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.

Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

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Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

Check out the second episode of the second season of Chicago Fire All Access.

In this episode, the team helps out in the Chicagoland community, talks about finding comfort foods in Chicago and life on the road in the MLS. 

Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

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Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

Sometimes you really do have to just appreciate the attitude. Because Bears coaches do, in ways of significance in what kind of team the 2016 Bears will become.

Ka’Deem Carey has been a backup his first two Bears seasons, yet now finds himself with more games played in a Bears uniform than any other Chicago running back. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick accordingly has set one very lofty 2016 objective for himself:

“Just being a leader, really trying to focus on that,” Carey said during the team’s OTA this week. “We’ve still got a young team, I’m vocal, coaches like the way I run the ball, and sometimes the way I play out there, the coaches like that and want to pass that on to teammates.

“So I’m just trying to be a leader to these young guys.”

Somehow the notion of a 23-year-old talking about setting an example for “these” young guys shouldn’t be dismissed. At all. Because Carey is representative of something developing within the current team.

Leadership is a popular, near-annual topic for Bears teams, no less so early this offseason as the 2016 team takes shape without 40 percent of its elected – and veteran – captains from the 2015 season.

Players elect five captains: two for offense, two defense and one special teams. Coach John Fox names a sixth captain each based on merit from the previous week.

The problem for the Bears is that two of the 2015 five elected captains – running back Matt Forte, safety Antrel Rolle – were not brought back by the organization this offseason. Veterans were added in free agency, but headcount does not translate into instant chemistry, cohesion or leadership.

That falls to a Carey to infuse. Elsewhere, guard Matt Slauson, a popular leader in the offensive-line room and huddle, was released, as was left tackle Jermon Bushrod. After just three NFL seasons, Kyle Long abruptly becomes the offensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than anyone else in the O-line room.

Indeed, longevity is no criterion whatsoever for a Bears “leadership” role. Teammates elected Pernell McPhee one of the defensive co-captains last year, his first as a Bear. And linebacker Danny Trevathan, brought in from Super Bowl champion Denver, could emerge as one in his first, using precisely the same calling card that McPhee did.

“I'm just going out there and being an example,” Trevathan said. “It's not hard, you know, I've just got to go out and play the game that I know how to play but also get guys to come along and speak and communicate and be on one page with these guys.”

The key is the “horizontal” leadership concept – leading not from a few at the top, but from multiple strong individuals in a leadership layer.

“Obviously missing Matt Slauson, missing guys like Slauson and Forte, there are large voids to be filled,” Long said. “But this team has been built on horizontal leadership and we’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit.

“I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”

Melo Trimble will return to Terps for junior season

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Melo Trimble will return to Terps for junior season

Well, at least Mark Turgeon won't lose his entire starting lineup.

With four-fifths of Maryland's starting unit already off to the NBA in one fashion or another, Melo Trimble decided to return to the Terps for his junior season, opting to postpone his pro career for at least one more year.

"I am really excited to return for my junior season at Maryland," Trimble said in the team's announcement. "It’s truly special that I get to continue to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. I’m looking forward to working out with my teammates this summer, and I am excited for what we can accomplish. I learned a great deal through this experience, and I am committed to working hard in getting better each day. I’m appreciative of all the support that I have received from coach Turgeon, my family and my teammates throughout this process. I look forward to continuing my education and building upon the success that we have had at Maryland."

Trimble waited an awful long time to make his decision on whether to withdraw from or remain in the NBA Draft, with news of the decision coming out just a couple hours before Wednesday night's deadline.

Trimble had a strong follow up to his sensational freshman season last year, improving as a distributor and as a defender despite a significant dropoff in his scoring and shooting numbers. But he still led the way for a star-studded Maryland team that advanced to the program's first Sweet Sixteen in 13 years.

After averaging 16.2 points per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range and getting to the free-throw line nearly seven times a game as a freshman, Trimble averaged 14.8 points per game, shot just 41 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range and averaged just better than five free throws a game as a sophomore. Still, he earned All-Big Ten First Team honors for the second straight season.

The expectations placed on him and his team were huge. Trimble was the conference preseason player of the year, and the Terps were tabbed as one of the favorites to win the national championship.

A return to school is not without its risks, as a further decline in Trimble's shooting numbers could prove costly for his draft stock. Plus, with many of the stars from last season's team gone, the Terps will enter the season with vastly different expectations, with many questioning whether they'll even make the NCAA tournament.

However, Trimble could be doing exactly what the new rules were designed to do: using better access to information to make the best decision. If NBA teams truly believe he's not ready for the pros, continuing to develop at the college level makes a heck of a lot of sense. Plus, while his stock was high after that freshman season, it no doubt took a hit after his sophomore season and could rocket back up with another big year as a junior.

Plus, Trimble's return means Turgeon doesn't have to go into full-tilt rebuild mode a season removed from one with championship expectations.

"Melo informed me (Wednesday) night that he has decided to return to Maryland for his junior season," Turgeon said. "After gathering information throughout this process, I agree that this is the best decision for him. Melo is a very special person. He is a winner, and his impact on our program has been immeasurable. Melo has an extremely bright future ahead of him both on and off the basketball court. We are excited that he will continue to pursue his degree and build upon his legacy in College Park."