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.

Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

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Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

The sessions are not mandatory, meaning that Alshon Jeffery’s continued absence from Halas Hall is simply disappointing for the Bears and not yet quite in the realm of Martellus Bennett’s pointed stay-away’s last year.

But as the Bears continue through their allowed quota of organized team activities (OTA’s) this week and through mid-June minicamp, it is evident already that a handful of aspects are different in 2016 from one year ago at this time.

One is a sense of urgency, a practice-speed tempo surprising for this time of year but emblematic of changes within the roster and coaching staff from even the end of last season. Coaches were driving the intensity and competitions, if not technically permitted under collective-bargaining rules, were very much in evidence, unusual for a hot day in May.

The offense is under Dowell Loggains, promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator with the exit of Adam Gase to coach the Miami Dolphins. That is involving an element of re-orientation even within an are still grounded in the same philosophies. Position changes are afoot and even with veterans, there is a learning curve that coaches and players are fast-tracking.

“It’s become clear the last few days it’s a lot different when you’re lined up in the spring and there are trash cans across from you, and then when you’ve got these big, fast D-linemen across from you,” said Kyle Long, doing his own orientation back inside from right tackle to right guard. “There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel. You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”

Besides Jeffery, linebacker Pernell McPhee was at Halas Hall but not practicing following offseason knee surgery. Defensive lineman Will Sutton was not practicing, but fellow D-lineman Ego Ferguson was practicing after an aggressive rehab program following season-ending knee surgery of his own.

Without Jeffery, Kevin White was No. 1 through the lines for individual reps, and a scramble is developing down the wideout depth chart with rookie speed blurs Daniel Braverman (seventh-round draft choice) and Kieren Duncan (tryout player who earned a roster look with repeated highlight plays in rookie minicamp) getting looks in a group that includes nickel receiver Eddie Royal, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Marquess Wilson, all with NFL experience but few anywhere close to roster locks.

“The effect [of no Jeffery] is that someone else is getting an opportunity to get some reps and that’s a good thing,” Loggains said during rookie sessions. “We all wish Alshon was here. We’re in constant communication with him. He knows how we feel about the situation and him. But it is an opportunity for some of these different receivers that we like to get opportunities and we’ll find out more about them.”

Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

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Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

Adam Eaton’s outstanding defensive play in right field has altered the team’s original plans to give Avisail Garcia some playing time there.

Through 47 games, Eaton has played at a Gold Glove-level for the White Sox. He leads all major league defenders with 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), according to fangraphs.com, which has made it impossible to play Garcia in the field. That has White Sox manager Robin Ventura considering other ways to get Garcia on the field, including taking fly balls in left.

“The emergence of Adam out in right field has made it different,” Ventura said. “It’s a different spot for (Garcia). Eventually he’ll be back out there, but right now, what works for us is Adam in right field.”

“Adam has been above and beyond what we really thought he would be in right field.”

Garcia, 24, has nearly been relegated to full-time duty as the team’s designated hitter in 2016. He has a total of 16 innings played in the outfield.

Last year, Garcia started 129 games in the outfield. But his collective struggles — Garcia produced minus-11 DRS in 2015 — with Eaton’s forced the White Sox to look for a defensive-minded center fielder this offseason. Whereas last year the White Sox outfield was 26th of 30 with minus-22 DRS, this season they’re fifth overall at 7 DRS with Austin Jackson patrolling center.

The team’s defense has been a critical part to the club’s early success, which makes it nearly impossible for Eaton to sit. Garcia could see time in right field on days when Eaton needs to rest. But he’s more likely to force Melky Cabrera to the bench for a day or two and has worked to prepare for such an occasion.

“He’s getting some fly balls out there,” Ventura said. “That’s probably going to be really the rotation starts coming in for him to be able to get out there and get on the field. Or if something comes up with Adam or we want to DH. I even thought of that the other night during the DH. Again, Adam feels like he’s good enough to keep going.”

Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

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Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

The Bears announced on Wednesday they have signed former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace.

Grace attended Bears rookie minicamp earlier this month as a tryout player. 

Grace appeared in 32 games with the Fighting Irish and notched 78 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Grace was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to the 2014 season, but ultimately missed the whole year while recovering from a broken leg he suffered against Arizona State in 2013.

Following the 2015 season Grace expressed interest in applying for a sixth year waiver from the NCAA, but didn't fit the league's requirements, as CSNChicago.com Notre Dame Insider JJ Stankevitz highlighted.

To make room for Grace on the 90-man roster the Bears waived linebacker Danny Mason.

Mason spent parts of the 2015 season on both the Bears and Denver Broncos practice squads, but never appeared in a regular season game.