White Sox

Cubs keep tearing it down to build it back up

782364.png

Cubs keep tearing it down to build it back up

LOS ANGELES Two weeks ago, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson dressed up as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for the Superheroes-themed road trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.

No one knows if the Cubs executives are powerful enough to actually build a World Series winner here. But theres no denying that their fingerprints are now all over the organization.

Baker certainly recognized Hoyers outfit blue polo shirt with white horizontal stripes and khaki pants when he found out he was traded to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday for two players to be named later.

The costumes got us, Baker said with a smile in a corner of the tight visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.

This followed the deadline dealing for prospects that saw Johnson and Paul Maholm shipped to the Atlanta Braves, and Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto traded to the Texas Rangers.

Once the Tigers claimed the veteran utility guy on waivers, it accelerated the process of promoting third baseman Josh Vitters and outfielder Brett Jackson from Triple-A Iowa, where Tony Campana will now play.

Theyre doing it the right way, Baker said. You kind of got to tear it down to build it back up.

Its that tough blend. Its a major market (and) it generates a lot of revenue. You just hope that the fans are going to be patient with em and some of these guys that are coming up and getting an opportunity here are going to be able to blossom.

Hoyer laughed off the costumes, which featured Johnson wearing a wig to replicate the general managers head of hair.

No ones going to do that again, Hoyer said.

But it did show how Baker and Johnson had the perfect outlook for playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. Growing up, Baker lived all around the world as the son of a former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor, and he easily moved throughout the clubhouse.

Baker and Johnson showed younger players how its done and helped build the team chemistry for a distraction-free zone. There will now be a leadership void.

Theres a reason that two contenders went out and traded for those guys, Hoyer said. Theyre both leaders. Theyre both great in the clubhouse and they both fill a really nice role on a contending team and well miss their presence in a lot of ways.

But given where we are in the standings and what were trying to do, its important to let those young guys play.

Baker was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in July 2009, or just as the cracks in the foundation were really beginning to show.

Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija are now the only players left who experienced what it was like in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games. So Baker wasnt really surprised to be saying his goodbyes.

When you see the direction theyre going here now, you knew that it was a possibility, Baker said. We made moves with Maholm, Reed, Demp and everybody. To be honest, I dont blame em. They got to go young, see what they got for the future.

At the same time, for me, I just made 21 games up in the standings, so Im definitely excited about that.

While Epstein and Hoyer are running things behind the scenes, theres no doubt who will be front and center for the next decade. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are now the faces of the franchise.

Its going to be Rizzs team, Castros team, Baker said. For those two, the leadership qualities are going to have to step up, and hopefully they can take it and run with it.

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.