The Cubs have Sorianos back

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The Cubs have Sorianos back

Alfonso Soriano is one of the few remaining players who remembers what it was like in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games and turned every day at Wrigley Field into a huge block party.

Now, of course, that might as well be ancient history, as far away as 1908, because there are people thinking that the big-market Cubs are incapable of competing until 2015.

Theo Epstein has promised to avoid the huge spending spree the Cubs made after a last-place finish in 2006, while the Tribune Co. positioned the team for a sale. The new Cubs president has also distanced himself from some of the bad contracts on the Red Sox payroll, highlighting Bostons homegrown core.

While the Cubs wait for the future, Soriano tries to get his aching knees ready, puts in extra work on his defense and never turns down optional hitting.

But as these two last-place teams came together on Saturday night in front a national television audience, there was another flashpoint in a game the Red Sox hung on to win 4-3.

There were two runners on and two outs in the sixth inning when Soriano hit a rocket line drive at Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who appeared to have secured it in his glove. Soriano stood at home plate with the bat in his hands before Middlebrooks dropped the ball and threw to first.

That set off a very loud chorus of boos from the 40,766 fans inside Wrigley Field and an equally strong and opposite reaction from those inside the clubhouse.

They dont understand the game, Soriano said. Its a line drive. Theres nothing you can do about it. If its groundball and I dont run, they can do whatever they want. But a hard line drive, right off the glove? I dont know what they want.

When Dale Sveum took this job last fall, outsiders expected a showdown between the new manager and the aging star with an eight-year, 136 million contract.

But Sveum quickly recognized Sorianos energy and warmth and the 36-year-old slugger is tied for the team lead in homers (12) and no Cub has driven in more runs (41). Sveum had no problem with Sorianos split-second reaction.

Thats one of those things where 100 percent of every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing, Sveum said. Youre mad because you just crushed the ball and the guy should have caught (it) and you take your eye off it.

Obviously, that contract comes into play sometimes with that kind of reaction, but the fact of the matter is everybody in this clubhouse knows how hard Sori works and how hard hes played this year.

Jeff Samardzija who took the loss after giving up three runs in 5.1 innings spoke for everyone in the room.

Anybody that hits that ball does the same thing, Samardzija said. Alfonso Soriano is one of the best teammates you can ever have. He plays the game the right way. Every day, he prepares to play.

Anything Alfonso does when hes playing with me in my lineup, I got no problems with. I hope hes in there every day when I pitch.

Sori takes a lot of heat for a lot of things (but) theres not a guy in that locker room that has anything bad to say about him. Hes a great player and we love him in the lineup and we love him in the locker room.

You heard the boos again after Soriano struck out to end the eighth inning and cap an 0-for-4 night. The Cubs are 22-43 and there are going to be more ugly moments like this.

Soriano still had his weightlifting gloves on when he walked into the postgame clubhouse and walked straight to his locker and answered questions from the media. He understands that this is the way it works with Cubs fans.

They always come to the game waiting for something negative or something positive, Soriano said. They come here to root for something, good or bad. Its nothing that bothers me. Im just going to keep doing my job and working hard to get better.

Fire cut ties with Gilberto, mutually terminate contract

Fire cut ties with Gilberto, mutually terminate contract

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the club would likely be quiet in the summer, but they announced a big move on Wednesday.

The Fire and Gilberto mutually agreed to terminate the Brazilian forward’s contract, cutting him loose in the middle of the season.

The move is significant for a number of ways. First, it marks the end of another failed Designated Player for the Fire. Gilberto scored five goals in 10 matches after joining the team on July 27 last season, but had no goals and two assists in nine matches this season.

The second important thing to note is that Gilberto’s departure means the Fire now have an open DP slot. David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the remaining two DPs on the roster. Also, Gilberto is off the books both in terms of salary and in terms of his salary cap hit for the remainder of the season.

“Despite his best efforts, Gilberto was not able to reach his top form in Major League Soccer,” Rodríguez said in a statement. “He is a good person, with a big heart and a passion for the game, and we hope he finds success at his next stop.”

Gilberto’s departure also means the Fire have an open international spot on the roster. Previously all eight international spots were filled up.

Gilberto last played for the Fire on May 21, when he delivered the assist on the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win against Houston. Coach Veljko Paunovic said after the following match on May 28, a 1-1 draw with Portland, that Gilberto asked for some time away for personal reasons a couple days before the match.

Gilberto’s contract was set to expire at the end of the season. His contract was the highest on the team at $1,145,000, according to the MLS Players Union.

58 Days to Kickoff: Oak Lawn Richards

58 Days to Kickoff: Oak Lawn Richards

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: HL Richards Bulldogs

Head coach: Tony Sheehan

Assistant coaches: Steve Fleming, Kevin Szczepkowski, Adam Ziemba, Jeff Kortz, Charlie McCullough, Matt Royce, Charlie Kipp, Rick Pratl

How they fared in 2015: 7-4 (5-1) South Suburban Red Conference. Richards made the Class 6A state playoffs and defeated Morgan Park, then lost to Lincoln-Way North in second round action.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Bulldogs make a deep run this fall?

Names to watch this season: RB Pat Doyle, RB/LB Anthony Quinn, OL Joe Capenter

Biggest holes to fill: The Bulldogs welcome back just one returning offensive linemen in senior Joe Carpenter (6-foot-2, 285 pounds).

EDGY's Early Take: The Bulldogs always have speed and athletes and confidence is pretty high in regards to this team. With 12 starters back including the entire starting offensive backfield, expect Richards to make some serious noise this season.

The secret to Willson Contreras' success with Cubs: Channeling his emotions

The secret to Willson Contreras' success with Cubs: Channeling his emotions

Willson Contreras took the first pitch he saw Sunday and stared down Jose Fernandez. The Miami Marlins ace didn't try to buzz the Cubs rookie and the pitch wasn't close to hitting Contreras. It was just another way of Contreras showing he would not be intimidated by anybody, not even Major League Baseball's leader in strikeouts per nine innings.

Contreras has flashed that kind of spirit throughout his first couple weeks in the big leagues, including his Steph Curry-esque caught-stealing celebration against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But it wasn’t always that way. Mark Johnson uniquely understands how far Contreras has come, the difficulty in harnessing all that and what to expect as a big-league catcher.

"It's been fun to watch him grow as a person and as a player," said Johnson, the current Double-A Tennessee manager who worked with Contreras between 2011 and 2013 in short-season A-ball (Boise) and Class-A Kane County. "He's always been that real emotional player, wearing his emotions on his sleeves. When he was younger, it was kind of hard to contain at times.

"He's always played with so much passion and fire, which is beautiful to have. You'd much rather have a player like that than have a player you'd have to kick in the ass every day.

"For him to be able to tone that down a little bit and control that just shows his maturity and the way he's starting to grow up."

When Johnson coached Contreras, he had not yet become the top catching prospect in the game and actually spent all of 2011 playing the infield and outfield (mostly third base).

Contreras made the switch to catcher in 2012 and his career didn't really start to take off until 2015, when he won the Southern League batting title for Tennessee. The Cubs had even left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft prior to his breakout in his age-23 season last year.

"He's come into his own at the plate," Johnson said. "He really started understanding what he needed to do at the plate last year. He made some good adjustments. It was kind of like the rest of his game.

"He's always been so aggressive and always tried to do too much, whether it was his throwing, his catching, his receiving, his hitting. When he started understanding he didn't have to do as much as he was trying to do, and could simplify things and minimize movements, it started to take off for him.

"Like in [2015], I had him [in the Arizona Fall League], and he was clearly one of the best players out there. His bat and his move to the baseball is really shortened and he's come a long way with his bat and throwing."

So how much of that can be attributed to harnessing his emotions?

"It's just maturing," Johnson said. "It's time. Whether it's staff or the other players taking him aside or talking to him about what to do, what not to do, how to handle yourself in certain situations. It’s the more experiences he has and the more he learns.

"He's a smart kid. He's got this incredible passion to play the game, which is so much fun to watch. And I think it's just a matter of playing and getting that experience."

Johnson was a first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the White Sox in 1994 and spent five years on the South Side before moving to the Cubs system in 2005 (Triple-A Iowa) and then ending his playing career back in the Cubs system in 2009-10. He has talked with Contreras about what to expect in a big market.

During his first two weeks in The Show, Contreras had no issues adjusting to Chicago, hitting .355 with a 1.137 OPS, three homers and nine RBI in 11 games while playing catcher (six games), left field (four games) and first base (two games).

"You could put him anywhere," Johnson said. "He loves to play the game. No matter where you put him, he loves to compete. He loves the game of baseball.

"You could put him at second base or any outfield position, first, third. You could probably put him on the mound and he'd probably be a lights-out pitcher. He's just one of those guys that really competes. And that's what you look for in ballplayers."

Contreras has figured out how to keep his love of the game while learning to keep his cool, without censoring himself.

"He looks like the same old Willy," Johnson said. "He has so much fun playing the game. It's just infectious.

"They're going to love him [in Chicago]. Obviously, he's had a tremendous start. He's playing himself into the lineup every day.

"I think anybody that plays the game with that much passion and that much energy and that much life, you got to be likable."