Chicago White Sox

Frankie O blog: A place in my heart

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Frankie O blog: A place in my heart

Life has a way of cruising along. We get to places and wonder how we got there. You know, like being behind a bar for the last 18 years. It was never part of the plan.

Then when reality hits you in the face, especially when you reach a certain age, you get reflective on the influences that have shaped the circumstance in which you exist. Among my many issues is the sports affliction that has guided me on this path that Im just along for the ride on.

From an early age sports were the driving force behind everything I did. Be it playing, watching or reading about them. Thats just how life was. A large part of that I attribute to my Philadelphia upbringing. Very few places are as psychotic towards their sports as Philly, so I guess I never really had a chance. This point has really been driven home to me from the conversations I have on a daily basis with people from around the country. For some reason my Philly influences really stand out and they always seem to get a reaction. Go figure.

Among the many questions that Im frequently asked is how I would rank my interests in the four pro teams from my hometown.

The easiest answer would be: Whos playing now? Since that team would likely get most of my attention. But like most people in this country, if I really had to put them in an official order, football and baseball would be at the top, followed by hockey and basketball. This is not to discount hockey and basketball, and remember for me, all Im really talking about is level of psychosis anyway.

But If I was asked which one provided my favorite memories, or which one started all this for me, it would have to be hockey and my beloved Philadelphia Flyers.

For someone my age, where I grew up, the Flyers where the first team that loved me back. They did this by winning. Twice! That was a team that forged a love affair with a community that was dying to be in love. That they were a team that did it with incredible flair and a us-versus-the-world mentality only made it better. That was Philly.

My entire family caught Flyers fever. We went to a lot of games and Flyer conversation was a constant. As was the No. 6 Moose DuPont jersey that I always wore. The first jersey I ever owned. But my fondest memory was Saturday night, the best night of the week.

At that time home games werent on TV, just the road ones. The Flyer schedule seemed to be dominated by Saturday road games followed by a Sunday home one.

Saturday night was a time for my family to get together, a lot of the time it was at our house or, mostly we went on my favorite road trip, an hour away to my Aunt Pegs. No school. No homework. It was just family fun and a Flyers game. Oh, and dont forget the snacks! I know I never did.

Like any young kid, it was fun watching the adults in the family interact. My family was full of personalities that were larger-than-life and very influential on someone in their formative years. The things I remember the most were the teasing and the laughter. Those who know me at all Im sure are not surprised to hear that. Im a product of my upbringing -- still!

This is also where my love of cards -- or should I say, playing poker for money -- started. Invariably the whole family would eventually gather around the kitchen table, talking about the game, snacking and telling stories, sometimes about each other. The smiles and laughs were always in abundance. Even as a young teen, the most awkward of ages, I never felt uncomfortable. It was always about having fun. If you cant goof on the people you love, or better yet, if the people that love you most cant goof on you, who can? It was really a cool time for me, that time right before all you wanted to do was hang out with your friends. At that time, all I wanted to do was hang out with my family. And laugh.

Then around 11:00 p.m. or so, the cards would come out: Penny ante, dealers choice. Me, my folks, aunts and uncles, my grandmother and my great-grandmother would be around the table. The exact group would change once in a while, not everyone was always there, but the spirit always was. The games were always very competitive, but the banter is what you always remember. I remember being ultra-competitive, and being brought down to earth on more than one occasion.

Speaking of my competitive issue, two other things that come to mind, and both happened at picnics at Aunt Pegs: Once, while playing in a volleyball game in which I was probably the youngest one on my side, I took out one of my Aunts while trying to return a ball that was definitely her play. Oops. My bad! Afterwards I felt awful. I guess it really is just a game.

Then, and I cant remember if it was the same year, wouldnt surprise me though if it was, the softball incident occurred. My aunts house was in the country and down the street was a camp that had a baseball field that we would use. So were having a friendly game. On the other team was my younger sister. Shes playing near shortstop and not paying attention to the game. Shes talking to everyone within earshot without a care in the world. I dont know why, but I found this extremely annoying. When I stepped up to the plate, I politely reminded her that it was not safe to stand in the field that close to the plate and not pay attention. Just because my decibel level increased to ten times normal doesnt mean it wasnt polite. Just a big brother looking out for his little sister. Of course what happened next was as predictable as the Eagles blowing a fourth-quarter lead. Thats right. I promptly lined one off the side of her head. Blood. Tears. Drama. And worse yet, the end of the game! Honestly? Pay attention! And in case youre wondering, it was accidental. I mean nobody can hit a softball where they want, can they?

The other fun of the poker games was when they ended. It was so cool staying up late when you were a kid, especially if you had a bunch of hard earned change in your pocket. And more than one time I can remember going to 6:00 a.m. mass after the ride home. Look at that nice family, getting up so early for church! You got that right, Sister.

I think about those times a lot as a father. Just like a lot of things in life, they dont make as much sense or mean as much, until you look back on them. Right now Im having a great time in my own home because my kids, for the first time, are getting into watching the baseball playoffs. It doesnt matter that a team that they, or I, root for is playing. They are getting a kick out of how fun watching playoff baseball can be and I just get a kick out of watching them. In the end its about sharing an experience, a way to connect.

Of course watching your team win really adds to the connection. Like I wrote here a couple of years ago, the thing that really stung about watching the Flyers loss in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks was that I didnt get to share the experience of winning and I had to watch it all around me. The fact that the Hawks hadnt won in forever created a bond among those who had suffered with them, and they got to share it and tell the youngsters how cool what they were experiencing was.

So when people ask which team is my favorite, they kinda all are. But that first time I went through the winning part of being a fan was with the Flyers so that always has a special place in my heart. And I cant remember those teams without thinking about my family and how much following the team during those magical years brought us all together.

Sitting around that kitchen table was like yesterday and I can still see it and hear it.

Goodbye Aunt Peg, your laugh is going to be missed.

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

HOUSTON — He didn’t have his best stuff against baseball’s top offense on Tuesday night, but Lucas Giolito had his changeup.

The young White Sox pitcher showed once again that when he has confidence in an offspeed pitch he’s able to overcome situations where his fastball might not be as good as he’d prefer. Trust in the changeup and a good command of the fastball were more than enough to put together another strong performance.

While Giolito took the decision in a 3-1 White Sox loss to the Houston Astros, he once again earned plaudits for his pitching.

“He was really good,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “His changeup's very good. He obviously can spin a couple different breaking balls. It looks like a heavy fastball. So, a really impressive young starter to be able to navigate the lineup in different ways and get guys out in different ways and really compete.”

Perhaps no one hitter better demonstrated Giolito’s ability to compete than his sixth-inning showdown with Astros No. 5 hitter Marwin Gonzalez. Having just issued his first walk down 2-1 with two outs and a man on second, Giolito threw both his two- and four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball during a lengthy at-bat. With the count full, Gonzalez fouled off six consecutive fastballs before Giolito threw a changeup in the dirt for the whiff on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.

It was one of 18 changeups Giolito threw, with 11 going for strikes.

“The changeup was a good pitch for me aside from a few I left up in the zone,” Giolito said. “I had a lot of confidence in it and that was probably the offspeed pitch I was most comfortable going to in situations.”

Given his fastball velo was an average of 92.2 mph, confidence and comfort were critical. Houston entered the game with a team slash line of .282/.345/.479 and averaging 5.47 runs per contest. The American League West champions offer few easy outs and were clearly the sternest test to date for Giolito, who has never pitched more innings in a season than his current 167 between Triple-A Charlotte and the majors.

Even though the velo isn’t where he’s wanted it in the past two outings, Giolito has pitched well enough. Giolito produced his fourth quality start in six outings in the big leagues as he limited the Astros to two earned runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.

“Felt pretty good about it,” Giolito said. “It was one of those days where I didn’t have my best stuff working. Had a lot of trouble getting the ball to the extension side. That’s something to work on this week going into the next start. But I felt good about how I pitched tonight for sure.”

The White Sox feel pretty good about the production they’ve received from Giolito, who struggled with consistency earlier this season at Triple-A and dropped down in the prospect rankings as a result. The right-hander said he’s pleased with how he’s learned to be more composed on the mound this season. He’s also clearly gained confidence and trust in his stuff.

“Based on everything we saw, the skill set that he would be able to manage his ability on the mound to attack the strike zone,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s throwing his breaking ball more effectively now, the changeup as well.”

“All in all he’s doing what he needs to do. He’s kept hitters off balance. His ball has some life. He has angle. We’re happy with how he’s continued to develop.”

Giolito’s offense didn’t do what it needed to earn him a victory despite another big night from Yoan Moncada. Moncada went 3-for-4 with three singles and shortstop Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a ninth-inning single.

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.”