My Kind of Town!

My Kind of Town!

Friday, November 6th

Its often tough to figure the art of being a fan. I could talk for days, and have, about its origins and meanings. Since I, and I would assume you, are way past that, well save that conversation for later. But, as always though, my fan issues are never far away. Take this last week, for me it was consumed by 2 things: The World Series and meeting Sandra Bullock on a press junket for the movie The Blind Side. One of these things left me with a smile and the other with heartbreak. Im sure you dont need to read any further to guess which was which, or do you?

For various reasons we all find ourselves being fans of certain celebrities. Accomplishments would hopefully be the main reason, but there are so many other variables on why one would be a fan of another person. As far as Sandra Bullock, I wouldnt say that I was a huge fan per say, but she always had something about her. As a guy, I first noticed that shes pretty easy on the eyes. What a great start! After that, the thing for me is that she appears to be cool, someone who gets it. Meaning shes the kind of girl you would meet at a bar watching a game, and she would be watching the game, not looking around the room to see whos looking at her.

As I read up on her before our meeting, much of her history would suggest this to be true. One thing Ive learned though is, as much as I study up on people, I need to go into our meeting with a clear mind and let nature take its course, so I tried not to be too expectant but I had a feeling that this might be fun. (Another thing that I knew was that I didnt want to discuss was her recent movie history, since after Speed, I didnt know a whole lot afterwards because shes had a propensity for making chick flicks. Of course I was FORCED to watch some of them, but my strategy in those situations is to transfer myself into a vegetative state with a smile on my face so as to show my enjoyment of the experience. The whole time Im hoping not to get caught with the blankness in my eyes that indicates without a doubt that Im not watching the TV, but instead going through the mental rolodex trying to figure out my favorite Three Stooges episode. Sure it was a good movie, honey. Im the evil spirit that guards the Rootin Tootin diamond!)

As I waited to enter the room where her interviews were being conducted, I was struck by the fact that everyone who was leaving the room did so with a smile and a glow. Once it was my turn to enter, it was easy to figure out why. Her openness and warmth was easily apparent, even during an interminable string of interviews which any mortal would find mind-numbing. (Especially mine Im sure!) Our conversation, stemming from a forced situation, was natural and easy. Wow! She is the girl next door. We started talking upon my entering the room and kept going past the work part, during which I never got the sense that she wasnt enjoying herself. Shes one of those people that have a natural ability to connect. She would have been a great bartender! (In fact, shes worked in and currently owns a restaurant. No surprise.) I left thinking shes cooler than I thought. I would recommend anyone to see the movie because of that alone. (Of course to get my official recommendation, and to see some of our conversation, youll have to watch my review on SportsNite on 1119 @ 10:30pm.)

So, as you might guess, Im now a big fan of Sandra Bullock. And thats the easy part of my fandom double-header. The other part wasnt as much fun, but no less enlightening. The World Series presented the interesting, to me anyway, combination of love and hate: My Philadelphia Phillies against the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. Its hard to explain to someone from the Midwest about the feelings that the fans of other cities in the Northeast have towards ANY team from New York. Theyre the bully, the mean kid on the block, not to mention always tough to beat. From a lifetime going against them, victory, especially on an ultimate stage is elusive, to the point of knowing its probably not going to happen. And that was my mind-set going into this. Having won the title last year definitely took away some of the angst: Cant win every year, or appear to be greedy, but beating the Yanks and going back-to-back would be especially sweet.

As the Series got under way, something very Midwestern occurred. Ive often told folks from back east at the bar, that living here is great, that this is the biggest small-city in the world: Mayberry on steroids, the melting-pot of the Midwest. The constant here is that everyone is so nice. I experience it and hear about it from out-of-towners at the bar every day. There is something about the people here that even if you think differently, or root differently, thats o.k., youre allowed. I know Sox-Cubs can get bad, but after its over, its over. Sometimes a little friction isnt bad, besides theyre all unified in their love for the Bears. And from my experience, everyone here has at least one crazy relative that roots for the wrong side, teaching them tolerance of others that dont think right at an early age! So as Im about to root for the team of my youth, on the biggest stage, against THE team of professional sports, I was given constant encouragement by so many of my friends here. Texts, e-mails, phone calls, visits to the bar, you would have thought that I was actually playing. I know this probably happens to others elsewhere, but for me, it just reinforced my opinion of my adopted hometown. The people here are as sports-crazed as anywhere in the world and are no strangers to pain because of it. But in the end, its a game that youre rooting for, if it doesnt work out today, it will tomorrow. Its not the end of the world. If someone elses team is still playing, wish them well. So as many of my Cub brethren were still suffering with another untimely demise, they still found the time to offer me support on the fate of my team.

Unfortunately, it wasnt the fate that Id hoped. It still was a great ride though and the bitterness that Ive felt in the past after tough losses isnt there. (Well, lets sayas much!) Maybe, its because of increased perspective and maturity as I advance in my years. (I hope you found that last line as funny as I did!) No, its because Im tempered with the knowledge that life is more than what your team accomplishes and the people here teach me that every day. In fact, as I did my errands and went different places on Thursday, no one here seemed to care about the World Series result at all. In fact, it was just another beautiful fall day. Thank you Chicago! I needed that.

Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

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Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

From Chicago's Big Ten Team to Chicago's NBA team.

Former Northwestern guard Tre Demps will play for the Bulls in this offseason's Summer League in Las Vegas.

Demps spent four seasons in Evanston and became quite a prolific scorer, averaging 15.7 points per game as a senior last season after averaging 12.5 points per game and 11 points per game during his junior and sophomore seasons, respectively. Last season, Demps connected on 39.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and shot 33.2 percent from behind the 3-point line, averages down from the previous season.

Demps had some incredible scoring performances last season, including a 30-point effort on the road against then-No. 3 Iowa that featured six made 3-pointers, a career high he matched with six triples in a win over Rutgers later in the season.

Demps is the son of New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

What initially looked like a garbage-time home run for Kris Bryant – and day-after spin from Theo Epstein – actually summed up why the Cubs have a homegrown superstar and a franchise ready for another close-up in October.

It also helps explain how Bryant – at the age of 24 – became the first player in history to hit three homers and two doubles in a Major League Baseball game. Bryant set a franchise record with 16 total bases during Monday night’s 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, becoming the youngest Cub to ever have a three-homer game (or 10 days younger than Ernie Banks in 1955).

After the New York Mets swept the Cubs out of last year’s National League Championship Series, Epstein sat in a dingy Wrigley Field storage room converted into a media workspace for the playoffs. During that end-of-season news conference, the president of baseball operations highlighted Bryant’s final at-bat, how New York’s right-handers kept attacking him with changeups.

Cubs officials felt like they were beaten at their own game, impressed how the Mets did such a great job with advance scouting, breaking down numbers and executing that night’s plan. If Bryant appeared to be vulnerable to that weakness – and a little worn down at the end of an All-Star/Rookie of the Year campaign – he still had the presence of mind to make an adjustment in Game 4.

With his team down seven runs in the eighth inning, Bryant drove a changeup from a two-time All-Star reliever (Tyler Clippard) 410 feet into the left-center field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Bryant can grow up as the son of an old Boston Red Sox prospect who learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams – and have his own batting cage at his family’s Las Vegas home – and still not feel burned out from the game or create the wrong Sin City headlines.

Bryant can get drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, shoot a Red Bull commercial with a goat before his first at-bat in The Show and have his own billboards in Wrigleyville – and still not alienate himself from teammates or come across as having the wrong priorities.

Bryant is athletic enough to play third base, right field and left field during that 5-for-5, six-RBI, three-homer game. He can also get analytical and self-diagnose – without feeling paralyzed at the plate.

Bryant didn’t remember the NLCS as an eye-opening experience or give the Mets too much credit: “They all throw 96 (mph), which is kind of just where baseball is nowadays, too – a ton of people are throwing gas.”

For Bryant, it’s a constant process of self-evaluation, from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut last April, through the 21 games it took before hitting his first big-league homer, beyond hitting the rookie wall last summer (.639 OPS in July).   

“It’s the peaks and valleys of baseball,” Bryant said. “From August and September last year, I had two really good months (.900-plus OPS). I didn’t really have the postseason I wanted to. But up until that point, I was swinging the bat really good. I was feeling really good about myself.

“I kind of just went back to what I did in college, a drill that kept me more flat to the ball. That’s what helped me. And then going into the offseason, I really wanted to expand on it. Just continue with it and see where it took me.”

After finishing second in the majors with 199 strikeouts last season, Bryant struck out 12 more times in 37 playoff plate appearances. He’s now on pace for around 160 strikeouts – with 21 homers and 57 RBI a week out from the Fourth of July.  

“What he had been doing before was not going to work (long-term),” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not one of those guys (who says): ‘Hey, you can’t hit like that in the big leagues.’ I always used to hate hearing that from coaches. (But) the fact was that he had such an abrupt uppercut or chicken wing – whatever you want to call it – easily exposed by good pitching. Easily. And it had to go away.

“(He) worked through it. He knew how he was getting beat up at the plate. He knew what he couldn’t get to that he was able to get to before. He’s only 20-something years old, (but) he’s quick (and thinking): ‘I’m seeing the ball good. I just can’t get to it. What do I have to do to get to those pitches?’ Now he is.”

The Mets won the pennant, but their foundation might already be crumbling, with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard reportedly dealing with bone spurs in their pitching elbows and Matt Harvey (4-9, 4.64 ERA) struggling to live up to his Dark Knight of Gotham persona after throwing 216 innings during last year’s return from Tommy John surgery.

The Epstein regime built a franchise around young power hitters like Bryant – believing that young power pitchers are inherently too fragile – and the Cubs could be 25 games over .500 when they get another shot at the Mets in an NLCS rematch that begins Thursday night at Citi Field.  

“Obviously, the front office has done a really good job of getting good players,” Bryant said. “You look at the young talent around the room, it’s pretty cool to see that.

“They’re just good people. They drafted good people, signed good people, and I think that just makes it easier to go out there and play our game and be yourself.”

Terps add ex-New Mexico State receiver Teldrick Morgan

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Terps add ex-New Mexico State receiver Teldrick Morgan

One of the most productive receivers in college football during the 2014 season is joining Maryland for the 2016 campaign.

Teldrick Morgan, who spent the first three seasons of his collegiate career at New Mexico State, has joined the Terps as a graduate transfer and will be eligible to play this season.

“Teldrick brings a great deal to our program, and we’re excited that he’s a part of our family,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said in the announcement. “It’s always great to bring a local kid back home, and on top of that he’s very skilled and brings a wealth of experience to our receivers unit.”

The 2014 season was a big one for Morgan, a native of the Old Line State. He ranked 32nd in the FBS with 75 receptions and 50th in the nation with 903 receiving yards.

Morgan missed three games last season due to injury and finished with 44 receptions (still a team high) for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He did have a pair of triple-digit receiving-yardage games, though, racking up 151 yards against UTEP and going for 101 yards against Louisiana Monroe.

Maryland can use all the help it can get when it comes to the passing game. The Terps ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams in pass yards per game, averaging just 174.3 yards through the air per Saturday.