Chicago Cubs

Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

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Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

From Comcast SportsNet
At 83, Mr. Hockey is still in demand and on the move. Gordie Howe is about to embark on another series of fundraisers to support dementia research. It's a personal cause. The disease killed his wife, Colleen, in 2009 and is beginning to affect him. "He's a little bit worse than last year, but pretty close to about the same," son Marty said. "He just loses a little bit more, grasping for words. "The worst part of this disease is there's nothing you can do about it." While the long-term effects of concussions have been very much in the news lately, the family is hesitant to link the Hall of Famer's condition to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease typically found in autopsies of people who have had multiple head injuries, including more than a dozen former NFL and NHL players. Concussions weren't tracked when Howe played, so it is impossible to know how many he sustained. And he didn't start showing signs of dementia until his late 70s. "I don't think anybody can really answer that question," Marty said of a connection to CTE. "He went for so long without any symptoms whatsoever. You don't have to be an athlete or in contact sports to get dementia." Howe's dementia is currently mild and his family members haven't sought a diagnosis of exactly what kind he has. They did that with Colleen, who died at 76 of Pick's disease. The rare form of dementia is marked by changes in mood, behavior and personality, followed by memory loss similar to that experienced in Alzheimer's. Another son, Murray, a radiologist, says his father's symptoms don't fit either Alzheimer's or Pick's. "He has what we call mild cognitive impairment," Murray said. "His brain power is not what it used to be. In terms of the prognosis and diagnosis, it's still wide open." Howe has short-term memory loss, difficulty speaking and some confusion in the evening when the sun goes down. The latter, called "sundowning," occurs in people with dementia, although the cause is unclear. "He's always worse in the evening," Marty said. "It's like when the sun goes down, something flips the switch." But Howe's personality hasn't changed and he continues to recognize his family and friends. Howe's stamina and power were legendary during his 33 seasons of pro hockey. Physically, he's doing well for a man about to turn 84 in March. His sons say Howe likes to do household chores and go fishing, one of his favorite pastimes. "He's still Mr. Hockey and that's what is so great because he's just such a pleasure to have around," Murray said. "He'll wake up first thing in the morning and there's a bunch of leaves outside and he'll rake for three hours. He's so pleasant and upbeat. "When he first started showing signs of memory loss, we were concerned it was Alzheimer's and it was just going to go downhill." It's possible Howe's dementia is vascular in nature. He suffered from heart disease later in his life and required the implantation of a coronary stent about a decade ago. "He's had a couple episodes of getting faint or passing out around that time," Murray recalled. "It's possible he had a couple of mini-strokes that picked off some of the parts of his brain that you need to be able to retain short-term memory. That's my theory and what his family physician is thinking." Howe had episodes of forgetfulness about six years ago while caring for his wife. The Howe children recognized the signs they'd previously seen in their mother. The hockey great also was tired and not looking after himself, which made his condition worse. A program of regular physical activity has helped him combat his dementia. "He can easily walk four miles on very hilly terrain without a problem," Murray said. "When he first came to us, he couldn't walk 100 yards up a slight incline without having to stop because of chest pains. It was a complete turnaround for him." After Colleen Howe's death, the Howes were approached by the Toronto health organization Baycrest to put Gordie Howe's face on a fundraising campaign for Alzheimer's. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest specializes in mental diseases of the elderly. Howe, accompanied by Marty, makes public appearances at an annual series of Scotiabank Pro-Am hockey tournaments across Canada. More than 16 million has been raised by the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer's. Howe is scheduled to attend a Canucks game in Vancouver on Thursday night to promote a Scotiabank Pro-Am in that city later this year. Marty says his father plans to help kick off the same tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto this spring. He also will also attend a news conference Thursday afternoon in advance of a tribute in his honor at Friday's Vancouver Giants game. Howe has his photo taken with fans and signs autographs under Marty's watchful eye at the events. A speech isn't an option anymore. Fatigue tends to exacerbate Howe's condition and Marty doesn't want his father feeling strained. "If you see him now, obviously you can kind of tell he's not firing on all cylinders," Marty says. "Most people see Gordie and they're just happy Gordie is talking to them." Marty was alarmed by a decline in his father's condition before an appearance in Calgary last year, but didn't want his condition made public until the family had a better handle on his condition. "For people who are dealing with this, you have to have a sense of humor," he said. "Nobody wants to see their family members go through this. It gets harder. Towards the end, it's really no quality of life whatsoever. Pretty depressing, but you have to find the humor in some of it. Otherwise, it will kill you, too." Marty and Murray are just grateful the dementia hasn't changed their father's personality or attitude so far. "We're enjoying the times we have now," Marty said.

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

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AP

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

Even after a five-strikeout game, the Cubs have no intentions of toning down the Javy Baez roller coaster.

It's just the latest chapter in the Javy being Javy story.

On Tuesday, Baez became the first Cubs player to whiff five times in a game since Ted Lilly in 2008 and first position player to do so since Geovany Soto (also in '08):

After the game, Joe Maddon just laughed, compared Baez to golfer John Daly again and said, "Javy must've tied some sort of record today."

The Cubs know this is part of the package with Baez.

Even with that albatross of a game, Baez's strikeout percentage of 27.8 is still slightly below his career average (29.3 percent). That number is bloated a bit since Baez struck out 41.5 percent of the time during his rookie season in 2014.

Baez is striking out more in 2017 than he did last year (24 percent), but is also walking more (5 percent compared to 3.3 percent in 2016).

When Maddon was filling out Wednesday's lineup before Tuesday's game, he had already penciled in a day off for Baez, even before the five-strikeout game made it apparent a day of mental and physical rest was needed for the 24-year-old.

"He was just swinging a bit too hard," Maddon said. "...Most of the time, for me, when a guy comes out of his zone a lot, it's because he's a little bit mentally fatigued. So let's get him off his feet."

Maddon said before the game he wouldn't shy away from using Baez in Wednesday's contest if the need arose. The Cubs manager also was not worried about the five-strikeout game getting the enigmatic young infielder down.

"He's fine," Maddon said. "He's done that a lot in his career. So he knows how to bounce back. It's not gonna impact him. I watch him run out to defense after the strikeouts, and he's running out there. I love that about him. He's ready to play.

"A lot of guys have that moment, historically, but the difference with Javy — two things — he'll play his defense and he'll bounce back.

"He's his own toughest critic, also. I have a lot of faith in him, I have a lot of faith in hitting coaches. He'll be fine. I really am not concerned. ... He's young, he's done it before, he'll do it again. I promise you — that's gonna happen again. In the mean time, just continue to support him."

Including Tuesday and Baez's recent 1-for-11 stretch, he's still hitting .321 with an .863 OPS in July and is on pace for 20 homers, 28 doubles and 64 RBI in addition to his usual highlight reel of defensive plays.

Baez will always come with ups and downs and the Cubs know that. They aren't trying to coach that out of him.

They'll take the five strikeout games along with the hot stretch, like when he hit .415 with seven extra-base hits in a 13-game stretch from July 2-21.

After all, this is the guy who was named co-NLCS MVP last fall.

"Javy continues to show a lot of improvement," Maddon said. "In spite of the John Daly hack on occasion, you look at his two-strike numbers, they're outstanding. [Baez is hitting .215 with a .568 OPS with two strikes, but does have five homers and 22 RBI.]

"So it's like, you gotta be careful what you wish for. I've already talked to [Cubs hitting coach] Johnny Mallee about this. You wanna tone somebody down, but then if you do, does this good thing go away? You wanna morph into it more slowly here as he gradually understands and creates a different method as he gts into the latter part of counts, runner on third base, just try to score one, not two or three."

In 15 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs, Baez has 11 RBI, but he's also struck out six times.

Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff are working on a lot of the same things with both Baez and 23-year-old shortstop Addison Russell, who has also had an up-and-down offensive season.

"That takes time," Maddon said. "I know that sounds crazy, but it does. And so, be careful what you wish for, be careful how you approach a young player. 'Cause you could absolutely — I've talked about not coaching instinctiveness out of a player.

"Javy's got his own way. I think you're eventually going to see him settle into it, but yes, they're being developed. They both have to adjust to game situations.

"Next year, you're gonna see an improvement. Two years from now, you're gonna see a pretty nice finished product."

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The general vibe given off by defensive end Akiem Hicks and linebacker Jerrell Freeman -- the two Bears defenders made available to the media on Wednesday -- was of low-key optimism. 

A Bears defense beset by injuries last year ranked 24th in points allowed and only managed 11 turnovers in 2016. But Hicks and Freeman both see bigger things for this defense after general manager Ryan Pace retooled it with a number of veteran free agent signings. 

Specifically, Hicks believes the Bears' defense has enough been-there, done-that players to be the catalyst for victories. 

“Sometimes, it’s like a second nature, something that you have inside you,” Hicks said. “You just want to be in that situation. But it’s also something you can develop through a lot of reps. You know what I mean? A guy who comes in and has 5,000 reps over his career, he’s going to be able to get in that situation and play it with just a little bit more confidence than a guy in his first, second or even third year. 

“Because once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten enough snaps, you’ve seen everything. You felt disappointment, you’ve felt that feeling of victory at the end of the game when you’re walking off. I think that’s what bringing veteran guys to a team does. They’ve seen it all already.”

The Bears added four possible-to-likely starters to their defense in free agency: defensive end Jaye Howard, safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Those four players have a combined 24 years of NFL experience, and the Bears only have one rookie (safety Eddie Jackson) competing for a starting role. 

Couple the expected Year 1 to Year 2 growth of Leonard Floyd and the potential for a healthy Eddie Goldman with those veterans, and the Bears see enough players with the right mindset to build a sturdy defense. 

“I hope everyone on my defense wants to be the best player at their position,” Freeman said. “That’s the mentality I would want, and that’s the mentality I would want the rest of my defense to have. Getting better, lead a defense to one of the top defenses, just help my team in any kind of way to get some wins.”