Spring Break is good for all

Spring Break is good for all

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello again everybody! Sorry I havent been here for a while, it was time for me to once again play Clark Griswald and take the family on a spring break adventure. Hard to believe, but break time just kind of snuck up on me this year. This whole winter without Arctic Circle weather has my timing all off. March Madness came out of nowhere, and was gone before I could work up much enthusiasm. I rooted against Kentucky the entire time, and that was fun, but to no avail. The salt in the wound was the fact that I had Kansas and Kentucky in the final game and if K.U. had won, I would have celebrated along with them. Teased once again! Just like when I didnt win the 656 million Mega Millions jackpot. Like most of the people I talked to at the bar, I was buying tickets all over the Chicagoland area. Just 2 dollars here and there, but I guess they add up. Judging by the lines I stood in, I wasnt alone. (I have several different people-watching environments that amuse me to no end, as we all do, but I might have found a new favorite. Watching the interactions of all types of people waiting in line, then getting their chance to buy the golden ticket was priceless.)

That Friday at the bar was one of the few times in memory that the conversation wasnt dominated by sports talk. It was a day of speculation of what one would do with that much cash, and oddly enough, sports never entered the discussion. I found this ironic since there is hardly a time now when we talk sports and money isnt mentioned.

As with any trip, planning is a must. You cannot go on the road without the essentials, and for me that meant a new phone. This because I found out in the week before we left that my iPhone 3 was yesterdays news for keeping up with my roto baseball addiction. What?! Im not going to bore you -- at least at this time! -- with the early trials and tribulations, of which there are many, that have befallen my two teams, but being able to deal with them anytime, anywhere is a non-negotiable! I might have taken a while to get on-board the technology revolution, but Im in knee-deep now. (Or, is that in over my head?) I want information, any information, to be on my person 247 so I can access it whenever the mood strikes, or, more importantly, when I can sneak away for five minutes. Say hello to a proud new iPhone 4S owner. I cant wait until I can figure this thing out! At least I have a new woman in my life, Siri. And like the rest of them, she cant give me a straight answer. This forces my kids to ask who Im yelling at, their mother or my new cell-phone-wife. (Im just kidding, I would never yell at Siri!)

Of course, the funny thing is, that after I went to the trouble, and expense, to acquire my new traveling companion, the news it (she) gave me about my baseball teams was nothing I wanted to know. I find myself being like some managers, maybe one that you know, in that I just keep saying its early, way too much time left to panic. And like those said real managers, while I want to believe the words coming out of my mouth, I realize that Im just whistling in the dark.

As I was getting the car ready for the trip, late at night after getting home from work, I couldnt help but notice the large, illuminated orb in the sky. Typical, nothing like starting a vacation under the watchful eye of a full moon, right? And the fact that I would return to work on Friday the 13th thats not a cause for concern either, is it? Where I sit, I would expect nothing less. I laughed as I reminded myself of this as we sat in over-night construction for two hours outside Sandusky, Ohio. Wheres Tommy Boy when you need him?

While something like setting up my e-mail accounts made me want to pull my hair out, I soon was able to find one of the immediate benefits of my 4G -- HD phone: Masters.com. Im one of those who think that there cannot be enough Masters on TV. It takes forever for the network coverage to start. Well, at Masters.com there are as many as seven live streams and they start when the golfers do. How cool is that? And say youre watching the kids and theyre insistent on what they want to watch on the only TV, having a hand-held option comes in, dare I say, handy. Go ahead kids. Watch whatever you want because Daddy loves you! (And his phone!) And the great thing is that you can take your Masters coverage anywhere. Thats right, you heard me, anywhere!

The hype leading up to this years tournament was, I thought, very appropriate. There were a lot of great story lines and most of the top guys were playing very well at the same time. Unlike watching team sports, I usually have more than one rooting interest when watching golf. There are a bunch of guys that I root for and seeing any one of them doing well is cool. Cooler yet would be seeing a bunch of them in contention, together. Im always rooting for the Tiger vs. Phil, and while that was not going to be, at least Phil was in the final group on Sunday and hes as exciting as there is at Augusta. Couple that with the fact that no one except his family, and even them Im not so sure of, expected 54-hole leader Peter Hanson to remain on his perch, and this had the makings for another memorable Masters.

Having been to Augusta National, I agree that while spectacular on TV, that medium still doesnt give the golf course its due in regard to how overwhelming the surroundings are. But as a fan, I want to be watching the final round on TV because I want to be able to watch the whole story as it is being told. Being able to sit back and watch every shot of the leaders on Sunday is how I like to experience a Major. For this years Masters I was pretty much able to do that. From Louis Oosthuizens double-eagle on 2, all the way to Bubba Watsons 150 yard snap-hook from the woods to 10 feet on the second playoff hole, (10) I was on the edge of my seat, or enjoying Easter dinner, or both. It was as exciting a golf tournament that you could ever watch, let alone one that was played on the best course in the world. The best part was trying to explain what a double-eagle was to a room full of people more focused on dinner than I was, if you can imagine that.

The next day was spent downtown in Philadelphia, but not at the Phils opener as some might expect. I took the opportunity to take the kids into the city for the first time that any of them could remember. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were naturals to show the history. Tony Lukes was also a natural, to eat amazing, authentic cheesesteak and soak up some of the Phillies pre-game vibe. But next was about THE fictional hero of the city Im from, Rocky Balboa. First we cruised through the neighborhoods and outdoor Italian market that Rocky made so famous. After which there was only one place to go, the place he made most famous of all: The steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. I had not been there in years but thought the kids would get a kick out of it. And even though they didnt have any idea who Rocky Balboa was, through the wonder of YouTube, they found out all they needed to know about the steps. Watching them run up and then mimic the triumphant Rock at the top was something I wont soon forget. What a blast. I guess theres a reason why places become ultimate destinations, their charm cannot be denied.

It was then time to head back home and to get ready for all the spring calendar has to offer in the world of sports. Baseball has started and even in spite of rampant pessimism of fans on both sides of town, there are going to be storylines to follow all summer long. But the main focus right now has to be on the playoffs: The ones in hockey that are already off to a riveting start and of course, the good versus evil narrative that will be the Bull vs. Heat. For a fan, this will be non-stop, every night for the next two months. This is better than the gifts under the tree at Christmas, although, like Christmas gifts, some might not be happy with what they receive. But the season is going to give until it, and every player that is left standing, hurts. These are the best four-round reality shows on this earth and in June there will be only one team left standing in each sport. I cant wait to see who they are and thanks to my hiatus, Im as ready as the players to get on with it. While Im pretty confident that the Bulls and Heat are going to meet again, and I cant wait, there is another rematch out there that I dont know if Im ready to handle again. It always happens when you least expect it, so Im watching out for a meeting in the NHL Finals of a 5 and 6 seed, the ultimate reality show for yours truly, Flyers-Hawks. Can you imagine? Thank goodness Im rested up, lets watch and get ready, its going to be an interesting ride.

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

4-23_tim_anderson_white_sox.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

The White Sox quickly ended their 23-inning streak of offensive futility and didn't look back. 

A three-run first inning propelled the White Sox to avoid getting swept with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 24,444 at Guaranteed Rate Field Sunday afternoon. 

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, and after Tyler Saladino dribbled a ground ball through the left side, he came around to score on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. The White Sox last run before that came in the fourth inning of their 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. 

After Cabrera's flyout, Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte made a mess of Jose Abreu's line drive single, allowing it to skip past him to the wall. That error brought Saladino home and allowed Abreu to reach third, and Abreu later scored on Leury Garcia's two-out single to tag a third run on Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. 

Salazar was shaky over his five innings, striking out nine but allowing seven hits and issuing three walks. The White Sox struck again in the fifth inning when Avisail Garcia launched an RBI double off the top of the center field wall. 

Cleveland's inability to catch the ball helped the White Sox push across another run in the sixth inning. After Omar Narvaez drew a leadoff walk, Jacob May put down a sacrifice bunt and hustled to first, where second baseman Michael Martinez — covering for charging first baseman Carlos Santana — had to awkwardly stretch for Santana's underhand toss. Martinez dropped the ball, allowing May to reach.

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Following strikeouts by Anderson and Saladino, Cabrera lined a single to left, and Narvaez was aggressively waved home (a common practice with two outs in an inning). Brandon Guyer's throw easily beat Narvaez to the plate, but Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped it, allowing Narvaez to score the fifth run of the game.

Another Indians defensive miscue led to the White Sox sixth run in the eighth, when an Abreu ground ball kicked off Santana's spikes and into center field, allowing May to score.  

White Sox starter Derek Holland was solid in his six innings, allowing only a solo home run to Francisco Lindor with three walks and six strikeouts. His toughest test came in the top of the fifth, when he issues a two-out walk to Santana to load the bases but struck out Lindor to end the frame. Holland lowered his ERA to 1.99 with his six innings of one-run ball Sunday. 

The Indians tacked on a late run when David Robertson threw a wild pitch that allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to score with two out in the ninth.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.