Stavrakas rebuilds Lane baseball tradition

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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."

David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

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David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

He may be headed for retirement, but David Ortiz doesn’t intend to cruise out the door.

The slugger put his team ahead with a fifth-inning home run Wednesday night off White Sox starter Carlos Rodon and the Boston Red Sox didn’t look back. Ortiz drove in three runs and the Red Sox scored twice more late to snap a three-game losing streak for the White Sox, who fell 5-2 in front of 14,383 at U.S. Cellular Field. Rodon’s record dropped to 1-4 as he allowed three earned runs in six innings. Jose Abreu homered, but that was all for the White Sox, who were stymied by seven sharp innings from Clay Buchholz.

Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning, Ortiz made Rodon pay for a two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts, who reached base in his first four plate appearances. Ortiz ripped a 1-1 fastball from Rodon, who walked three, out to deep right field to give Boston a 3-2 advantage.

It was the sixth homer of the season and 509th of his career for Ortiz, 40.

But he wasn’t done yet.

Ortiz followed a pair of one-out singles in the seventh inning with one of his own against Zach Duke. He beat a White Sox shift and dribbled a single through an open spot on the left side of the infield to drive in run No. 22 on the season and put Boston ahead 4-2.

Ortiz, who announced he will retire after the season, is hitting .311.

The Red Sox added another run in the eighth inning on an RBI single by Josh Rutledge. Bogaerts produced the team’s first run with a two-out single in the third off of Rodon.

The White Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Abreu took Buchholz deep to end a homerless stretch of 61 plate appearances that dated back to April 19. But Buchholz settled in and retired 19 of the last 22 batters he faced, including 10 in a row.

Buchholz limited the White Sox to two runs and three hits while striking out six.

Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

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Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

Jose Abreu made it official on Wednesday night -- he’s on fire.

Everyone around the White Sox has known this hot streak would soon arrive. They saw signs in Toronto and again in Baltimore as he began to drive the ball to right with authority. They heard the sounds his lumber produced when he smacked another pitch.

But the first baseman confirmed it in the first inning Wednesday when he snapped a 61-plate appearance homeless streak with a towering two-run homer to left. And the idea that the White Sox have played as well as they have without consistent production from Abreu has the club very optimistic about its chances to contend this season.

“It’s awesome,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “You know it’s going to happen. He’s never not going to get going and be the type of hitter he is.”

“You’ve seen the month we’ve had and realistically without him producing a tremendous amount, without really the hitters producing a tremendous amount. The pitching staff has really carried us.”

Abreu has been a dominant force in the lineup in each of his two previous seasons. The 2014 American League Rookie of the Year has produced 9.3 Wins Above Replacement in his first two seasons, according to baseball-reference.com.

But until this last week, Abreu hasn’t been himself.

He hit .229/.303/.354 in April with 13 RBIs, the fewest he’s ever had in the opening month of the season. He chased pitches that weren’t his and got away from his game, rifling inside fastballs to right field. Yet the lengthy slump from a player who hit .303/.364/.540 with 66 homers and 208 RBIs in his first two seasons hasn’t dramatically hurt the White Sox, who entered Wednesday with the best record in the AL.

Abreu said the stretch reminds him of 2009 when he got out to a slow start and his team, the Elefantes de Cienfuegos, continued to play well in the Occidental Division of the Cuban National Series. Despite Abreu’s early slump, Cienfuegos finished in second place in the division and earned a postseason birth as it did in each of Abreu’s final eight seasons.

“I’ve had this moment before in Cuba,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was struggling and the team was winning games.

“We won that year. That’s the same kind of feeling as I’m having right now because we’re getting all together, working hard and pulling in the same direction and that’s probably something God has for us for the season and I’m happy.”

Manager Robin Ventura might like similar results from this situation. Abreu finished the 2009 season hitting .399/.555/.822 with 30 homers and 76 RBIs in 393 plate appearances. Projected out to 600 plate appearances, Abreu would wind up with 45 round-trippers, or nine more than his career high.

No matter what kind of numbers Abreu produces, it’s clear he’s in a better position to do it after a slow start. From April 25 through Tuesday, Abreu hit .406/.486/.531 with nine RBIs in 37 plate appearances. While he hadn’t gone deep in that span, Abreu walked five times and struck out only three.

Abreu said it’s a function of improved timing. He feels right when he drives the ball on a line to right as he did throughout a four-game series in Baltimore. Those are the signs Ventura has seen plenty of lately.

“It sounds better,” Ventura said. “His hands work better. It just seemed like he could pull the inside pitch a little better and drive some more to right field. He was working on it, probably gave up a couple of at-bats trying to find it, knowing it might not look right. We could tell what he was trying to do, and I think it has helped him as we got home, how it feels for him.”

Eaton looks forward to what it can mean for the White Sox. The offense entered Wednesday with 45 runs in the past eight games after it produced 62 in the first 21.  

“He stays inside the ball really well, he goes the other way really well,” Eaton said. “That’s where his power is and somebody hangs one, he’ll pull it

“When he starts doing that and barreling balls the other way, and they throw a 95-mph heater on the inside part of the plate, he shoots it to right with authority and that’s when you know Jose is going.

“It should be interesting once he gets going and gets in a rhythm.”

Thursday on CSN: Cubs battle Harper, Nationals

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Thursday on CSN: Cubs battle Harper, Nationals

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals on Thursday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies at 7:05 p.m.

Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52) vs. Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79)

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