Franksgiving

Franksgiving

And why not? We all know that Im a giver. And then some. So why not claim my favorite holiday as my own? After all, for me, it is the most wonderful day of the year.

Thats due to the 3 Fs: Feasting, football and family. (The order you put them in is up to you, and thats the fun!) In my world, things tend to move pretty fast (I heard that!), or should I say that life moves pretty fast. If you dont stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Thats just how it is. Ive learned to hang on tight and enjoy the ride. Not to be too philosophical, but that is the point. I consider myself blessed that for most of my life Ive been able to enjoy what I have and not be too focused on what I dont. It kind of fits with my lower expectation theory, (Always a crowd pleaser at the bar)and having an ability to roll with whats been put in front of me.

In the scheme of things.

As in: It just doesnt matter. It just doesnt matter! (My 3rd classic movie quote in 200 words. Boo-ya!) So for me, my favorite day is one that doesnt require a lot out of me while it provides a lot for me in return. Being able to combine my favorite things for the duration makes it perfect.

In a way, the day always creeps up on you in a hurry. Im in end of summer mode for as long as possible. Part of this is due to the fact that when the winter weather starts, it means Im going to be living in Siberia for what seems like six months. Luckily that hasnt been the case here, YET. But the other thing that is approaching is the stress of the end-of-year holidays. (I guess theyre end of year. The supermarket I go to has had a Christmas aisle since the end of October and I walked into a convenience store the other day to the unmistakable guitar riff of Jingle Bell Rock, I started to hum it and then caught myself. What?!) The great thing about the day is that there is no stressful buildup. Its just, where do I have to be, and when? Thats every day for me anyway!

The night before used to be a big night, Blackout Wednesday, but Ive mostly outgrown that. Who wants to feel nauseous and hurt all day on a day of consumption and relaxation? Youve got to live and learn and boy have I learned. Thursday is game-on and I want to be in peak condition.

As always, it helps to have a plan.

First, I kind of work in reverse. Tuesday afternoon is my usual shopping day for the groceries. Ive rarely hosted over the years, and havent since Ive lived here, so the groceries I buy are for my Thursday night ritual: The ultimate turkey sandwich. But the other reason is that my house has to have that holiday smell, which means no matter what, Im cooking a bird. Ive gotten the most interesting reactions over the years for the fact that I do this especially from the females. You have what at home? I mean what am I supposed to do when the market, or work, gives me a free 28-pounder? I say what the heck. Cook it in the morning, enjoy the wonderful aroma and then carve out the best sandwich and salad meat. Is that weird?

The next order of the day is proper attire. Franksgiving is not a dress-up day, its a dress for comfort day. My favorite dress for comfort inspiration is the Friends episode where Joey vows hes going to eat an entire turkey and pulls up at the table wearing Phoebes maternity pants. Genius!!

Comfort pants always remind me of my departed Zubaz that didnt make the trek westward with my wife and I. She swears she had nothing to do with it, but I still have my doubts.

These days, a pair of Nike sweatpants and a long-sleeve tee-shirt suffice. Although Im not ashamed to say that Im sure the day is soon approaching when I dont even get that dressed up. I love wearing my NFL pajama pants around the house! Am I really that guy?

An important thing happens now and its a veteran move for an eater. You have to have a snack during the first game. I used to have breakfast but that would just make me sleepy. Theres plenty of time for that after dinner! But you dont want to have one plate at dinner and be stuffed because your stomach was not properly prepared. It has to be stretched out. (Do you run without stretching? I didnt think so!) I dont only say this as an eater but as a good guest. If Grand-mom is going to put in extra effort to feed everyone, Im going to show proper respect and give her just as much effort at the table. My prerequisites are that its not too heavy, the kids also like it and, for daddy only, it goes well with a cold one. For whatever reason, in my house, that has become snow-crab legs. Who knew?

While snacking, its time for the early game. For whatever reason, maybe Im still not awake or due to the fact that over a long period of time they havent been good, not a lot of the Lions games stick out. The 2 that come to mind right away are the Bears overtime win in 1980 on Dave Williams 95-yard kick return on the first play of that overtime and the Phil Luckett-Jerome Bettis coin-flip fiasco of 1998.

But that game has always been the appetizer for a fan from Philly, since the second game is a chance to root for the Dallas Cowboys to lose. It wasnt always that way. I can still remember the game between the Cowboys and the Redskins in 1974, then one of the NFLs fiercest rivalries. Washington was up 16-3 in the 3rd quarter when they knocked out Dallas QB Roger Staubach. In stepped little used (before or since)backup Clint Longley, who stunned the Redskins and the nation, by rallying the Pokes with 2 long touchdown bombs, the second of which covered 50 yards to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds left giving Dallas the 24-23 win. I remember thinking that was pretty cool. Im pretty sure that was the last positive thought that Ive had about the Cowboys.
Rooting against them hasnt always worked, since all-time they are 28-15-1 on the holiday. But some of the losses have been spectacular. The Bounty Bowl loss to the Eagles 27-0 is still probably my personal favorite. Those teams had a hatred for each other and it showed. Boy did dinner taste great that night! But the all-timer has to be the Leon Lett game of 1993. I dont know about you, but I dont always need the requisite shot of the teams owner coming down to the sideline to revel in the impending victory. The game had been close probably due to the muck on the field created by a freak snowstorm before and during the game. The Dolphins were driving for a go ahead field goal, well you know the rest. Lett will live in infamy for his snow-angel blunder, but the lasting image for me was the camera shot of Jones as he was so joyful when he realized the kick was blocked and then how it changed when he saw up-close what Lett did. Dolphins 16 Cowboys 14. Can you say a picture is worth a thousand words? Or better yet, its priceless.

I dont want to be a hater. But my being an Eagles fan makes it inevitable and the Cowboys make it easy.

I still havent made up my mind about the third game yet. Its probably like my third plate of dinner. I know I shouldnt do it, and it will make my vision blurry, but I just cant help myself. The Eagles played in 2008 and that was cool, but otherwise the games have been kind of boring. I mean, I can watch as much NFL as the next guy, but what I need at night, is some sugar to combat my tryptophan haze and a mindless comedy on TV. Its almost like I watch the game because I have to. (And I have a rooting interest, if you know what I mean.)But no matter, I still watch.

This has interrupted my day a little. I still watch my Franksgiving staple, its just a little later. That would be the classic combination of Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. How about those Bears?! My day is not complete until I watch it.

Its also not complete until my midnight turkey sandwich. I cant remember when it started, but I cant remember not doing it. Its one of my favorite topics at the bar on the Tuesday and Wednesday night before the holiday. How do you make yours? Ive found out theyre kind of like snowflakes, no 2 alike. And people are really IN to it. Thats comforting to know, since it shows me Im not alone in my late-night indulgence. For the record, the best recipe, mine, is as follows: 2 slices of Wonder white bread, smeared with Helmans mayo. Liberally sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cover one piece with tender slices of breast meat. Top this with a thin layer of stuffing. Cover the stuffing with a thin layer of gravy. Top with the second sliced and enjoy. I always have a little extra gravy for dipping and a glass of milk to wash it down. Ahh.

Of course, none of this would matter though, at least as much, if it wasnt shared. Moving away from my family on the east coast was a big deal. I honestly didnt realize how big until I started having kids. But I am very fortunate my wife has a large family and theyve taken me in from the beginning. (Whether or not theyre happy about that) Theres something very cool about watching your kids grow. One of them is having family gatherings with their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins that they will always remember. Better yet for yours truly, is when the guys gather around the TV watching the games and the girls gather around the table talking about whatever it is that they talk about. (I dont even want to know!) The bliss only interrupted when one of us guys is called to take some parental responsibility. Yes dear, Ill be right there.

We can debate the true meaning of a lot of things, but about this day I dont think there is any. We should all take some time to reflect on what we are fortunate enough to have and hope others are as fortunate. Appreciation is a wonderful thing.

For me the only thing that can make it better is still down the road a little. Having one of my three interested in football for the first time is a start. That is going to be very cool. The next will be when they are age appropriate to watch mommy and daddys movie with mommy and daddy. Then, finally, some day when I have that late-night sandwich, to have others around the table with me. I know I have a small window, theyll want to get out with their friends at a certain age, I know I did, but Im looking forward to those few years when I can share that time with them hope they understand how much their sharing their time with me means. That is something I will give thanks for. You wont be able to wipe the smile from my face. (Other things yes!) I couldnt think of a better holiday to have as mine.

Happy Franksgiving!

I hope you can make it yours.

2016 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

2016 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

The 2016 NHL Draft has officially come and gone, and it's time to assess how each team in the Central Division fared. Taking each team's circumstance under consideration, grades were determined by the execution of their big picture plan. 

Chicago Blackhawks: B+

For the second straight year, the Blackhawks didn't own a first-round pick after trading it at the deadline for Andrew Ladd. They did, however, have the most draft picks out of any team in the Central Division (nine), including three second-rounders after acquiring two of them in a deal that sent Andrew Shaw to Montreal.

The first one, No. 39 overall, was used to select Alex DeBrincat, who was projected to go in the first round but slipped because of his size (5-foo-7, 165 lbs). Scouts are already comparing this pick to Brandon Saad in a sense that it's a player with high upside and has the potential to be a second-round steal.

One thing we do know is, DeBrincat can score and he does a lot of it. The 18-year-old winger registered two consecutive 51-goal seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hocky League, where he compiled 104 points in 2014-15 and 101 points in 2015-16.

The Blackhawks added some defensive depth by drafting defenseman Chad Krys, who played with DeBrincat on Team USA at the 2016 World Junior Championship, at No. 45 overall and Russian winger Artur Kayumov with pick No. 50 to cap off the trio of second-round selections. 

Along the way, the Blackhawks stockpiled a pair of 2017 draft picks, giving them 10 total when they host the draft in Chicago for the first time ever.

Colorado Avalanche: B

The Avalanche are quietly gathering a young and skilled forward group in Colorado. While defense has been an issue since Patrick Roy took over as head coach, they've been near the bottom of the league in puck possession numbers as well, and the selection of Tyson Jost at No. 10 overall is a step in the right direction to patch up both areas.

Draft experts are comparing Jost to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a two-way centerman who has the ability to play against top competition on a nightly basis.

Already with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog as the franchise cornerstones, Jost figures to draw into the lineup at some point over the next couple seasons, along with offensively-gifted Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen, who they drafted at No. 10 overall last year.

The Avalanche also selected two defensemen, Josh Anderson in the third round and Nathan Clurman in the sixth round, addressing a glaring need.

Dallas Stars: C

The Stars have created an identity in Dallas built on speed and strong puck possession numbers, and their first-round selection of Riley Tufte is an interesting one. He's one of the tallest forwards in this year's draft at 6-foot-5, but scouts say he's a strong skater with great hands for his size.

While he may not blend in with the fast-paced style, he's a versatile player that can play up and down the lineup, the type of hockey player every team needs.

To address their goaltending situation, the Stars drafted Colton Point in the fifth round as a potential long-term project and solution in the crease. This came shortly after the Stars officially gave up on and parted ways with netminder Jack Campbell, who was once thought to be the next big thing, after he was shipped to Los Angeles for defenseman Nick Ebert.

Minnesota Wild: C

The best move of the weekend for the Wild was, hands down, the decision to buy out the final year of Thomas Vanek's contract and the $6.5 million cap hit that came with it. While the penalty will be $1.5 million this year and $2.5 million in 2017-18, it opened up $5 million in cap space for a team that currently has just seven forwards under contract in 2016-17 and wants to contend before the championship window starts to close.

As for the draft itself, the Wild had only one pick in the first three rounds — and four total — but luckily for them it was a first-rounder used on forward Luke Kunin at No. 15.

He's regarded as a solid two-way player who plays with high energy, something the Wild could use as they transition into the Bruce Boudreau era.

Nashville Predators: B+

The Predators had eight draft picks this year (with at least one in each round), and — surprise, surprise — they used five of them on a defenseman, including their first-round pick (No. 17 overall) Dante Fabbro and second-round selection (No. 47 overall) Samuel Girard.

Fabbro is expected to play next season at Boston University, but with Shea Weber on the back-nine of his career and Seth Jones being traded to Columbus in exchange for Ryan Johansen, the Predators are hoping Fabbro can be their next young stud on the blue line.

St. Louis Blues: B

The Blues owned only one draft pick in the first three rounds last season, but this year they had three in the first two, and eight overall.

Tage Thompson fits the crop of the Blues as a versatile power forward with offensive skill, and they liked him enough to trade up two spots to take him at No. 26 overall. Jordan Kyrou, their second-round selection, drew some positive reaction as a guy that jumps off your television screen. 

Thompson and Kyrou were two of seven forwards drafted by the Blues, with the other being a goaltender, Evan Fizpatrick, with the 59th overall pick.

Speaking of goaltenders, the Blues also made one of the biggest trades of the weekend by dealing Brian Elliott to Calgary for a second-round pick (which turned out to be Kyrou at No. 35) and a conditional third-rounder in 2017, with the caveat that Elliott re-signs with the Flames.

With Jake Allen ready to take on the full-time role in net and the Flames desperately needing a starter, it's a deal that made sense for both sides, but perhaps the Blues could've gotten more for Elliott given his 2016 success, both in the regular season and postseason, and great value at $2.5 million.

Winnipeg Jets: A-

The Jets are building something special in Winnipeg after owning two first-round picks for the second straight year.

Auston Matthews, who went No. 1 overall to Toronto, is certainly the most well-rounded player in this year's draft, but the Jets arguably drafted the player with the highest ceiling with the second overall pick: Patrik Laine, who compared himself to Alex Ovechkin, a six-time Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner.

Laine will make an immediate impact on the Jets in his first season. Factor that in with the possibility of Kyle Connor, who was named USA Hockey's College Player of the Year and left college early to sign his entry-level contract in April, joining the Jets at the same time as Laine and Winnipeg's future is almost here.

Logan Stanley, a 6-foot-7 defenseman, may have been a reach at No. 18 overall, but the growing threat of losing Jacob Trouba, who's a restricted free agent on July 1, via a trade or an offer sheet may have forced their hand to keep that blue line stocked with young, promising talent. 

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

MIAMI (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki slapped a ground ball toward the left side of the infield, then hustled down the line to first just in case the throw didn't get there in time.

It didn't, and the Miami Marlins were in business.

That play by Suzuki kick-started what became a four-run fifth as the Marlins took the lead for good, and they went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Saturday.

"Just a good team," said Justin Bour, who hit his 14th home run and finished with three RBIs. "Good vibe right now, and just got to keep it rolling."

Giancarlo Stanton had his first three-RBI game since April 26 for Miami, which got to 40 wins in 75 games - or 20 games faster than they did a year ago. Paul Clemens (1-0) allowed four runs in five innings for his first big league win since June 12, 2013, and A.J. Ramos got the last two outs for his 24th save in as many chances this season.

Going back to 2015, Ramos has saved 33 straight, tying a Marlins franchise record.

"He's been solid," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Any team that has a guy at the end that's closing `em down and not giving `em up, if you can get to him with a lead you're in good shape."

Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Miguel Montero added a solo homer for the Cubs, who still have the best record in the majors even after losing five of their last six games. They ended a four-game skid Friday night despite giving up Bour's grand slam.

"That's a tremendous lineup," Clemens said.

Cubs starter John Lackey (7-4) gave up a season-high seven runs in 4 1-3 innings, and it's almost like he knew Suzuki's infield single would be trouble - smacking his glove and shouting in frustration after he reached.

It only got worse over the next few minutes for Lackey, who had a 2.78 ERA when the game started and a 3.29 ERA when it ended.

"To start off with an infield hit ... I have to do better than that," Lackey said. "Four runs should be enough to win that game."

Suzuki took second when Russell's throw squirted away from Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and scored two pitches later on Martin Prado's double.

Stanton drove in Prado with a single that chased Lackey and put Miami up 5-4, Bour greeted reliever Gerardo Concepcion with an RBI double, and Derek Dietrich's sacrifice fly made it 7-4.

It was a rare sort of loss for the Cubs, who were 33-0 this season when scoring six runs and 44-3 when scoring at least four.

"When we score that many runs we're going to win a baseball game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It was one of those nights and we move on."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Rizzo (back stiffness) and Montero (right knee) returned to the lineup after missing the last two games. ... 2B Ben Zobrist, who was forced out of Friday's game after getting hit in the left ankle by a pitch, didn't start but pinch-hit in the eighth.

Marlins: CF Marcell Ozuna, who played in all but one of Miami's first 74 games, wasn't in the lineup because of left wrist pain. Suzuki started in center for the sixth time this season.

CUBS LINEUP

Willson Contreras, who had an RBI double in the ninth for the Cubs, got the start in left field. That became the third position (joining catcher and first base) that he's played in a very hectic opening eight games of his MLB career. And Lackey batted eighth, the second straight day that Maddon put a starting pitcher in that slot after doing the same with Kyle Hendricks in Friday's win.

ICHIRO WATCH

Suzuki went 1 for 4, moving him within 16 hits of 3,000 for his MLB career.

UP NEXT

The series ends Sunday when Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.36) faces Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (7-3, 2.55). Fernandez is 23-1 all-time at home and has never faced the Cubs, who have lost each of Hammel's last three starts. Fernandez briefly left the Marlins' dugout in the first inning Saturday after a foul ball bounced off his right hand, but returned not long afterward - and even asked Mattingly if he could pinch-hit in the late innings.

White Sox blast seven homers but lose to Blue Jays

White Sox blast seven homers but lose to Blue Jays

Even though they tied a team record on Saturday afternoon, the White Sox became only the third team in baseball history to hit seven home runs in a game and lose.

Brett Lawrie produced his first multi-homer game, but a poor outing by starter Miguel Gonzalez did in the short-handed White Sox, who lost 10-8 to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 25,776 at U.S. Cellular Field.

The seven home runs -- all solo shots -- matched an April 23, 1955 performance at the Kansas City Athletics. But it wasn’t enough to prevent them from falling below .500 as Gonzalez allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. Dioner Navarro, J.B. Shuck, Tim Anderson, Alex Avila and Adam Eaton all homered in the loss.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.

While it may not be as unprecedented, the workload has been hefty for the White Sox bullpen over the last week. The group had combined for 26 1/3 innings in the team’s previous seven games and needed a lengthy effort from Gonzalez. Ventura said afterward he ruled relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones, who each appeared in five of those games, and Matt Albers and Zach Duke, who had four each, out of action.

So it couldn’t have been easy for Ventura to stomach when Gonzalez allowed five consecutive first-inning hits and fell behind 3-0. Devon Travis made it a five-run game in the second inning with a two-run homer.

Starved for length from the starting pitcher, Ventura stuck with Gonzalez, who retired the side in order in the third. But the Blue Jays continued to add on against Gonzalez, pushing across three more runs in the fourth inning. Josh Donaldson drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs to make it a 6-3 game and Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run single again pushed the deficit to five.

While Gonzalez pitched a scoreless fifth inning, he was lifted after a one-out double in the sixth by Ezequiel Carrera.

“We've got to win that game,” Gonzalez said. “That can't happen. I have to be more consistent.

"It's frustrating not to be a little bit more consistent early in the ballgame.”

Gonzalez is now 1-3 with a 7.83 ERA in four home starts this season.

Encarnacion doubled in an insurance run and Troy Tulowitzki singled in another in the ninth off rookie Michael Ynoa to give Toronto a 10-7 lead.

Despite facing big deficits all game, the White Sox didn’t surrender.

Lawrie’s inside-the-park-home run with two outs in the second off R.A. Dickey lit a fuse. It was the first inside-the-park-homer by a White Sox player at U.S. Cellular Field since Chris Singleton on Sept. 29, 2000.

Navarro then lined one out to right to make it 5-2 and Shuck followed with his first homer since April 19, 2014 -- a span of 318 plate appearances. It’s the first time the White Sox hit three consecutive homers since they hit four in a row against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 14, 2008.

Lawrie’s solo homer off Dickey in the fourth made it 8-3 as he became the first White Sox player since Ron Santo on June 9, 1974 to have both a traditional homer and an inside-the-park-homer in the same contest.

The White Sox added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Lawrie to make it 8-5, but reliever Jesse Chavez stranded a pair of runners.

Anderson’s homer off Drew Storen in the seventh made it a two-run game and Avila’s oppo-shot off Jason Grilli in the eighth got the White Sox within a run.

Eaton homered in the ninth, too, but it wasn’t enough.

“They’ve got a well oiled machine over there,” Eaton said. “They’re tough to compete with. At the same time, you hit seven home runs, you think you should win the ballgame. But that's the way baseball goes. Baseball is a weird game.

“It's a tricky game. You can never really predict it.”