Berry, Pause awarded MLS honors

944647.png

Berry, Pause awarded MLS honors

The Fires playoff run may be over, but Mondays start of Major League Soccers awards began with two honors given to Chicago.

The Fire won the first two individual awards, with defender Austin Berry named Rookie-of-the-Year and captain-midfielder Logan Pause earning the Individual Fair Play Award.

Berry, out of the University of Louisville, beat out a former college teammate to become the third Rookie-of-the-Year in Fire history. Nick DeLeon of D.C. United was the runner-up, but wound up far behind Berry in the voting.

"Nicks a very special player," said Berry. "It was good to see a buddy do just as well in the league. We had a friendly competition."

Berry was the sixth player in Fire history to be a finalist for Rookie-of-the-Year, but the only two to win it before him were defender Carlos Bocanegra in 2000 and striker Damani Ralph in 2003. Bocanegra went on to play for some top clubs in Europe and captain the U.S. national team. Ralph moved to a Russian club after playing for the Fire, but his career has been hampered by injuries.

As for Berry, hes ready for a break with the Fire done with its brief postseason training period after the club was eliminated by the Houston Dynamo in the Knockout Round of the playoffs.

"Ill be taking a long break, maybe a couple weeks, but its up in the air as to when," said Berry. "As a rookie youre not ready for this many games. Basically a college season is three-four months."

With the Fire, though, the season started with preseason training in January and encompassed 34 MLS regular season matches, one U.S. Open Cup match and two international friendlies before coming to a competitive close on Oct. 31. Jalil Anibaba, a fellow defender and first-round draft choice in 2011, alerted Berry as to what his first professional season would be like.

"He gave me advice because he went through the same thing," said Berry. "With the season so long, it was mentally draining."

Berry figured to play behind two veterans with international experiences in Cory Gibbs and Arne Friedrich when the season started. Gibbs, however, was lost to season-ending knee surgery in the third game and Berry was thrust into a starting role. He immediately proved worthy of it, scoring a goal in his first start.

Finalists for the awards, which will be presented periodically leading into the MLS Cup final rematch between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Dynamo on Dec. 1, were determined by votes from media, MLS players and MLS club management based on regular season performance. Three rookies were finalists, with Berry and DeLeon going one-two and Vancouver forward Darren Mattocks finishing third. Berry garnered more than half the votes.

Berry was the third Fire rookie to score in his first start and he played every minute of his 28 games, breaking the club record for consecutive starts by a rookie set by Bocanegra.

Pause, meanwhile, took the Individual Fair Play Award, which was based on objective criteria such as fouls committed, cards received and games and minutes played as well as subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.

In his 10th MLS campaign, Pause was a starter in 31 of his 32 appearances. He committed only 11 fouls and had no cards. He missed just two matches after suffering two broken ribs and pneumothorax in a match against Philadelphia on Aug. 12.

The MLS Humanitarian-of-the-Year in 2009, Pause also served on the board of the directors for the Chicago Fire Foundation, the non-profit arm of the club.

Unfortunately, these will be the last individual awards the Fire will receive in 2012. The club had no other finalists in the other categories.

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

How a fan's kind gesture surprised Mark Buehrle on his big day

It’s one of the more iconic moments in White Sox history, and now Mark Buehrle has a key piece of memorabilia after a fan’s kind gesture.

Already overwhelmed by a series of gifts from the White Sox on Saturday afternoon, Buehrle was in disbelief when 17-year-old Tommy Maloney walked onto the field during a number-retirement ceremony and presented him with the flipped-through-the-legs ball from 2010 Opening Day.

The memento was one of four gifts Buehrle received from the White Sox along with a new truck, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle and a personalized piece of art created by White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle commemorating many of the highlights of the pitcher’s White Sox career. It was just another part of an overwhelming, emotional day for Buehrle, who was honored for his 12 seasons in a White Sox uniform.

“Pretty cool,” Buehrle said. “I don’t recall signing it for him when it happened. I don’t really remember where it went. But one, for him to give that up, that was pretty awesome.”

Maloney’s father, Matt, contacted the White Sox earlier this month to see if Buehrle wanted to meet with the fan who had the ball from a moment in White Sox history that has been replayed thousands upon thousands of times.

The Maloneys also reached out to the White Sox back in 2010, too. They informed the club they had the ball that Buehrle retrieved and flipped through his legs to Paul Konerko, who caught it with a barehanded to retire Cleveland’s Lou Marson in the fifth inning of the April 5, 2010 contest. Buehrle autographed the ball in 2010, but neither he nor the White Sox asked for Tommy Maloney, who was 8 at the time, to hand it over.

“At that point it’s just a cool ball, it’s not part of White Sox history,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

As he looked for a unique artifact for Buehrle to offer another layer to Saturday’s ceremony, Boyer came across Matt Maloney’s most recent email. He definitely thought Buehrle would have interest in reuniting with the fan who held a key artifact from a play that has become legendary around these parts over the years.

But Boyer also asked if the Maloneys would want to donate the ball to Buehrle.

“We didn’t have the unique thing,” Boyer said. “We just didn’t have it.

“Here it is.”

How it had gotten in Tommy Maloney’s hands in the first place was interesting enough. The Munster, Ind., high schooler said his father got tickets for the 2010 season opener and he left school early to watch Buehrle, his favorite pitcher as a kid. The seats were in the first row behind the far right edge of the White Sox dugout, the same ones he was in for Saturday’s ceremony.

After the improbable play to steal a hit from Marson, Buehrle fell to his knees, which brought manager Ozzie Guillen out of the dugout. Somehow Guillen retrieved the ball and upon returning to the dugout, flipped it to Maloney, who had earlier asked him for a ball several times. Even though it was a prized possession, Tommy Maloney said he’d have no problem surrendering it again if he were asked.

The White Sox rewarded Maloney for his sacrifice as club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf determined that the youngster would present Buehrle with the ball on the field. But the White Sox didn’t tell Maloney he would present the ball until Saturday, surprising him with the news about an hour before the game.

“It’s awesome the way it played out,” Maloney said. “He’s such a great guy. He was hugging me in the dugout. He looked at me when I went up there to give him the ball and said, ‘Give me a hug.’ ”

Maloney not only stood on the field before the ceremony, he had a chance to briefly meet Buehrle in the dugout. He also received another autographed baseball. And after he was applauded by the sellout crowd, several fans stopped by Maloney’s seat to pose for a picture.

Buehrle was touched by the gesture.

“I was like, ‘Brooks, we’ve got to do something here,’ ” Buehrle said. “’He can’t just give the ball and walk out of here empty-handed.’ So I ended up signing him a ball and I don’t know if we have something else in mind, but it was pretty awesome.”

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

6-24_jon_lester_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Jon Lester, Cubs rotation trends in right direction with win over Marlins

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – his 75-mph curveball flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground.  

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work on Saturday after J.T. Realmuto’s three-run homer in the first inning. This is the stuff, determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the pressures of playing at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that kind of performance to buy time for their young hitters, survive a brutal schedule and weather a series of injuries. 

A 5-3 win pushed the Cubs to 38-36 as Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) and the overall rotation continue to trend in the right direction.