Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 10:52 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Given the date of this post, I was seriously considering writing about a Cubs-Sox World Series and then ending with the two words that would be appropriate. But having a child with said date as their birthday, Ive come to learn that the trick ending with the negative twist is not usually a crowd pleaser. Being a man of the people, Im nothing if not a pleaser! Ive found that indifference or outright denial, and then having something positive occur out of nowhere is much more fun. (Also making me a cool dad!)
While I cant claim indifference here, I have a vested interest, I can be honest in that I do not expect a Red-Line Series come October. That being said, this kinder, gentler Frankie O (Going third person never gets old!) can see a lot of positives happening here in Chicago on the local diamonds.

Of course, on the southside, there is a lot of expectation, since, as the team has reminded us in their advertising campaign, they are All in. What makes me optimistic is that this year they also have a D.H. (In fact my advertising campaign for them would be: The Chicago White Sox. Were putting the hitter back in the designated hitter! P.S. Good guys wear black!) I know that Mark Kotsay hit the hardest .239 that folks in these parts have ever seen, but enough is enough. The addition of Adam Dunn has Sox fans very excited. And with good reason, hes a run-producing machine. Something else I notice about him in this age of enhancement is the fact that he has averaged over 158 games played during the last 7 seasons. Thats not typical lately of large, power guys. Not saying, just saying. So it should be safe to pencil in the 38 homers and 100 RBI that he has averaged in that span. (2 choices here: Frankie O kiss of death! or, How you like your Kotsay now?!!)

Its hard to remember in the disappointment of how last season ended, that for most of the year this was a very good team, albeit a streaky one. After a 24-33 start, that left them almost double-digits out of first place, they finished the year on a torrid 64-41 stretch. Included in this was the 20-5 that put them back in the race and then the collapse down the stretch. Ill try not to remember September and focus on the beginning. Pennants arent won in April and May, but because of this teams performance during that time last year, the ability to win one was definitely lost. In fact the Sox have made a habit of getting out to slow starts recently. I do not think that will be the case this year. The increased payroll and advertising campaign are telling us thats not an option. The fact that the competition at the top of the division with the Tigers and Twins is expected to be microscopic close also behooves them to jump out early. The X-factor in all of this will be Jake Peavy.

His ability to come back from a detached muscle in his right (pitching) shoulder, I think will determine their fate. They are a good team without him, but they are a title contender with him. I have to admit, I dont really feel good about his situation so far. Its confusing to me about who is in charge. How does he get sick, then not touch a ball for over a week, then be allowed to throw over 80 pitches? Which then results in his being put on the DL since he now has shoulder tendinitis? This to me tells of the urgency to get off to a good start that is being felt by everyone in the organization. All in!!

On the northside, things are a little harder to figure. The realist in me wants to say 4th place in the central, but who saw the Padres 90 win season at this time a year ago? The Padres gagged the division and missed the playoffs by a game, but thats not the point. Every year there are one or two teams that come out of nowhere and are in the mix until the end. The way the Cubs finished last year under Mike Quade, pardon me Lou, left a lot of Cubs fans feeling all giddy about their chances this year. Not to burst bubbles, but did you notice that the Astros and Orioles finished with very similar 50 game records to end the season as the Cubs last year? How do you feel about the Astros or Orioles chances this year? I thought so.

Personally, I see this as a bridge year to the true vision of the new ownership regime. About 50 million will be coming off the books after this season. Increased revenue will be coming the Cubs way after their new facility is built in Mesa. Building a state-of-the-art training academy in the Dominican Republic should hopefully help mine that talent rich region for future stars. And we all know that every possible way to increase the revenue stream at Wrigley Field is being considered. These things are all related. The number one goal needs to be to put a winning product on the field. This will enable many of the things that ownership wants to accomplish, off the field, to happen. While you definitely need to spend to win in this game, true success is sustained if you can grow your own talent.

As much as I love my Phillies spending cash to acquire and retain top-notch talent, Im not very optimistic where they are going to be in a few years since they have pillaged their farm system in the process. Aside from my stated preference that they break the bank to get Albert Pujols, it would be very prudent if the Cubs were able hit the reset button, and grow a little slow. I know, theres the whole 103 year thing and all, and the urgency that it brings to the faithful, but the Marlins (or Yankees) way of just buying a title is not going to happen here. Just look at the Soriano and Zambrano contracts to understand why. Starlin Castro is the real deal and a good start.

I think Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin have bright futures. I cant wait to see Brett Jackson in the outfield later this summer. Having them learn their craft around such solid pros as Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd is a good thing. (And having them surround Pujols next year would be a great one! Not to mention having it buy more time. Sorry, cant help myself.) Dumping a malcontent such as Carlos Silva has earned a lot of respect. It seems as though the Cubs have been dealing with that issue in several different forms over the years.

I take this as a sign that the ownership wants to do it the right way. I have no problem with that, its their money. The issue is that you do not win with good intentions. You win with talent and motivated talent at that. This year I get the good vibe and the motivation that come with the new Quade era, how could you not? But in the end, for this year, it is going to take more than that alone. The times, they are a changing, but sometimes, its the same as it ever was.

So where does that leave us? Full of anticipation I hope. Why ruin the upcoming season with a lot of doom and gloom speculation? Baseball, more than any other sport, is a novel we cant put down. Its full of plot twists and surprises. Heroes and villains. Thats why we watch, well that and fantasy addictions. But its all about the ending. And as much as anyone wants to tell you they know, they dont. So feel free to dream a little dream. If you think that a Chicago World Series is possible, go ahead and think it. Reality will rear its pesky head soon enough. And remember this, If I was to tell you, with a straight face, on this day last year that the post-season (and subsequent off-season) was going to be dominated by a freakish black beard, you would have surely looked at me and replied, April Fools!

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he surveyed the landscape this offseason, Peter Bourjos thought he and the White Sox would make for a good fit.

Adam Eaton had been traded and Austin Jackson departed via free agency, leaving the White Sox with Melky Cabrera and several young players to man a thin outfield. Bourjos, who lived in Chicago until second grade, pursued the White Sox and last month agreed to terms on a minor-league deal in hopes of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Last season, Bourjos, who was born in Chicago, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 383 plate appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I always liked playing in Chicago,” Bourjos said. “It was a good fit and then spring training is here. I have two young kids. So packing them up and going to Florida wasn’t something I wanted to do either.

“We definitely look at all those options on paper. Evaluate what might be the best chance of making a team and this is definitely one of them. It seems like a good fit on paper.”

If he’s healthy enough, Charlie Tilson will get the first crack at the everyday job in center field. Tilson, who missed the final two months of last season with a torn hamstring, is currently sidelined for 10 days with foot problems. Beyond Tilson, the White Sox have prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May with Cabrera slated to start in left field and Avisail Garcia pegged for right. Leury Garcia is also in the mix.

But there still appears to be a good shot for Bourjos to make the club and manager Rick Renteria likes his veteran presence for the young group. Bourjos has accrued six seasons of service time between the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bourjy has been around,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes. He understands the little nuances of major-league camp and how we have so many players and we want to give them all a look. We want to see Bourjos, we want to see him out there.”

Bourjos, who turns 30 in March, has an idea what he wants to do with his chance. A slick defensive outfielder, Bourjos wants to prove he’s a better hitter than his .243/.300/.382 slash line would suggest. He said it’s all about being relaxed.

“Offensively just slow everything down and not try to do too much,” Bourjos said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it hasn’t translated. I think last year I got in a spot where I just tried to relax in the batter’s box and let everything go and what happened happened. I had success with that.

“I now realize what that feels like and it doesn’t work. Just take a deep breath and be relaxed in the box and good things are going to happen.”