Nick

Nick

Thursday, November 20th

Unfortunately in life, friends leave us. No matter when it is, its never easy. A legendary Chicago sports figure that a lot of fans might not know passed this week. One of the best things, no make that, the best thing about what I do for a living, is the vast array of people I get to meet because Im behind the bar at Harry Carays. Im always asked by people, Who have you met at the bar? Im always perplexed, and amused, by this question, because the inference is, who would they know? Like having someone famous at the bar validates it as the place to be. Or, because its not a name your familiar with, its not that exciting. For me, I get a kick out of anyone thats interesting, and few were more so than Nick Kladis. Nick was 81, and like anyone his age he had a long list of accomplishments.

A star on the Tilden Technical High School basketball team in the late 1940s, he has been described by his long-time friend Marv Levy as one of the best basketball players I ever saw. In 2005, he was inducted in to the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His left his basketball mark though as a collegian as a star for the Loyola Ramblers in the early 1950s. Nicknamed Nifty Nick, his signature moves on the court were a one-handed jump shot, and a gravity defying left-handed hook that he was known to launch from anywhere. He perfected these to the point that he was an All-American in the 1952 season. His honors from the university were many: Named to Loyolas All-Decade Team of the 1950s, inducted into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame, and my favorite, having his 3 retired and hanging from the rafters of the Gentile Center overlooking the current generation of Ramblers hoopsters. Something he was very proud of was being a volunteer assistant coach for the 1963 Loyola team that won the NCAA National Title. In fact, I remember not too long ago, him having a meal with some of the players from that team in the restaurant, the twinkle in his eye that night was unmistakable. He loved his school. So much so that he is one of the forces behind the construction of a new Intercollegiate Athletics Center adjacent to the Gentile Center. I know he will be missed at the groundbreaking in January, but upon completion Im sure his presence will be immortalized in its Hall of Fame Room.

After his senior year he was drafted by the NBA, but unlike todays climate of millionaire status, the NBA was not the path for many to instant riches. At an early age, his business acumen was spot on. It would continue for the rest of his life. He started with working with the family grocery business, but his love of sports was always there. This led him to, among other things: Being a part owner of the White Sox from 1975 1980. An original investor in the East Bank Club. A co-owner, along with former New York Knicks star, Dave DeBusschere, of boxing bible, The Ring magazine. And currently, a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Life has many ironies, and among them is that, a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, was one of the original investors in the Home plate of the Cubs and what many fans think of as the ultimate Cubs bar, Harry Carays in downtown Chicago.

Invariably during the last 3 years, when Nick would be at the bar and get into conversations with Cubbie fans seated near him, I would make sure to tease (No, not me!) by saying to them, You cant be nice to him! Dont you see that ring hes wearing? At this point, Nick would let them see, or hold if they like, his World Series ring from the 2006 Championship. I used to get the biggest kick out of that, and I know he did too. Not in a malicious way, the thing that we had in common was, we were fans of our teams, and there was nothing wrong with having fun with fans of others. Nick loved his Cardinals. When they played any game, he was into it, but playing the Cubs was something altogether different. He loved going to the games and coming to the restaurant afterward with players or manger Tony LaRussa or others associated with the team. Often he would bring one of his dinner guests up to the bar to meet me.

I remember meeting former Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina and being very impressed. Go figure, hes now a baseball analyst for ESPN. Another introduction from Nick that Im very fond of is when he introduced me to former Tribune columnist Mike Downey and his wife Gail. What nice people. I remember one night Nick and Dutchie Caray having a group of friends they were dining with in the bar for cocktails. As many milled around, I found myself in a conversation with Dutchie and Gail in the front corner of the bar about gambling on NFL football games. (I have a very boring job!) When I told Gail I surprised by her incredible knowledge on the subject, she told me she learned all about it from her father. Her father's name was Dean Martin. Yes, that Dean Martin! I could only imagine the conversations at dinner, but you know that table was never boring.

A favorite table, for me, was when Nick and Dutchie would be having dinner. They frequently had dinner in the restaurant, or an occasional lunch at the bar on Friday, when I work my only day shift, over the last 10 years. I dont know what it was, well maybe you can guess, but often I would visit their table, get engrossed in conversation, then realize: Wait! I was just going to say hello. I have a bar full of people waiting for me! Gotta go! I often thought after my sometimes sudden departures that they thought I was a crazed, caffeinated mad-man. But I digress.

Theyre two of the nicest people Ive ever met and Im sad that I wont be able to accost their table anymore. The last time I saw Nick, they were in with a friend, and it was the first time I had seen him since the Cardinals were, to me anyway, shockingly beaten in the playoffs by the L.A. Dodgers. I told him that I felt bad for him, but that I knew that the World Series ring that he was wearing would keep him good company during the long off-season. Well, it just got a lot longer for me, but I feel so fortunate that I got to share that moment with him.

The thing that we shared the most, was a passion for sports and our teams, but at the same time realizing that there are more important thing in life. Family, friends and helping others should be ones priorities and they were certainly his. I know this for a fact. Im only one of many, many people who have experienced his generosity. Being able to have shared life experiences with him is something Ill never forget. One of those experiences he shared and a reason that I know that many of us feel regret about, is that he wont be able to see his grand-son, Nick, play basketball again. Nicks a sharp-shooter, doesnt fall far, for Hinsdale Central and was the apple of his grandfathers eye. I would look forward to the updates of his games or tournaments. I know young Nick would do right by following in his grandfathers footsteps. Using athletics for all of the good they can represent, and keeping them a part of your life forever.

For Nicks family and friends these next few days are going to be difficult as we mourn his loss and lay him to rest. But there will be a warm feeling in all of us, that wont go away. Thats the many memories we share and the privilege of knowing our departed friend.

Oh, and who was that team that drafted Nick into the NBA, the one he turned down? The Philadelphia Warriors! Nick was supposed to play his pro career in Philadelphia, no wonder I liked him so much.

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Kevin Dineen is back with the Blackhawks but there were times this summer you wondered if another team would take him away.

The Blackhawks’ assistant coach was a major candidate for the Colorado Avalanche head coaching job, according to the Denver Post, following Patrick Roy’s surprising departure. There were probably other inquiries, too.

“It’s always nice to go through a process of talking about the way you do your business. It’s also a reflection of where you are,” said Dineen following the Blackhawks’ White-Red scrimmage on Saturday. “No. 1, you have to get permission to do that, and the Blackhawks have been great about giving me the opportunity to go out and do that. But also, when you have success, a lot of people want to get your feedback or whatever it is.”

Dineen’s name will likely come up whenever there’s a coaching vacancy. He coached the Florida Panthers from 2011-13 and coached Team Canada women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Dineen will get another opportunity in the NHL but for now, life is good in Chicago.

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“For me, I couldn’t be happier right here,” he said. “I have a great person and hockey mind to work with in Joel [Quenneville]. But you know, down the line, those things play their way out and we’ll see where it goes.”

Arriving soon

Patrick Kane, Ville Pokka and Michal Kempny will join the Blackhawks’ training camp on Tuesday. The three finished up round-robin World Cup of Hockey play with their respective teams on Thursday.

Dineen said there’s a chance one of the defensemen, Pokka or Kempny, play in Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“They’ll get into the swing of things here on Tuesday,” Dineen said. “So that’ll give them a good rest after a long, tough September, and we expect them to hit the ice flying.”

Briefly

  • Duncan Keith will skate during one of the Blackhawks’ practices on Sunday and Monday.
     
  • Team White defeated Team Red 4-3 in Saturday’s scrimmage at the United Center. Spencer Abbott led Team White with two goals.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.