Cubs

Fire lock up Nyarko

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Fire lock up Nyarko

The Fire, in keeping with the general policies of Major League Soccer, gave little in the way of details when it comes to players contracts. Theres no missing the significance of Thursdays re-signing of forward Patrick Nyarko, however.

Nyarko, 26, has become a Fire mainstay and the club was determined to keep him. Nyarko said the new contract covered two seasons with an option for a third.

"Hopefully itll be for a lot more than that, said Nyarko. "Its a good deal, and I like the organization. There wasnt any doubt that we would come to an agreement. It was a question of when."

"Keeping Patrick with the Fire was a big goal of ours over the last year," said head coach Frank Klopas. "With his speed and ability to change pace, hes show to be one of the most threatening attackers in MLS over the last few years and is key to our attack."

Nyarko hasnt been much of a goal-scorer in his four-plus seasons in MLS. He had four of his seven in the 2009 season, but was a much more productive player in the two seasons after that. In 2010 and 2011 he combined for a team-leading 19 assists.

Hell play in his 100th MLS match in the Fires next game, April 15 vs. Houston at Toyota Park. Over the last four seasons hes played in 90 matches, more than any other Fire player.

"I just want to help this team get back to its winning tradition," said Nyarko. "The last couple years we got away from that a little bit. Now my immediate goal is to help us get into the playoffs."

Drafted as a forward, Nyarko was a first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft after getting 31 goals and 24 assists in 57 college games for Virginia Tech. In his early years with the Fire, though, he spent most of his playing time as a winger on both sides of the field.

That changed midway through last season when Klopas paired him with striker Dominic Oduro. Both players are from Ghana, and they had instant chemistry. Their productivity spurred the Fire to a 7-2-1 finish in the last 10 games of last season, which in turn created high expectations for this campaign.

"I had talked to him only four times before he came here," said Nyarko. "I had heard of him, but we really starting talking once I came into the league. As hard-working as he is, that helped us."

Nyarkos performance down the stretch with the Fire led to his getting his first callup to Ghanas national team, and he played 45 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Chile in a Feb. 29 friendly in Chester, Pa. He hopes thats not the end to his time with his national team.

"That call was a little unexpected, but it worked out," he said. "It was a good experience, and Im hoping for more callups but that team is getting a new coach. The old one was fired, and well have to wait until a new coach settles in."

Be sure to check out highlights of Patrick Nyarko over at the official website of the Fire.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: