Chicago Cubs

Was this the final Pro Bowl?

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Was this the final Pro Bowl?

From Comcast SportsNetHONOLULU (AP) -- A handful of shenanigans and plenty of points -- yet still another ho-hum Pro Bowl.Whether the NFL's all-star game will return next season is a something the league will ponder the next few months after the NFC's 62-35 blowout of the AFC on Sunday."It's been an unbelievable week," Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson said, "And the thing was, if you watched us, everybody was competing today and it was really awesome."Wilson at least got the crowd pumped up in the second half with some nifty scrambles and three passing touchdowns. There was also Houston's sack-happy defensive end J.J. Watt going out for a couple of passes as a wide receiver, and retiring Green Bay center Jeff Saturday snapping to two Mannings on opposite teams.But while the NFC appeared unstoppable on offense, with nearly each player putting up fantasy-worthy lines in limited play, the AFC had five turnovers and scored most of its points well after the game was no longer competitive.Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph was voted the game's MVP with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown."Guys were competing, guys wanted to win and guys want to keep the game here," Rudolph insisted. "That was the point before the game. We want to keep this game rolling for future Pro Bowlers."Watt, who had 20 12 sacks for Houston, lined up as a wide receiver on the AFC's third play from scrimmage, but missed a pass from Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. He was targeted one more time, but didn't make a catch.He later showed a television camera a bloody left pinkie, joking with NBC broadcasters that it was proof that the players were trying."Hey, Commish, we're playing hard," Watt said as he showed his finger.Roger Goodell has said the Pro Bowl won't be played again if play didn't improve this year. Last year, fans in Hawaii booed as lineman were clearly not trying. On one play in that game, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen did a barrel roll to switch positions with a teammate.If players were coasting this time around, it was less obvious. The AFC just played poorly. And fans didn't boo much -- the stands were relatively empty even though the game sold enough tickets to lift a local television blackout.The game was trending on Twitter in the United States early on, but quickly gave way to the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the WWE Royal Rumble.Saturday, retiring at the end of this season, played for both teams, though he came representing the NFC. He lined up on one play for the AFC to snap the ball one last time to Manning, his longtime former Colts teammate.Saturday said it meant a lot to him that the Broncos quarterback, whom Saturday called a true friend, orchestrated the stunt."He's got a little more pull than I got," Saturday said. "He got it all set up and timed up for me, so it was really nice of him to do that."Saturday played 13 seasons in Indianapolis, all with Manning -- except 2011, when Manning was out with a neck injury. Saturday then played later in the game for the NFC, snapping to Peyton's brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning.Saturday's last play on the field was a passing touchdown by Eli Manning.Peyton Manning said it was nice for the NFL to allow the play to happen."It's something that I'll always remember," he said, "that he'll always remember to kind of get that one, final snap together after the thousands that we've taken together."Even as the NFC piled up touchdowns, the game struggled for memorable moments after Saturday's momentary switch.In the second quarter, referee Ed Hochuli drew cheers when announcing a pass interference penalty on Denver cornerback Champ Bailey in the second quarter -- the first flag of the game."Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl," Hochuli said, drawing laughs and loud cheers.Giants wideout Victor Cruz broke a Pro Bowl record with 10 catches. Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson had 91 yards and two touchdowns. Eli Manning threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns.Cincinnati's A.J. Green had three TD catches for the AFC.NFL officials said earlier in the week that the league wants to decide the future of the Pro Bowl by the time next season's schedule is released in April."We understood exactly what (Goodell) wanted, guys were making plays all over the field," Cruz said. "There was a little bit more high intensity than in years past and we were excited to play."

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”