Stavrakas rebuilds Lane baseball tradition

789676.jpg

Stavrakas rebuilds Lane baseball tradition

Dean Stavrakas is 68 years old, perhaps a bit late to be starting from scratch, but he is determined to rebuild Lane Tech's baseball fortunes. And he is off to a pretty good start.In his first year, Stavrakas took his team to the championship game of the Public League playoff for the first time since 2002. The Indians finished 21-11, and prospects for the 2013 season are positive with 17 juniors and five sophomores returning to the varsity squad.Not the least of whom is pitcher Jack McLaughlin, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander who posted an earned run average under 2.00 this season despite an 0-4 start. He could be the best pitcher in the Public League in 2013."He could beat anyone in the city on any given day," Stavrakas said.Lane Tech's once-dominant baseball program, which has a long tradition dating to the 1930s and 1940s, has struggled for the last decade. Like most sports in the city, with the exception of basketball, baseball has been on a steady decline."It's taken a huge drop," Stavrakas said.It isn't the way it used to be.Lane Tech won state championships in 1945 under Percy Moore and 1956 under George Wallenta. Jerry Szukala's 1994 team finished fourth. Ed Papciak, perhaps the school's most successful coach, was one of the first eight inductees into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in 1978.The Indians were perennial contenders for the city title and a berth in the state finals. But they haven't qualified for the state tournament since 2001.The baseball program has produced at least a dozen major leaguers, including former Chicago Cubs star Phil Cavarretta, Buzz Capra, Irv Medlinger, Ben Church, Frank Dasso and Jim Woods, who pitched Lane Tech to the 1956 state title. Other standouts included Shotgun Becker, Bud Felichio and Lou Ryniec.Stavrakas is convinced that this year's team, which lost to Simeon 2-1 in the Public League final, "took a big step to bringing Lane Tech back in baseball. We have 73 kids in the program on three levels, 28 on the varsity. Now we have jelled has a ball club."And the Indians soon will have a new home field. The Chicago Cubs have announced that they will build a new 4 million facility at the school. It will be named Kerry Wood Field in honor of the recently retired Cubs pitcher who donated 1 million to the project.Stavrakas still is learning what Lane Tech is all about. He is a South Sider, raised near 84th and Wolcott, in the Calumet High School area. Growing up, his greatest memory was watching the Prep Bowl football game between Calumet and Leo before a crowd of more than 66,000 at Soldier Field.He loved the military so he attended Morgan Park Military Academy, then graduated from Howe Military Academy in Indiana in 1961. He majored in business at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.He won over 400 games while coaching baseball at Hales Franciscan for one year, St. Benedict for 10 years and Lake View for nine years. Since 1998, he has operated his own post-construction and festival cleaning business."I played baseball for as long as I could, in college and semi-pro," he said. "I love the game with a passion. I coached semi-pro teams for many years and helped to send eight players to the major leagues, including Ron Kittle, Al Levine, Scott Spiezio and Joe Fasano."How did he end up at Lane Tech?"(Athletic director) Rich Rio and I have been friends for years," said Stavrakas, whose son George is head coach of the girls softball team at Lane Tech. "He said I was welcome to come to Lane Tech and end my career."He resigned from Lake View last year. In 2008, the principal said he was bringing too much notoriety to the school."We qualified for the city final for the first time since 1977," Stavrakas said."He didn't like the fact that baseball was getting so much publicity."It was very frustrating. He turned his back on sports. He couldn't deal with the fact that we had been so successful. It hurt me. "The day after I resigned, Rich Rio said he'd like me to come to Lane Tech to end my career. It gave me five years of additional life. I'd love to do it for a couple more years."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

vinniehinostrozabears.jpg
AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Jamal Mayers discuss the bottom six carrying the Blackhawks to a come-from-behind win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Later, Mayers weighs in on possible targets with the NHL trade deadline just six weeks away.

Listen to the latest episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast below:

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Pro Football Focus gives Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman historical 2016 grade

Bears GM Ryan Pace struck gold with his signing of Jerrell Freeman last offseason.

Freeman, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Bears last March, was graded as the NFL's No. 1 inside linebacker in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.

Freeman's 93.8 overall grade was PFF's third-highest defensive grade behind Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald (95.6) and Oakland Raiders standout edge rusher Khalil Mack (93.9). 

Here's what PFF's Mike Renner had to say about Freeman's historic 2016 season:

One of the most impressive pure statistics any player amassed this season came from Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman. He made 40 tackles in coverage while missing only one tackle attempt. That ratio is insane, and it’s the best we’ve recorded since 2012. That’s about the only exciting stat, though, as the Bears’ front-seven desperately missed a fully-healthy Pernell McPhee for a good portion of the year.

Despite Freeman's outstanding season, he was left off of PFF's All-Pro Team for 2016. Although he was ranked ahead of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (91.6) and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (92.9), PFF likely omitted Freeman due to him missing four games with a PED suspension.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

In his first season with the Bears, the 30-year-old Freeman led the team with 110 tackles (the next highest total was Harold Jones-Quartey's 78). Freeman also finished with a team-high 7 tackles for a loss. 

Check out a snapshot below of Freeman's PFF metrics from last season:

If there's any doubt about Freeman's play falling off after serving a suspension, he put that theory to rest. Freeman's second-best game grade came in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings (3.5). Freeman also had a positive grade (1.4) in his first game coming off the suspension against the Washington Redskins in Week 16.

"People know me," Freeman told the media after returning from suspension. "People know who I am. People know what I'm about. I wouldn't do that on purpose. I made a mistake and that's what it is. It's not like I was going out of my way to do something (illegal). But it happened. It's my fault and I take responsibility for it."