Fire

Block out the noise: Starlin Castro gives credit to Aramis Ramirez

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Block out the noise: Starlin Castro gives credit to Aramis Ramirez

PHOENIX Aramis Ramirez wasnt the first guy in the clubhouse and the last to leave the ballpark. He liked to plug in his headphones and spend time on his laptop.

Ramirez has a reserved personality and isnt a natural leader, but he could make people listen, especially the Latin players. That usually got lost in all the talk about his body language, but Starlin Castro picked it up right away, a few pieces to the education of an All-Star shortstop.

As Castro recalled: He told me: If you do something wrong, the fans will say something to you. Dont worry about it. Take that out of your mind and play baseball.'

Its OK, dont worry, that happened to me a lot of times, too.

The Cubs returned to Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday, one year after Ramirez had to be separated from Carlos Silva in the dugout. Ramirez, Castro and Koyie Hill had each committed errors in a six-run first inning and it almost exploded into a fight. It became a billboard for dysfunction, but Ramirez showed some fire and stuck up for Castro.

It was an incident thats not supposed to happen, Ramirez said. (Silva said) something hes not supposed to. Nobody wants to make errors. I stood up and it wasnt pretty.

The Cubs have moved on and Ramirez is wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. Dale Sveum a former Brewers player, coach and interim manager is running the show now, trying to get Castro to attack the ball and be on alert every play.

Castro drilled his first home run this spring during a 6-1 victory over the Brewers, but says that his individual goals revolve around getting better on defense.

Hes got another year under his belt, Ramirez said. Hes young, but hes real talented and hes smart. The only downside for him last year was his focus. Thats why he made a lot of errors, but hes going to get better.

Castros got all the tools. Hes got good hands, good feet. He moves well. Hes just got to concentrate a little better and hes going to get the job done. Offensively, hes one of the best hitters right now. He got 200 hits at (age) 21, so hes only going to get better. Defensively, hes got to work a bit.

Ramirez got to the big leagues one month before his 20th birthday, and believes he knows what it takes at this level. Thats why Ramirez told Darwin Barney in 2010 to work out hard in the offseason, because he could take the job at second base. Barney had never really heard that before from anyone else in the organization.

Yes, teammates didnt always appreciate the personal considerations that Ramirez received. He had trouble staying healthy and in the lineup, but was still among the most productive third basemen in the game.

Remember that Castro committed three errors and got booed during his Wrigley Field debut in 2010 and could have wilted. The talking heads debated whether he should be moved to another position, and Bobby Valentine wouldnt let his mental lapses go during an ESPN Sunday night broadcast last season.

Castro led the league with 29 errors last year, but it was in Chicago and not Double-A Tennessee. Ramirez tried to help Castro through his first two seasons, and maybe now some of it will sink in.

If you ask him, hed be the first one to tell you, Ramirez said. Yeah, we talked a lot. Thats why I say hes smart, because he asks a lot of questions. He wants to get better. He works hard. Theres a lot of stuff that the fans or the media dont see. Hes out there taking groundballs early almost every day. Im sure its going to pay off.

Its too late to rewrite the legacy of Ramirez on the North Side, but national perceptions might change if he wins a World Series in Milwaukee. And if Castro really does mature into a franchise player, Ramirez will have to get a little bit of credit.

Its tough to see your teammate play for another team, Castro said. Thats baseball. You dont know where youre going to finish your career. Hes a good guy. I learned from him a lot.

If you did something wrong or you did something good, hed tell you.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.