New uniforms just part of ND's modernization

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New uniforms just part of ND's modernization

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Notre Dame unveiled a new adidas-made uniform to be worn Oct. 6 against Miami, the threads were, as expected, met with plenty of derision, at least on Twitter. But that same criticism -- mainly of the helmet -- wasn't shared by Notre Dame players.

"I love them," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "You look good, you feel good, you feel good, you play good. It's true."

"The last couple years with what adidas has done for us, and the Shamrock Series, we've got so much swag now," added tight end Tyler Eifert. "They're pretty neat."

These specific uniforms are a one-time deal, to be worn only for that early October contest against Miami, which is part of the school's Shamrock Series that has taken the Irish to San Antonio, New York and Washington D.C. in the last two years.

The goal of the Shamrock Series was essentially to put Notre Dame on tour, taking not only the football program, but the school to other parts of the country. But instead of taking the classic uniforms with them, Notre Dame views the Shamrock Series as a chance to try something different.

"Because the concept, because the game is now part of something that is going to last and has its own identification as the Shamrock Series, we decided, in a very conscious way, to take this and use it as the one time each year that we modify our uniforms," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said.

"To make it a special, different event, to embrace the notion that we're going to bring an exciting and new opportunity with us when we come to a city, and part of that is the uniform."

That idea of trying something new extends beyond just the uniforms. Swarbrick mentioned he enjoyed the video board capability at Yankee Stadium in 2010, and isn't completely against an upgrade to a Jumbotron at Notre Dame Stadium sometime in the future.

"That's what we're trying to do -- can Notre Dame Stadium still be the Augusta of college football," pondered Swarbrick, "and provide an environment that allows you to communicate about the school more effectively. That's my frustration. I sort of enjoy it from a football perspective when there's a close call and I watch the opposing coach get whiplash trying to find the video board trying to decide whether or not to call for a review.

"But it frustrated the heck out of me when we honor a professor in between the first and second period by bringing him out to the 30-yard-line, making an announcement about him or her and handing them a football and nobody in the stadium knows what's going on. We ought to be calling great attention and focus to that person. And that's hard to do in our current environment."

Last year, Notre Dame Stadium played music over its sound system for the first time. That's another change that's come to the gameday atmosphere in South Bend, even if it meant Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" playing seemingly on repeat during the Irish's contest against USC.

And Swarbrick wouldn't rule out a change in playing surface, perhaps from natural grass to the flashpoint idea of artificial turf. Notre Dame will have to replace its turf after this season, so that's when the issue will be addressed.

A quote from Mark Daniels, director of football for adidas America -- which designed the Shamrock Series uniforms -- seemed to sum up the balance Notre Dame is attempting to strike, not only with the uniforms, but with music, video, turf, and so on.

"We expect strong reaction regardless of what we do," Daniels said. "We fully understand the heritage, the tradition, the rituals of what Notre Dame is. And we like to take those, celebrate those moments but modernize it, bring it into the future a little bit."

Setting the 'Panic City' scene for Cubs vs. Mets: Is this it for the defending NL champs?

Setting the 'Panic City' scene for Cubs vs. Mets: Is this it for the defending NL champs?

The tabloids are already asking the questions, even before the Fourth of July traffic starts, two weeks out from the All-Star Game. It’s on the New York Post’s website: “Is there anything else that can go wrong for the Mets?” And there’s this Daily News headline: “Will this week be the downfall of the 2016 Mets?”

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson delivered his “Panic City” line to the New York media last summer, right around the time Cubs manager Joe Maddon green-lit “Simon the Magician” for a performance inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse.

At the time, this looked like a potential National League Championship Series matchup, a made-for-TV, big-market battle between power pitchers and power hitters…maybe in 2017.

On July 2 last year, the Cubs finished off a three-game sweep in New York, giving them a 7-0 regular-season record against the Mets, who dropped to 40-40 before heading out to the West Coast to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at Dodger Stadium and the defending World Series champs in San Francisco.   

The Cubs responded to getting swept by the Mets in the NLCS with a spending spree in free agency that approached $290 million, fueling World Series-or-bust, Embrace-The-Target expectations, moving to 25 games over .500 with a 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.

The Cubs and Mets will now play seven times between Thursday night in Queens and July 20 at Wrigley Field, which should give us a better idea of whether or not Alderson can pull another rabbit out of his hat at the trade deadline, if Maddon should be pressing the panic button on his bullpen phone and how realistic an October rematch might be. Setting the scene for this four-game series at Citi Field:

• The “Panic City” state of mind returned with this week’s revelations that Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have been pitching through bone spurs in their elbows, showing how fragile New York’s championship hopes might be. This is why the Cubs have been so focused on building with young hitters, the idea that it’s too unpredictable to plan around elbows and shoulders and when pitchers might feel healthy.

The presence of Cubs coaches Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode has almost created a cavalier attitude toward pitching and an extremely optimistic view of change-of-scenery guys and bounce-back candidates. And the Cubs understood Jon Lester had a bone chip in his left elbow when they signed him to a six-year, $155 million megadeal after the 2014 season.

But the Cubs have prioritized spending so much capital on their lineup – first-round picks, trade chips, free-agency dollars – because Theo Epstein’s regime sees hitters as more robust investments.

• The Mets saw what Ben Zobrist did for the Kansas City Royals in the World Series last October, toured him around the affluent suburbs in Westchester County and Connecticut during the offseason and even offered him a four-year contract that came with more guaranteed money ($60 million) than the deal the Cubs put together ($56 million).

Zobrist has cooled off in June (.672 OPS) after a red-hot May (1.137 OPS), but is in position to be the NL’s starting All-Star second baseman. The Mets quickly shifted gears at the winter meetings, trading a spare pitcher (Jon Niese) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker, who’s already hit 14 homers in his final season before free agency. The balance of power in the NL East, however, might have shifted when Daniel Murphy (.349 average, .964 OPS) – the Mr. October who crushed the Cubs in the playoffs – signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

• A full season of Yoenis Cespedes (18 homers, 45 RBI through 70 games this year) hasn’t dramatically changed New York’s offensive profile. The Mets entered Wednesday ranking 13th out of the NL’s 15 teams in runs scored (274, or 129 less than the Cubs). Corner infielders David Wright (neck surgery) and Lucas Duda (stress fracture in his lower back) are on the disabled list while catcher Travis d’Arnaud missed almost two months with a strained rotator cuff.

• The owners of professional sports franchises and the executives running those teams always talk about doing things the right way – and then act out of self-interest. It will be that way if the New York Yankees actually sell and the Cubs put a second-chance spin on closer Aroldis Chapman, who began this season serving a 30-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

The Mets already felt desperate enough to bring back Jose Reyes on a minor-league deal after he was arrested on domestic violence charges, served a 52-game suspension and got released by the Colorado Rockies. Reyes – a homegrown Met who turned 33 this month and is five years removed from his last All-Star selection – could join the team this weekend in New York.

• As a polished, left-handed college hitter, Michael Conforto certainly fit the profile as the Cubs weighed their options with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. But the Cubs wanted Kyle Schwarber, with Epstein in particular developing a man crush on the Indiana University catcher/outfielder. The Mets grabbed Conforto with the No. 10 pick and watched the fast-track outfielder from Oregon State University become a catalyst for last year’s World Series surge. 

Well, the Mets just demoted Conforto to Triple-A Las Vegas over the weekend, another reminder to appreciate how many young players the Cubs have graduated to the big-league level, without taking it for granted (see Schwarber’s recovery from season-ending knee surgery).

“This year, I think we have a little more confidence, a little more swagger,” said Kris Bryant, the Rookie of the Year/All-Star third baseman who has lived up to the hype. “But the Mets are going to be a really good team for a long time, especially with that staff.”

Bulls' Denzel Valentine throws out first pitch at White Sox game

Bulls' Denzel Valentine throws out first pitch at White Sox game

Count Denzel Valentine as 1-for-1 in a Bulls uniform.

The first-round pick threw out the first pitch prior to tonight's White Sox-Twins game and fired a strike to another young Chicago star, pitcher Carlos Rodon.

Check out Valentine's first pitch in the video above.

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets Thursday on CSN

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets Thursday on CSN

John Lackey and the Cubs open a four-game series with the Mets on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet at 6:10 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: John Lackey (7-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Steven Matz (7-3, 3.29 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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