and Ohio State and teams like that, playing against elite guys,” Jones said. “Now going into my sophomore year, I’ve already done it. It’s just getting comfortable with everything, which I am. So I really feel like all the pieces are coming together.”