Frankie O: Summer FUNdraiser

Frankie O: Summer FUNdraiser

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

The All-Star break is always welcome around my house: No games, which means Im not watching games on three TVs to get my roto fix. And it also means Im not looking at my phone for updates every five minutes for the games I dont have on! Its always good to take some time to recharge and get ready for what Im sure will be a long second half. (Im really starting to wonder if all the time I spend scavenging two different waiver wires for anything that can help my plight is good for my overall health!)

Baseball is never far away though. It will always be the soundtrack for every summer as long as I live. The game took a hold of me a long time ago and wont let go. Unfortunately, at my age, almost all of my interaction comes from watching others play. But Im OK with that. As long as one of my kids wants to have a catch with their old man once in a while, Im fine.

This year, for the first time I can remember, I didnt watch the Home Run Derby. It was fun in the beginning, but lately its been like watching paint dry. Think the NBA Slam Dunk contest, but only over two full hours. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. The Josh Hamilton thing in Yankee Stadium a couple of years ago was cool, but in the convoluted rules of the contest, he didnt even win. I know chicks dig the long ball, but this is getting a little ridiculous.

Then the game was not much better. After the NL went up 5-0 in the top of the first, most of the bar tuned out the game. So much for all the hype! As a fan, I still enjoy the whole process, but I think I enjoy finding out whos in and whos out more than the game itself. I also get a kick out of when they bring in the old-timers, also known as the heroes of my long ago youth. George Brett looks like he could still hit .300. There are still some great individual matchups, but its still an exhibition, no matter what Mr. Selig is trying to sell you.

And add to it, there are no Thursday games this year so it was a full four-day break. Am I the only one who thinks it feels longer than that? This week TGIF is really that.

Something that really has me excited and was something that I focused on during my free time is a fundraiser that Im helping organize. I know reading that word makes some folks eyes glaze over, but Id appreciate if you read on.

I know its hard to go 10 minutes in this life without anyone asking for something, but I would hope we can all find at least one thing that helps us give back. If we all find one, trust me, we would all be better off. It doesnt take much, and the reward, not that one is being sought, is always the payoff.

My feeling on such an endeavor is that, if you plan an event, just make it fun. I try not to focus on the overall financial aspect, since I do believe that every little bit helps.

Most of all, it is always about the interactions of every one participating that Im most into and aware of. (Once a bartender, always a bartender!) In other words: I want everyone to feel great about coming, have a good time, and realize how much their simple act of kindness means to so many others.

As Ive written many times, my life changed forever once my first child was born. It opened my eyes to a whole new world that I had never seen before. (It also opened up a whole new audience for stories to entertain with at the bar. Who knew there were so many parents out there?!)

Having a child born with some issues opened them even more. In the beginning there were a lot of sleepless nights and unanswered questions. You know the kind of questions that I mean. But not being the negative sort, and also realizing this situation was never going away, I got back to reality and tried to deal with everything head-on. Of course, that is my way and not necessarily how everyone would react. I completely understand anyone that struggles with what seems like the worst news possible. It really is tough to grasp. Maybe in a way, my own forward progress was a bit of denial, but in the situation, you do whatever it takes.

As I mentioned here last week (and several other times before) the beacon for me and my family was our doctor and the organization that she has been a major part of: The Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types. (FIRST)( www.firstskinfoundation.org.) What my son, and just about every other affected associated with the foundation, has is very rare, at least as a measure of the general population. The number in this country could be in the multiple millions. The meaning of this last sentence is that funding for cures and research, not to mention people with the ability to do the work, is not as abundant as a lot of other diseases or disorders. The word Ive sometimes heard used for Ichthyosis disorders is orphan. Meaning there are not a lot of national entities devoted to them.

In this case it means that anyone connected in any way to anyone who has been affected by these disorders has to do all they can to help raise funds to support the organization that is fighting to better their lives every day.

FIRST has positively affected the lives of everyone that I have met that is associated with the organization. And Im not just talking about people like myself, who were forced to join!

Think about that. That is pretty cool.

That comes from the positive energy being created by a relatively small group of people who want to help people and make a difference in the lives of others.

You can imagine the guilt I feel when Im with these folks and mention how much my time spent on my fantasy team is paying off!

So this is where I get to the point. (Insert trumpeted fanfare here!)

I want to help out and raise money, and in the spirit of who I am, Im trying to do it in one of my favorite settings. Thats right, at a baseball game.

The Chicago White Sox have been gracious enough to offer an opportunity where, in a group of tickets that they are holding for FIRST, they will give the foundation back half the amount of every ticket that we are able to sell. How cool is that?

For me this is the perfect fundraiser. It gives family and friends time to spend together at a ballpark and at the same time doing something very important.

I envision a night with kids wearing gloves hoping to catch a ball from their (new) favorite slugger, laughter coming from groups of adults socializing (or social drinking) while watching Chicagos FIRST (Coincidence?!!) place team, or a weight-challenged father dealing with mustard drippings on his previously white, Sox jersey, from the consumption of one too many hot dogs because he is driven crazy by the smell of sauted onions as he enters the stadium. (Was that really one sentence? Boo-ya!)

So if youre not doing anything on the evening of Wednesday, August 8, (8-8-12) get a hold of me through the information below, or through FIRST, and come join us for a game and a good time.

I know for a fact, when you leave the game, youll be glad you were there. It always feels good to be a part of something special.

Hope to see you there!!

FIRST NIGHT AT THE WHITE SOX

Wednesday, August 8th @ 7:10 pm vs. the Kansas City Royals
Bleacher seats, 34 each, with half the money being donated to FIRST!
Contact: Frank Osowski Frankieo@harrycarays.com

FIRST is a registered 501(c)(3)nonprofit entity.

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

What we "knew" most about the 2016 Bears heading into the season is that, offensively, Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery would be the straws that stirred the offensive drink. 

Thanks to injuries, suspension and a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-13 season, the straw had a hole in it, the team still couldn't collectively close out games and a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Howard) and a second-year undrafted free agent (Cam Meredith) turned into the greatest causes for optimism on that side of the ball. 

The news that the team is shopping Cutler is hardly news-bulletin worthy. We've written about Cutler Fatigue here and discussed it on CSN's BearsTalk Podcasts for some time now. A breakup has seemed inevitable after eight years of .500 ball when he's been behind center. The tricky part is finding an alternative that would be a marked improvement for a coaching staff that might need to finish .500 to continue on the job in 2018. Yet that's the gamble that must be taken for a franchise that almost needs to move on, for better or worse, in order to find a way out of the muddy ditch it's found itself in.

Cutler must first be deemed healthy enough after labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder - something similar to what Buffalo did with Tyron Taylor this week following groin surgery. But Taylor might be a safer bet to stay with the Bills than Cutler is here. Those medicals might be out there already around the league if shopping has truly begun. And while a new destination for Cutler might not earn him the same salary (roughly $15 million) he'd make here, the thinking here is he'd prefer a fresh start just as much as the Bears want one. 

So let's go shopping.

Cleveland? No. 

San Francisco as a stopgap starter? Maybe. There's tons of salary cap space while a successor is groomed, and there's the Shanahan (Kyle/Mike) Factor. But more losing. 

How about Jacksonville to push his young clone, Blake Bortles? Perhaps. There's still a loaded, talented young defense that has yet to reach a promising ceiling, and a couple of talented receivers. 

The Los Angeles Rams could provide a push for Jared Goff (though it's hard not to see Goff being the starter, for better or worse). But if something should happen, Cutler would be ready, with Todd Gurley, what should be a respectable defense and a location close to where wife Kristin Cavallari can return to actressing. 

Jay in Buffalo? Good one! 

Arizona has already shot down interest. 

We don't see Denver wanting him back as they await Paxton Lynch's maturity with Trevor Siemian as a bridge. 

Reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami could be an option with Ryan Tannehill's health still a mystery. 

Then there's always Houston. I'm looking for Tony Romo's ultimate destination impacting Jay's. 

But retiring, as some reports this week suggested? No. Despite the public perception, Jay is a competitor, and I truly believe that still runs through him. He may not get to prove his reputation wrong before he retires, but despite what body language experts feel, I believe he'd still like to prove something. But I'm also not counting on any team giving up a draft pick for him. Teams know the Bears will release him, but if a club lower on the waiver claim wire truly desires him, Ryan Pace has squeezed something out from teams for his players on the discard pile before.

As for Jeffery, all remains quiet on the franchise tag front. The seal remains tight at Halas Hall over whether there have been any negotiations this past week, and if so, whether they've moved in a positive, long-term direction. 

Two things to keep in mind: the Bears did not tag him last year until the day before the deadline to do so. That deadline this year is March 1. The other is the fact that other teams in similar situations (such as Washington with Kirk Cousins and Kansas City with Eric Berry and Dontari Poe) have yet to make moves either, as that deadline looms. If the Bears determine they'll cut ties with Cutler, Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, that will free up another $24 million in cap space on top of the $60 million-plus they have already. Perhaps that factors into the decision on Jeffery, who'd get paid $17 million in 2017 under a second straight franchise tag for a team that needs play-makers and a coaching staff that needs wins next season. Letting him go would require attention and a portion of those dollars to replace him in the draft and/or free agency.

We leave all our internet/talk radio caller GM's with this question: Would you REALLY want to be in Ryan Pace's shoes this offseason? Can you be as shrewd, wise and run the table to the extent he must, especially at the most important, franchise-shaping position (which, granted, he's put on the back-burner his first two years)? And "get it right" to build momentum moving forward for a franchise that's reached the playoffs just once in the past decade? The rebuild remains substantial. And so are the decisions he faces in a crucial offseason.

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."