White Sox

Dwight Howard breaks record held by Wilt Chamberlain

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Dwight Howard breaks record held by Wilt Chamberlain

From Comcast SportsNet
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- With Dwight Howard getting fouled in record-setting fashion, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy finally just sat back in his chair and stopped barking out orders. He walked into the huddle during a timeout early in the first half Thursday night, and his assistants started bombarding him with the usual play-calling suggestions. Van Gundy could only laugh. "I'm looking at them like, We're not going to run a play. He's going to foul him,'" Van Gundy said. "What are we going to bother with diagraming a play? Make the free throw, play some defense." That about summed up this historic night. Howard broke Wilt Chamberlain's nearly 50-year-old NBA record for most free throw attempts in a game, making 21 of 39 in the Orlando Magic's 117-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors hacked Howard intentionally throughout, sending the notoriously poor shooter to the line early and often. Chamberlain, who Howard idolized growing up and used to have a photo clipping of the center in his Orlando locker, shot 34 for the Philadelphia Warriors against St. Louis on Feb. 22, 1962. Howard finished with 45 points and 23 rebounds, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 20 points to propel the Magic to their third straight victory. It also marked the first time a player had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds since Shaquille O'Neal -- another poor free throw shooter -- had 48 points and 20 rebounds against the Celtics on March 1, 2003, according to STATS LLC. "I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line. I didn't care if I missed 30," Howard said. "I was still going to go up there and shoot the next one with confidence." Monta Ellis had 30 points and 11 assists, and David Lee added 26 points and 12 rebounds for the short-handed Warriors, playing without injured starters Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright and backup center Kwame Brown. All that combined to take the Hack-a-Howard routine to a whole new level. Howard had never shot more than 24 free throws in a game -- which he had four times previously -- and fouled so early. Certainly, nothing compared to the Warriors' ways. Howard eclipsed his old mark with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter, getting hacked and held intentionally at the end of each quarter with mixed results. If nothing else, Golden State rookie coach Mark Jackson's strategy slowed down the pace and refused to let the Magic's potent shooters find their rhythm. Howard tied Chamberlain's record when Andris Biedrins fouled him -- and fouled out -- with 7:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, making 1 of 2 to give the Magic a 93-92 lead. Howard has shot just below 60 percent at the line for his career and entered the game at just 42 percent this season. "It's amazing that he made 21," Magic guard J.J. Redick joked. Golden State almost managed an upset behind the tactic. Klay Thompson put the Warriors ahead 107-106 on a 3-pointer with a little less than 3 minutes remaining, only to see Howard respond on the other end quickly. Howard floated a hook shot and then made a free throw to put the Magic back in front by two. After Ellis made a runner to even the score, Howard grabbed an offensive rebound on the next possession and finished strong at the rim while getting fouled by Lee -- who also fouled out on the play. Howard made the free throw to complete a three-point conversion. Von Wafer finally sealed Orlando's victory with a 3-point with 36.9 seconds to play that stretched the Magic's lead to six, blowing a kiss to the crowd afterward. Jackson could only shake his head. "I can understand people thinking, Why?' But don't get caught up in the free throws," Jackson said. "Think about when we didn't foul him. It was dunks, hooks, at the rim. He's a great player. And he's a bad free throw shooter. Giving ourselves the best chance possible, we tried to mess up their rhythm, take their 3-point shooters out of it, which we did. They made plays." The undersized Warriors sent double-teams and traps at Howard and frustrated the All-Star center with fouls from the start. Jeremy Tyler intentionally fouled Howard with 8.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter, a tactic some teams utilize late in games with the center's well-documented struggles at the stripe, but rarely seen so early. Howard made 1 of 2. After scoring the first nine points of the game, Golden State relied on the cushion for most of the first half. Nate Robinson's running layup pushed the Warriors ahead 44-3, relying on a surprisingly strong defensive effort. And fouls. "A suggestion from one of my assistants was that we do it to Biedrins when he was in the game," Van Gundy said, breaking into his usual sarcastic remarks. "We weren't in the penalty. That could have been fun. We could've just walked up and down for a few minutes and see who makes the first free throw. But we could've just saved everybody and said, Let's let them shoot it at the same basket.'" That might've only prolonged the game, which was 2 hours, 39 minutes. Three more times in the second quarter, Jackson called for his players to intentional hack Howard as soon as he crossed half court. Howard was 5 of 6 from the line during that stretch. Orlando closed the half with a flurry of free throws and layups, part of an 18-9 run that sliced Golden State's lead to only four at the break. Howard shot 9 for 18 from the line in the first half. "We took a chance and said that we want Dwight to beat us," Lee said. "And he beat us." NOTES: Magic G Jason Richardson left with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter with a sprained left knee, the team said. He is day to day. ... Magic F Quentin Richardson sat out with a sprained left ankle. He remained hopeful to return Monday when the Magic play at the New York Knicks. ... Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber watched the game from courtside seats.

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

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MiLB.com

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.

They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.

But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.

Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate.  At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.  

Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.

Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.

But because he treated every game like it could be his last.

“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.

This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.

“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”

Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.

Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.

“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”

The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.

“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”

So Jirschele took the job.

He was 25 years old.

Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.  

“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher.  I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”

An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.

Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.  

In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.

“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”

Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.

“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”  

While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.  

“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that.  Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number.  Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”

Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.

“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”

Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:

Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball.  His stuff is just off the charts.”

Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that.  You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”

Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm.  I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”

Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”

Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.

Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.

“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”

Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists.  Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.

“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?