North Shore Country Day makes history

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North Shore Country Day makes history

It is a long trip from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas, to Winnetka, Ill. But Rashid Smith made it without a hitch. In his second year as head coach at North Shore Country Day, he still has some unfinished business.

Basketball never has been a major topic of discussion at the small and elite private school. Football records date to the school's founding in 1919 but the only basketball record of note is a regional championship in 2011.

Smith is anxious to re-write history. North Shore Country Day is 17-4 going into Tuesday's Class 1A supersectional against Sterling Newman, has won its first conference championship in 40 years and its first sectional in history. "There is a gap in the records," he said.

The Raiders, who were 17-7 last year but lost to Hope Academy in the sectional semifinal, avenged that loss on Friday night by overwhelming the team that was favored to win the Class 1A title this season, Hope Academy, 70-56. Jake Bruce scored 27 points and Austen Curren had 23.

"I'm 30 years old but I'm not surprised by anything at this point," Smith said. "They are playing unselfishly and hard and smart. If you do those three things, you give yourself a chance to win. I wasn't surprised about winning the regional and sectional.

"But what impressed me was after we won the regional they didn't celebrate. They shook the other team's hand and walked off the court. In the first game of the sectional, they did the same thing. One kid said: 'I don't want to lose without playing our best basketball.' They still feel we haven't played our best basketball. I was impressed that 16- and 17- and 18-year-old kids have that mindset."

Hey, the Raiders could be unbeaten. They lost to Christian Liberty by two, Chicago Latin by two, Chicago University High by two in overtime and Northridge Prep by two in overtime.

"But the losses helped us," Smith said. "They forced us to do some self-reflecting and make corrections and improvements. We are a smarter team, more patient on offense. We take better shots and we are more dynamic. In the beginning of the year, zone defense and pressure hurt us. But now our guards do a good job of handling pressure. And our ball movement is much crisper now."

Smith knows how to win. At Peabody Magnet High School in Alexandria, La., he led his team to a state championship. He was All-State and MVP in the state tournament. In three years, his teams lost only 10 games. He earned a scholarship to Rice University in Houston, Texas.

At Rice, a couple of his teammates were from Northbrook, Illinois. They started a basketball training company and Smith joined them. Along the way, he connected with coaches and athletes on the North Shore. One of his college teammates was Omar Mance, who preceded him as head coach at North Shore Country Day, When Mance left to become an assistant at Army, Smith succeeded him.

Smith inherited three returning starters from last year's squad. Curren, a 6-foot-3 junior, averages 17.5 points and six rebounds per game. He was an all-conference selection last year. Bruce, a 6'2" senior guard, averages 13.5 points and four steals.

Other starters are 6-foot-5 junior Ryan Hall (14 ppg, 11 rpg) and 5-foot-9 junior point guard Jamie Swimmer who contributes five assists per game and scored 15 points against Hope Academy. Both were all-conference selections a year ago.

The other starting spot is split between 6'2" junior Flores Hondmann and 6-foot junior Tim Morette. They combine for 11 points and five rebounds between them.

Smith thinks North Shore Country Day isn't given much respect because the Independent League, which also includes University High and Francis Parker and Chicago Latin, isn't considered a very competitive conference. But Smith believes his team's victory over highly rated Hope Academy should send a message to critics.

"I feel our conference is good," Smith said. "University High is a Class 3A school. We weren't intimidated by Hope Academy. We play quick, athletic teams in our conference, schools that are in Class 2A and 3A. We've seen everything.

"These kids are typical of North Shore kids. They are hard working, very competitive, good spirit, high energy.

"They haven't had a game where they have felt that everybody has played up to their potential. We can click better than we are doing. I could tell by the way they approached and prepared for the sectional that they still have a lot of basketball left to play.

"Some of the kids on this team I have known since fifth and sixth grade. I worked with them at our training center. I knew it wasn't like Peabody (North Shore's enrollment is only 220). But I knew the players. Give me a kid who goes to North Shore to play basketball, who is a decent player, not developed, but has potential, and he will develop. He might might be a super star as a ninth or 10th grader but he will grow and reach his potential."

Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

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Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

You could hear the Cubs clubhouse well before walking into the new state-of-the-art facility.

On Cinco de Mayo, of course Joe Maddon's Cubs would have a live mariachi band - complete with a Cubs jersey - performing as players geared up for a showdown with the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

What were you expecting - Maddon wearing a sombrero?

"I can confirm I won't be wearing a sombrero in the dugout," Maddon joked before Thursday's game.

Fresh off their "Minimalist Zany" suit trip that included a sweep of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are feeling themselves quite a bit, so the mariachi band actually fit right in.

Plus, it made for a pregame moment Maddon said he'll remember forever.

"I was partially serenaded in the video room," Maddon said. "They were really good. My favorite moment was their solid rendition of 'Tequila' that was resonating throughout the entire clubhouse. 

"It's something I'll probably never forget - hearing a mariachi band playing 'Tequila' and your boys really participating pregame. That was kinda fun."

Maybe if the Cubs win Thursday, they'll celebrate with shots of Patrón.

Here's to hoping they dump the contents of a margarita machine onto a players' head during the CSN postgame interview. It'll be just like the "slime" on Nickelodeon.

White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

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White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

He has been described as a pain in the ass, one of a kind, a great hitter and RBI man and a dynamic player, one they’d love to never face again.

Yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the White Sox clubhouse who thinks baseball will be better off without David Ortiz, who is playing in his final regular season at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night.

Ortiz, who homered for the Boston Red Sox and drove in three runs in a Wednesday night victory, announced before the season that 2016 would be his final one. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the White Sox presented Ortiz with cigars and a humidor as a retirement gift.

“I personally believe there will never be another one like him,” White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He was literally out of baseball and then he figured stuff out, he did it and he’s been nothing but wonderful to the game.”

Ortiz has been one of the sport’s most popular figures for nearly a decade — unless you’re an opposing pitcher. Carlos Rodon learned on Wednesday night what Ortiz, 40, can do to mistake fastballs, a lesson previously learned by 508 pitching victims.

Somehow, White Sox closer David Robertson has never surrendered a homer to Ortiz despite facing him 15 times in his career. Robertson has got the best of a majority of their meetings, holding Ortiz to a .214/.267/.286 slash line with only three hits in 14 at-bats. But it doesn’t make it easier when they do battle, Robertson said.

“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Robertson said. “He’s been that powerful left-handed bat that you just don’t want to see late in the game. He’s been an exceptional hitter who’s smart in the box. He’s just a deadly threat every time he comes to the plate.

“I just feel like it’s a dog fight every time I face him. He knows everything I’ve got and I know where he can hit it. I hope I come out on top.”

White Sox reliever Zach Duke has only faced Ortiz three times. But he knows the book on Ortiz and has even more respect after “Big Papi” dribbled a run-scoring single through a vacated hole in the White Sox shift on Wednesday night for an insurance run. Duke could see that Ortiz wanted to hit the ball to the left side earlier in the at-bat. So the left-hander tried to get a fastball inside on Ortiz’s quick hands and the slugger still managed to get inside of the pitch enough to bounce it into left field.

“He’s going to take what you give him in those situations because he wants the RBI,” Duke said. “He’s got that kind of ability to exploit whatever defenses give him. I could tell he was trying to do it on the breaking ball before it, he was even trying to shoot that the other way. I’m like ‘All right, I need to give him the heater’ and he got inside of that still. Tip my hat.”

But the bat is only part of Ortiz’s lure.

He’s not just a great player, one who has helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles. Players think Ortiz is a fantastic spokesperson and ambassador for baseball because he clearly enjoys the game and it shows.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed with that assessment, noting baseball is better off in part because of Ortiz.

“He’s been a dynamic player, another case for a (designated hitter) who’s going to make it into the Hall of Fame because he’s had such an impact on every game he’s been in, in the lineup, where he’s at, playoff games, clutch moments,” Ventura said. “All those things and the Boston Strong thing. He can speak, too. He’s had a lot of important moments in Boston. It transcends a lot of things in our game.

“He means a lot of things to a lot of people.”

Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

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Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

A few hundred feet away from a White Sox clubhouse in which players are somewhat confused by baseball’s new second base sliding rule, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to focus on the positives of the edict put in place prior to the 2016 season. 

After Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada both suffered serious injuries on takeout slides last year, MLB added a rule that stipulates players must make a “bona fide” effort to slide into, not around or past, second base. Intentionally grabbing a player’s leg to disrupt a throw is now illegal, as are late slides that take a player out of the baseline or past second base. 

The rule, in effect, is clear: “Just slide into the bag,” White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. 

But the implementation of it hasn’t been consistent. Last weekend in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox thought they had a triple play turned when Manny Machado reached out and grabbed second baseman Brett Lawrie until it was a ruled clean slide. 

“I don’t feel like anybody has a feel on it, to be honest with you,” Lawrie said, explaining what happened to him at Camden Yards. “… Unfortunately, that goes against one of the points in the rule and when you don’t follow through with that, you tell everybody that, well, nobody really knows and you guys just don’t really get it yet.”

Lawrie’s gripe is that different umpires and review crews will have different gray areas for what’s acceptable at second base and what’s not. When the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista grabbed Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe’s leg on a ninth-inning double play attempt, a review determined Bautista’s actions violated the rule, and he was ruled out to end an early April game. That was the first high-profile instance of the new rule being enforced, and was one that resonated across major league clubhouses. It’s what Lawrie pointed to when discussing the non-call in Baltimore. 

Manfred understands the adjustment period for players and umpires regarding the rule. As was the case when MLB implemented its rule to cut down on collisions at home plate, there was bound to be some confusion for everyone in getting used to playing the game a different way. 

But Manfred doesn’t expect whatever problems do exist to last for long. 

“Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Manfred said. “There has certainly been one in respect to the slide rule, but I focus on the positive. Number one, I do think the rule serves a really important purpose and that is protecting players and I think even in the last couple of weeks, you see us getting more to the kind of equilibrium that we reached with respect to the home plate rule and quite frankly, we got there a little faster at second base than we did at home plate.”

Rollins, a 17-year major league veteran, similarly compared the second base rule to the home plate one and expressed optimism that the wrinkles of it will be ironed out in the future.

“We see a guy get called out for reaching across and grabbing a player and then it happens to us trying to turn a triple play and they interpret it as a clean slide when clearly (Machado) reached out and grabbed Brett,” Rollins said. “It’s like the home plate rule, there’s still a lot of things to work out. But the home plate rule, they said slide in and we’ll go look at it and hopefully get it right, and they eventually got that right. It’ll be the same thing at second.”