Locker Room Prep Talk never stops talking


Locker Room Prep Talk never stops talking

First of all, I'm not computer-friendly. All I want to know about a computer is how to turn it on, how to print a story, how to obtain a printout of the story and how to shut off the computer. If anything conflicts with that process, I'm in trouble.

Secondly, I never cease to be amazed and awed by the Internet. So much information at your fingertips, sometimes inaccurate and saturated with unsubstantiated rumors, but easier to access than thumbing through an encyclopedia or thesaurus or even a dictionary.

Take my old blog, for example. I didn't know what a blog was until a few years ago. Then, in 2007, my old employers at the Chicago Sun-Times asked me to start a blog. "Locker Room Prep Talk" was born in November 2007. Until December 2010, I posted as many as 10 to 20 stories per month about high school sports in Illinois.

That's the thing: my last story on the archive is dated Dec. 29, 2010. Since then, Locker Room Prep Talk has taken on a life of its own.

Actually, there was one more story. The following week I posted a story on Simeon basketball star Jabari Parker. It was deleted by an editor after one day online because he claimed some readers protested some of the content included in the story.

I wrote about Parker's relationship with a Jewish basketball player from Glenbrook North. They are the best of friends and play on the same AAU team. Parker attended the youngster's Bar Mitzvah. It took up all of two sentences in a 1,200-word story.

When I was informed by the prep editor that the editor had ordered that the story be deleted--he never talked to me about the issue--I quit on the spot. I have never had any relationship with the Sun-Times since. After 33 years, I felt the paper at least owed me an explanation.

But "Locker Room Prep Talk" goes on and on and on. Google it up and there is it--every story I ever wrote, from 2007 to 2010. And nearly every day, a reader taps into the website, reads a story and emails a comment. Some days, there are as many as four or five comments.

Incredibly, that's how I finally found Homer Thurman. After searching for the former multi-sport star from Bloom Township in Chicago Heights for more than 30 years, a reader in Hawaii emailed on the "Locker Room Prep Talk" website that Homer had died in Honolulu on June 27.

Ken Nelson, an old friend of Thurman's dating to the late 1970s, had begun an online search for Thurman's background and discovered a story in "Locker Room Prep Talk" and my recent story for on Thurman's induction into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville.

People from here, there and everywhere, including Hawaii, somehow find Locker Room Prep Talk on the Internet and check out the archive, then comment about a story that was posted sometime in the last 10 years.

Most recently, someone recalled my story on the late basketball star Billy Harris of Dunbar, noting that he had played many days at Dunbar's gym with Crane star Arthur Sivels. He said he rated Sivels, a playground legend, "just slightly above" Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Kevin Porter, Ronnie Lester, Mo Cheeks, Derrick Rose, Rickey Green and Michael Poole.

And a former Evanston player, having read an archival story on legendary Evanston coach Murney Lazier that was written so long ago that it had to be dusted off, praised the teachings of his former coach, pointing out that when he went to college he realized that Lazier had taught him fundamentals that weren't being taught at the next level.

It is unfortunate that the Sun-Times made a decision that forced the termination of "Locker Room Prep Talk." Readers can keep up with the same subject matter in the Prep section of every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

In the meantime, "Locker Room Prep Talk" continues to take on a life of its own. In recent posts, another former city basketball player recalled Sivels, Larry Cross, Lloyd Walton and Jerome Freeman, a football fan recalled Deerfield's 1973 football team and coach Paul Adams, a former teammate of Hales Franciscan star Sam Puckett said "there never will be another Sam Puckett," and Mike Matthews, a starter on Hirsch's 1973 state championship basketball team, recalled the late Billy Harris.

A St. Laurence football fan claimed the Vikings' 1979 football team, with Ron Prusa, Mike McQuinn, Mike Berggren and Rick Gregus, was more talented than the more celebrated 1974 squad of Pete Allard, Jeff Pearson, Tim Grunhard and Paul Glonek.

Several city basketball fans chimed in with comments about former King star Jamie Brandon, one of only five players ever to score more than 3,000 points in state history and perhaps the best player never to compete in the NBA. And one fan argued that many Fab Five teams could be assembled but he would start with Cazzie Russell, Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Mark Aguirre and Dale Kelley.

Talk about one way to start an argument or a debate. Sounds like more grist for Locker Room Prep Talk to me.

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”

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