Just living the dream

Just living the dream

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
4:34 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I just want to start off with a thank you to everyone who helped me with the raffle for F.I.R.S.T. and those who bought a ticket or made a donation. The final tally should be a little over 3000. Thats awesome!

Also awesome was the help of the Notre Dame athletic department in ensuring a wonderful experience for the winner and his entourage. One of my bar regulars (go figure!) was the lucky person. (I wont reveal his name here, but some do refer to him as, Shoe Alan.) That he was able to enjoy the game with his son made it even better for me.

They sent me pictures from their time on the sidelines and finished off their long day with a beverage at the bar, with whom I would think would be their new favorite bartender. How cool is that?!

As for myself, I had my own pretty cool experience last week. For just about as long as I can remember, Ive been going to the Thursday round of the Western Open. Of course when it was the Western, the tournament was played over the July Fourth weekend and drew huge crowds. That Tiger always played here, since he liked the course and liked hanging out with M.J. and taking his money in golf wagers, added to the excitement.

For the last three years the tournament has been moved to September, had a name change (The BMW Championship) and Tiger? Well, weve gone over that enough, but he still gets your full attention when you see him with a driver in his hand. Now usually, I like to walk the course once, eat a pork chop sandwich on fourteen, (you can smell them all over Cog Hill!) then pick a spot to hang out to watch the featured pairings come through, most times by the sixteenth green.

Ive had a lot of fun over the years, maybe even more since the changes have been made. One thing about the September date is that it isnt nearly as hot. For a big man lumbering around miles of hilly terrain, this is no small consideration. The other immediately noticeable thing about the September date, especially on a Thursday, is the size of the crowd. It has to be a third of what it was when it was held during the summer. And, for whatever the reasons, this year was the smallest gallery Ive ever seen following Mr. Woods.

As a golf fanatic, it doesnt get any better than to be able to get up-close to one of the top seventy in the world, walk the course with them, and see them do what they do. Or does it? One thing Ive never done too often, at any tournament, is to sit at eighteen for an extended length of time. Its always too crowded number one, and number two, since Im a commoner, I dont get to sit in the fancy-shmancy seats with the hoidy-toidys! Well, stop the presses!

Due to the largesse of another one of my regulars, (I wont reveal his name here, but some do refer to him as, Greek George.) I was able to enter a world that I could heretofore only dream existed. Its known as a luxury box. Whoa! We decided that before we walked around the course, we would see what the life of the privileged had to offer. It offers many, many things! After climbing stairs that reached to the heavens, we reached our destination. Inside, giant white leather furniture abounded, some of which conveniently surrounded large flat-screen TVs. On which if you were, say, a fan of the baseball team from the southside, you could watch their afternoon game while not missing the action on the green at 18. Thats because right outside the glass doors, were 5 rows of comfy, movie theatre style seats, overlooking the green.

After sampling one of each of the 20 food items being served, twice, and watching the Sox stumble to the end of the most disappointing 7-3 road trip ever, it was time to focus on golf. The fancy seats were no more crowded than the course below, which offered an ideal vantage point, without sacrificing comfort. Do I sound like I belonged? The next perk was something I did not expect but took full advantage of. Because who should be sitting in the seat one in front and one over from me? None other than Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks! Now Ive known Ernie for several years due to his frequent visits to the restaurant. And much like with Harry, many times as Im walking past his table, I seem to invariably find myself stopping by to hello, then get to meet a new cast of characters, and soon become engrossed in an entertaining conversation.

Ernie, like Harry, always seems to be surrounded by interesting people, and more to my amusement, is always surrounded by people doing or saying interesting things. This is due to the fact that Ernie, like Harry, is so approachable. But when people get close, they then realize who they are talking to and will say about anything in their nervousness. Always the gentleman, Ernie greeted all comers, even those who did not root for the Cubs (who always were harassed by the peanut gallery!) or those who might have been a little young to know who he was. The one constant though, and this is something that always come up when I talk to people about their Harry remembrances at the bar, is the connection that existed.

Everyone always has a story about a prior meeting that a loved one had before and the subsequent effect that prior encounter had. Or it was simple as someones father had been a big fan and they felt compelled to just say hello. Neat stuff. Turns out Ernie is a big golf fan, hes locked in, and especially a fan of Tiger. We sat discussing each group as they came in and what they needed to do depending on their approach shot. Soon enough, the beverages were flowing, the conversation was all over the road and we had watched about 13 groups come home.

Could 4 hours really have gone by? Since theres no one left on the course, I guess were not going to be doing much hiking today. The time just flew by, and it would soon be time to go back to the house and punch in. As I was on my way home, reflecting on what had just happened, I just laughed and thought to myself, well thats something you dont get to do every day! Then I laughed even harder when I thought that next year, Im going to be sitting in the same spot. Ive seen how the other half lives, and I like it!

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

john-groce-0226.jpg
USA TODAY

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

Illinois' last-ditch effort to reach the NCAA tournament is still alive.

The Illini won for the third straight time and the fourth time in their last five games Sunday night, using a monstrous second half to fly past the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a 73-57 score in Lincoln.

Illinois started the Big Ten season 3-8, but with this recent surge it's up to 7-9 and with two regular-season games remaining has at the very least given itself a much better position in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and perhaps has played itself into a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Defense has been the driving force throughout this recent stretch, and Sunday was no different, with Nebraska scoring just 57 points, the second straight game in which Illinois has held its opponent under 60 points.

But offense told the story Sunday, with the Illini catching fire in the second half and shooting the lights out at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Illinois shot 59.1 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a stellar 8-for-13 from 3-point range. The Illini outscored the Huskers by a 43-29 margin after halftime.

All in all, Illinois shot 48.1 percent on the night and 13-for-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Illini's 73-point output was their highest since Jan. 25.

Malcolm Hill had a game-high 19 points and moved past Cory Bradford for fifth place on the program's all-time scoring list. Tracy Abrams joined Hill in double figures with 13 points. Hill and Abrams each hit four 3-pointers. Maverick Morgan scored 12 points.

Tai Webster scored 17 points for Nebraska, the only Husker in double figures on a poor offensive night. The team shot 37.5 percent from the field and went just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Illinois still seems like a bit of a longshot to make the NCAA tournament given its 17-12 overall record and the weakness of the Big Ten this season. But things are getting real late in the season. This surge could very well help the Illini end their three-year tournament drought and could do big things for head coach John Groce, who has had his job status talked about all season long.

Illinois' final two regular-season bouts come this week against Michigan State and at Rutgers.

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — As Major League Baseball officials responded to an unbelievably timed rain delay, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti huddled in a suite beneath Progressive Field and recognized what he saw in Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer after nine innings in a World Series Game 7.

"(We're) trying to figure out: Hey, what's going to happen here? How long are we going to have to wait? Are we going to have to pick up this game tomorrow?" Antonetti said. "I remember the look on both Jed and Theo's faces — it was the same as mine — just like exhaustion and fatigue and angst."

Soon enough, Epstein would be standing in the visiting dugout, his black suit completely drenched, winging it through a CSN Chicago postgame show interview: "Jed's in charge. I'm going on a bender."

However Cleveland fans processed the 10th inning — at least LeBron James had already delivered the city's first major sports title since 1964 — the Indians regrouped and reloaded as one of the favorites to win the 2017 World Series.

Danny Salazar — who hadn't built himself back up to full strength by the Fall Classic — threw two scoreless innings during Sunday afternoon's 1-1 tie in front of a sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Indians also survived and advanced into early November without frontline starter Carlos Carrasco (broken right pinkie finger) throwing a single playoff pitch or All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder complications) playing beyond May.

But the Indians didn't just sit back in their comfort zone this winter and simply hope for good medical reports and assume their young core players would improve. Sensing an opportunity, Cleveland swooped in around Christmastime and made a three-year, $60 million commitment to Edwin Encarnacion, who put up 42 homers and 127 RBIs last season for the Blue Jays, weakening the team that lost the American League Championship Series.

"It certainly has a positive impact on the momentum that we established and revenue heading into the following season," Antonetti said. "But I still think beyond that, it's been a big leap of faith by our ownership to really step out beyond what may make sense, just looking at where our projections might be.

"It's really a belief in our fan base that they'll continue to support our team and build on the momentum from last year."

Cleveland already paid the price for Andrew Miller — the Yankees wanted Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez from the Cubs as a starting point last summer — and now control the game-changing reliever for two more pennant races. The Indians also invested $6.5 million in Boone Logan — a reliever the Cubs had monitored closely — when the lefty specialist lingered on the open market until early February.

Between the future Hall of Fame manager (Terry Francona), a Cy Young Award winner (Corey Kluber), the young All-Star shortstop (Francisco Lindor) and the dude from Glenbrook North (Jason Kipnis), Cleveland has way too much talent to be consumed with what could have been in Game 7.

"Hopefully, our guys learned from all of their experiences," Antonetti said. "They went through a lot last year. But I think at the same time, we have an appreciation and realize how hard it is to win, and how hard it was to get to the postseason.

"Continuing that mindset — and remembering what helped us get there — will benefit our guys the most. They'll reflect back and realize we didn't just show up and end up in the postseason and in the World Series. We started that work on Day 1 of the offseason and Day 1 in spring training."