Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

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Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

Blake Hickman is 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds. When he enrolled at Simeon as a freshman, coaches tried to persuade him to play football and basketball. But he wasn't persuaded. He wanted to play baseball and it looks like his persistence is paying off. Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

"I knew coming out of eighth grade that I would go to Simeon," he said. "My brother went there and Simeon has a good baseball program. They tried to get me to play football and basketball but I knew baseball was my future and my favorite sport.

"I started to play baseball when I was 5 years old. The game is exciting to me. I didn't want to be like the others who played basketball. I felt I was good at baseball."

As a senior, Hickman is hearing more whispers in his ear. Some scouts insist his future is as a hard-throwing pitcher rather than a catcher. But Hickman loves to catch, he'd rather be behind the plate than in front of it.

"I watched my older brother Christian catch," said Hickman, whose brother currently is a shortstop at Alcorn State. "We had a game after him and I asked the coach: 'Can I catch?' I fell in love with it. I want to be a catcher. It's my favorite position.

"I know they want to see me on the mound. I have been timed at 93-94 miles per hour. I know they are looking for someone like that. If it doesn't work out, I'll play anywhere. I can't argue with them. I can't worry about what the scouts say. I just go out and play.

"But I want to be a catcher. I'm in every play. I can throw people out. I can control the pitching staff. When I'm on the mound, I feel OK. I just try to get a win for my team. In the end, my goal is to go to college and play pro ball."

Earlier this season, however, Hickman had reason to wonder if he'd ever play again. On April 5, in a spring game at Harrisburg, Illinois, he attempted to block a pitch in the dirt. The ball bounced up and struck him in the throat.

"The pain was indescribable," he recalled. "I wondered if I would play again this year or if I would ever talk again. I couldn't talk for three days."

Hickman was flown to a hospital in Evansville, Indiana, where he underwent an emergency tracheotomy. He missed 12 games. He had a run-scoring double in Simeon's 2-1 victory over Lane Tech for the Public League championship and contributed two doubles and a grand slam homer in a 19-0 victory over Phillips in the regional opener.

Now Hickman has another decision to make. He committed to Iowa in April of his junior year. "I felt that was the best school for me. The coaches really showed that they wanted me. They came at me the most," said Hickman, who chose Iowa over Virginia Tech and Tennessee.

But he was selected in the 20th round of the major league draft on June 5 by the Cubs. He was rated as the 18th best high school catcher in the nation according to one national survey. What will he do?

"He is one of the best players ever to come out of Simeon," said coach Leroy Franklin, who has had 25 players selected in the major league draft and sent more than 60 to college.

"Some scouts say he didn't hit like they wanted him to hit. I don't see anything wrong with his (catching) mechanics. I think he can catch at the next level.

"But he has a big frame and he can throw 95 mph so he is more valuable as a pitcher. There aren't many good catchers in the major leagues but the first thing the scouts want is a pitcher. He'll throw even faster in college. He just wants to play pro ball."

Sean Duncan of Chicago-based Prep Baseball Report thinks Hickman's future is on the mound.

"I really don't think he can catch," Duncan said. "On the mound, he is pretty interesting. He is extremely raw but the arm works. He's the wild card in the draft. Not a lot of people have seen him on the mound. The kid is 90-93 mph on the mound without any pitching background."

White Sox happy to retain, and drink beer from, Crosstown Cup

White Sox happy to retain, and drink beer from, Crosstown Cup

The White Sox had a little fun with the Crosstown Cup trophy after securing it for the third consecutive year.

Well, at least one player did for sure: Left fielder Melky Cabrera, according to first baseman Jose Abreu, drank some beer out of the trophy after the White Sox beat the Cubs, 3-0, Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. 

The White Sox retained the Crosstown Cup by virtue of winning the season series in 2014 (three wins, one loss), splitting in 2015 (three wins, three losses), and assuring themselves of at least a split in 2016 (two wins with two games to play). 

This isn’t like a college football rivalry trophy that gets passed between campuses every year. And baseball players generally aren't keen to over-emphasize four or six games over the course of a 162-game season. 

But the Crosstown Cup is still a trophy, and it’s one White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton appreciated receiving again. 

“Any time you win an award — I don’t care if my grandma gives me an award during checkers, I’m excited,” Eaton said. “I don’t really care. But if you play for anything there’s some extra emphasis there. I definitely do think guys take pride in it for sure. But more pride in it that our side of town is happy with us in that sense that we’ve taken the cup back. 

“You don’t want to put too much emphasis on any particular series. But at the same time, if it makes our fans happy that we got the cup back then that’s what we do.”

 

 

 

 

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman as Bears coach early last year, at the top of his to-do list was changing what was a palpable losing culture that had come to hang over the organization and Halas Hall. That involved changes of personnel, practices and even to the point of placing an emphasis on winning preseason games, not simply treating them as evaluation exercises.

This year, attitude adjustment is the least of his concerns. Besides the improvements even amid a season that ended 6-10 but was within a pair of missed field goals of going past .500, the additions of critical players have brought with them exactly what Fox wants, beginning with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, bringing a Super Bowl ring from the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve experienced a lot of new attitudes here the past few years,” said guard Kyle Long. “This is above and beyond my favorite attitude that we’ve adopted.

“People throw the word ‘culture’ around, [but] it’s just taking pride in what you’re doing. You don’t get paid to play. You get paid to win. I’ve heard John Fox say that a million times and I’m sure I’ll hear him say it 2 million times this year.”

Culture means nothing unless it translates into wins because of a collective mindset. Trevathan, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bobbie Massie – all came from going to the playoffs at least twice in the past four years, Freeman and Trevathan three times.

The change was particularly evident during offseason sessions when members of the defense worked at a practice level that initially irritated some on offense, with coaches even joining in the chirping.

“I’m all about attitude and hustle and just playing ball,” said Trevathan. “I don’t care what happened before. You can always make up for it, just go 100 miles per hour and have fun.

“This game is short. Your attitude carries over to the team. There’s a lot of time when a team’s down you put your head down. I hate that. Even if we’re down we’re going to fight until the end. That’s what it’s all about, having that band of brothers and that attitude and going to, I won’t say ‘war,’ but going out there and battling together.”

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One word that surfaced from multiple players during offseason sessions was “hungry.” That was not something that was heard even as recent as last season despite the change in coaches. Without that as a starting attitude, mediocrity was not surprising in recent seasons.

“I think with this group the thing that kind of stands out is just how good a group a group of guys it is, and how important football is to them,” said quarterback Jay Cutler.

“I think you look at OTAs and you look at minicamp and you saw how competitive offense and defense and even special teams were. There weren’t any days where guys were laying off of it. Every single day, guys were getting after it trying to get better, and the competition level I felt was extremely high for being in OTAs and minicamp. Whether that’s gonna translate to wins, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Bears open 2016 training camp with Pernell McPhee, two others on PUP list

Bears open 2016 training camp with Pernell McPhee, two others on PUP list

The 2015 Bears training camp began with rookie wide receiver Kevin White hampered by what would eventually become a season-ending stress fracture of his leg. The 2016 Bears will have White back in uniform but they will start training camp without one of the linchpins of their defense, placing rush-linebacker Pernell McPhee on the physically unable to perform list after he had offseason surgery on his left knee and did not participate in on-field work through final OTA’s and minicamp.

Additionally, the Bears announced that recently signed guard Amini Silatolu, coming off ACL surgery surgery, will also open camp on PUP, along with wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who injured his foot during organized team activities last month.

McPhee, the primary free-agency signing by GM Ryan Pace last offseason, was third on the Bears with six sacks but played a decreasing percentage of defensive sacks as last season wore on. He was deactivated for the St. Louis and Washington games, returned but played no more than 27 snaps in any of the final three games.

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The Bears worked to have him drop upwards of 10 pounds after playing last season at his then-customary mid-280s. That part of the program for McPhee was a success.

“He came in [at] a really good weight right now, really good shape right now,” Pace said. “We just got to acclimate himself into football activities so he’ll work with the trainers. … I know he’s been working hard over the summer so that’s very encouraging. And really in the OTAs, he wasn’t doing a lot of football stuff. He was doing stuff more on the side with our strength and conditioning coaches.”

McPhee is unlikely to play in preseason games although the Bears will not make that decision until closer to the start of games.