2011 CSN Sports Awards a smashing success

2011 CSN Sports Awards a smashing success

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011Posted: 1:10 AM

By John Mullin

It was an annual Night to Remember in Chicago sports, for many, many reasons.

WATCH: Steve Dahl's intro to the CSN Sports Awards

At the Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards, benefitting the March of Dimes and presented by Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning at the Hilton Chicago Monday night, there was Bull of the Year Taj Gibson taking a moment to honor his grandfather who passed away two days ago.

I want to say I love you, Gibson said. Be with me in spirit.

Chicago Fire rookie goaltender Sean Johnsons mother made the trip from Georgia to see her son honored, and he bestowed one on her as well.

Shes been there for the 21 years of my life, by my side, Johnson said. So shes my Valentine tonight and I just want to say I love you.

Before a sellout crowd of 1,000, inspirational athlete of the year Jonathon Ruiz, consigned at age 11 to a wheelchair by spinal bifida but a gold medal winner at the inaugural Paralympics Youth Games in Australia last October, had the simplest yet most powerful of messages:

Never take anything in life, or life itself, for granted, Jonathon said.
WATCH: Jonathan Ruiz's emotional speech

Lifetime achievement award winner Ozzie Guillen marveled at the difficulties involved in playing every other sport except baseball, but brought Jonathan back on stage for a special commendation.

Jonathon, you are a bad man, Guillen declared, then went a level up from that, for Jonathons parents Marissa and John: But your Mom and Dad, they are even badder than you.
READ: More on Jonathan Ruiz's compelling story

Guillen was honored for what presenter David Kaplan of Comcast SportsNet cited as the only baseball championship for Chicago in a combined, two-team span of 190 years.

If you want your dream to come true, Guillen said, you just have to wake up.

WATCH: Classic Ozzie being Ozzie during speech

Among those receiving awards:

White Sox of the Year--Gordon Beckham

Besides batting .310 over the second half of the 2010 season and finishing fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, Beckham also initiated Out of the park for Parkinsons, a fundraising campaign in tribute to his grandfather to benefit the National Parkinsons Foundation. The efforts raised 60,000 in the campaigns first year.

The lives that March of Dimes has affected, saved, is pretty astounding, Beckham said. Its an honor to be here. Im honored and humbled to be the White Sox recipient of this award this year.

Bear of the Year--Israel Idonije

Idonije may not have been part of a victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game but he is an unqualified winner on a far bigger stage. The Bears defensive end was one of the three finalists for the NFLs Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work with the children and needy in Nigeria through the Israel Idonije Foundation.

And Monday he was named the Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning Bear of the Year for 2010.

Ive just been extremely blessed, Idonije said. Its an honor to receive this on behalf of an incredible group of people that allow us to do the work in our community. Tonight really symbolizes what community is all about.

Navistar Chicago Cub of the Year--Marlon Byrd

Byrd has played in a Major League All-Star game but Monday night was a new, slightly daunting experience for him.

Ive never been to a live awards dinner before, Byrd said, so this is a little like the Grammys.

The Cubs outfielder sponsors a team through the Union League Boys & Girls Club of Chicago to provide opportunities for inner-city children to play baseball. Byrd also meets with kids at Wrigley Field in conjunction with the Taylor Hooton Foundations Hoots Chalk Talk program to develop awareness of the dangers of drug use.

This is something that hits home for my wife and me, Byrd said. Weve got a three-year-old and a five-year-old so I understand what the March of Dimes is doing and trying to do.

We athletes are getting to live our dreams and the March of Dimes is helping the kids live their dreams as well.

Fire of the Year--Sean Johnson

The weather in Chicago may have mellowed lately but it is still not what it is in Florida where Johnsons team was this week. So there was some justice done when one of Johnsons teammates textd him from Florida while Johnson was up here to receive the award as Fire of the Year.

WATCH: Sarah Kustok chats with honorees

My teams actually traveling in south Florida and my roommate texted me that they landed and how nice the weather was, 80 degrees and tropical, said Johnson, who made time in his rookie season to begin work with the Chicago Fire Foundation on grants and contributions to Chicago organizations.

Twenty minutes later, he texted me and said the bus on the way to the hotel had a flat tire.

Johnny Red KerrNorm Van Lier Bull of the Year--Taj Gibson

The Bulls forward who was selected to the NBAs All-Rookie first team has reached out beyond the court to make a difference. Gibson has become involved in efforts by the Chicago Public Schools to promote the Back-to-School campaign to get kids back in school. He also was part of the NBAs basketball without borders program in Asia and he has worked with the Red Cross on disaster relief.

Hes also gotten past a touch of shyness, with some help.

Im just blessed, Gibson said. Id like to thank my teammates for giving me the courage every day. As you can see, Im really a shy guy. But just playing with them every day has given me the strength to come out and represent the Chicago Bulls.

Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers Blackhawk of the Year--Duncan Keith

The Stanley Cup Champions were represented Monday by Keith, an Olympic gold medalist in addition to winning the James Norris trophy, who addressed some of the skittishness facing fans because of the shaky playoff chances for the Blackhawks.

I dont want anybody counting us out just yet, Keith said. Were not done yet, thats for sure.

Master of Ceremonies Steve Dahl had his own leading indicator that the Blackhawks are not planning on ending their season at only 82 games.

I firmly believe the Blackhawks will be in the playoffs, Dahl said, with a glance toward Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz sitting nearby, because today Rocky sent me an invoice for playoff tickets.

WATCH: Jim Cornelison closes out ceremony by singing the anthem

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wants more than just the playoffs, however. The championship season gave him a taste of what winning a title in Chicago can be like.

The best part was that parade and how everybody enjoyed it, Quenneville said. It was so much fun that wed love to do it again, and real soon.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.