Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello friends! This time of year always reminds me of the dreams of my childhood. Most of the other kids dreamed of being a fireman or astronaut, for me it was something different. I always wanted to grow up to be Jim Nantz. And since I still havent grown up, maybe theres still a chance! Think of it: This guy (No, not me, yet!) gets a front row seat for three weeks to two of the best sporting events and he does it every year! Although I have to admit, not having to sit courtside and watch the NCAA mens title game might have been a blessing, since while I watched it at home I kept falling asleep. That game took basketball back a few years. Maybe a few dozen.

As I laid in a dreamy daze, with the constant clank of the rim coming out in staccato bursts from my surround sound, drowning out my snoring, I wondered if all the one-and-done players had watered down the talent level of division 1 basketball so much, that this is what were left with. Dont get me wrong, the win or go home drama of the tournament make it must-see TV and the best reality show ever. The fact that all of the best players of college age are in the pros makes some of the college games hard to watch from a pure basketball standpoint. That is if you enjoy watching wide-open players actually making shots. The NCAA has some problems. Im not sure I would get a lot, or ANY, dispute on that. But as long as CBS throws gobs of money at them, and all of us fill out our (losing) brackets, I dont see the NCAA in any hurry to solve any issues. But maybe they should take a look at the Fighting Illinis Jereme Richmond and see if they can learn anything from his brief experience as a student-athlete. Of course, this is if they have any spare time from suspending coaches for NEXT year, while they participate in post-seasons THIS year.

Then Jimbo gets to stroll up Magnolia Lane and sip Arnold Palmers in Butler Cabin. As Ive told anyone who will listen, my Masters experience is probably the sporting event of my lifetime. Watching on TV in this world of Hi-def, is for any fan, completely mesmerizing. Going there in person blows that away. I went there in 2007 and will never forget it. In a world full of hype, few things can measure up. The Masters is one of them. I was on a waiting list for practice rounds tickets for ten long years before I got invited. For me it was important to be invited. I know for many, some of the August National traditions may seem a little country club stuffy, but I think theyre kind of cool. They have their ways and unlike a lot of others theyve earned the right.

One is that they are very proper. Being as such, I didnt want to gate-crash. Ive been offered the opportunity to buy tickets over the years, but that didnt seem right. I wanted to walk in through the front door as an invited guest and not worry about having passes that werent legit. For ten years I sent in my application. Notification of winning is in September, and for nine years my mailbox was empty. Then, I received my application for 2007 in May of 06. In the Masters edition of my Golf World magazine, I read a full page article written by a guy from New Jersey who had been sending in his applications for 10 years before he hit. He wrote of how special it was to spend a day on the grounds with his dad and brothers. The joy in what he was writing jumped from the page. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

So it was without much expectation when I sent in my application that July. Philly guys always see the worst in any situation. Life moved on and I was immersed in it. Then one day, without even realizing what time of year it was, I went to get the mail. Shining like a beacon, there was a yellow envelope in the middle of all of my junk mail. Once again, I think Im pretty grounded and realistic about what life has to offer and I realize what is important in it. Still, when I opened the letter and saw what it said, you could not wipe the smile off my face. I immediately called my father and buddies to tell them the good news: Were going to Augusta! My wife told me to take the phone outside since I sounded like I was 15. Augusta National! Wow! I dont know if I anticipated going anywhere more. In the sports bucket list, this was at the top. That I had 6 months to think about it made me crazier than normal.

We were going for two days: Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday was for exploring every inch of the course. Wednesday was for watching the Par 3 Contest while sitting next to Ikes pond. When making our travel arrangements, we realized that the Final Four was in Atlanta. We were flying there on Monday, the day of the National Title Game. Why not? Even while we were in the Georgia Dome, watching Florida pound Ohio State, (I would normally would have enjoyed this, but our obnoxious suite mates (Thats right! We watched from a suite! Bo-Ya!) were from Florida, and they made it impossible to root for the Gators, so I couldnt cheer for either team.) our thoughts were a hundred miles away.

We arrived in Augusta at 2:00 a.m., but still had to drive by the front gate just to make sure we were really there. Bleary-eyed the next morning at 7:30 a.m., we entered the grounds. It was other-worldly. Things looked familiar, only more brilliant. It was like going back in time. The vibe was awesome. It was like everyone around you was in on it too. The first couple of hours were dizzying. There was so much to take in. Amen Corner, Sixteen, 2.00 beers! After sharing a pimento and cheese sandwich (yuck) for lunch, we did what I have always dreamed of. We walked the course, from the first tee, shot by shot. We met tons of people, were awed by some of the natural beauty and talked to every Marshall we could. Talk about golf encyclopedias! These gentlemen have been there forever and were more than pleased to share stories about what they have seen. After the round we all hugged at the eighteenth green. I will always remember that walk. There was only one thing that could top that and that was the Par 3. The atmosphere was like being at a family picnic. But instead of hanging with your uncles, you got to watch Jack, Arnie and Gary. How cool is that? It was one of those days that you wish would not end. As close to perfect as you good get at a sporting event. Although as you looked around, at everyone you were sharing this time with, you knew it was more than that. Its hard to comprehend, but being there was cooler than I ever thought it would be.

As I watch The Masters I always go back to that time. Each tournament brings a new story that golf fans can cherish. Very rarely can I say that theres been a dull one. I try to watch as much as I can and become riveted with the battles for golfs elite to earn the coveted green jacket. And since 2007 as I watch, its with a smile in my heart, as I remember seeing all that is on the screen before me in person. In 2007 I had a small slice of what my boy Nantz gets to experience every April. He is one lucky dude. And for the time I had, so am I. Now if I could only grow up.

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

MIAMI – This isn’t a Tommy La Stella situation. The Cubs purposely told Kyle Schwarber to take a few days off to decompress before reporting to Triple-A Iowa. The reboot will begin Monday in Des Moines.

“We’re doing it to hopefully reset him, get him back up with a fresh start,” manager Joe Maddon said. “As you would expect, he was very professional about it, understood it entirely.

“There’s no actual timetable. I don’t anticipate it to be long. But we’ll see how it plays out, give him a little bit of room to get things right and then move it forward from there.”

The Cubs broke the news to Schwarber after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field, where the entire lineup went 1-for-27 outside of rookie Ian Happ’s two-run homer. It left Schwarber hitting .171 with a .673 OPS, not enough to justify his 12 home runs and suspect outfield defense. The Iowa Cubs are in the middle of a four-game series this weekend in Round Rock, Texas.

The Cubs hope Schwarber can regain his confidence and almost become a trade-deadline addition, reenergizing the team the way he did in 2015, when he blasted 16 homers in 69 games and five more in the playoffs.

Under entirely different circumstances in 2012, future All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo used 70 games with Iowa to rework his swing and make adjustments after bombing his audition with the Padres.

“He’s going to go down and be able to exhale a little bit,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully, he can smooth things out. We’re all confident he will. Just do the best down there to get back up here and to be the Kyle Schwarber that we all know and love.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”