Horse Racing

Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

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Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

From Comcast SportsNet
ATLANTA (AP) -- Flanked by his family, his former manager and a group of teammates he hates to leave behind, Chipper Jones choked up a bit and delivered the news that's been looming for years: It's time to call it a career. This time, he means it. With his 40th birthday approaching and a long string of injuries slowing him down, Jones announced Thursday he will retire after one more season as the Atlanta Braves' third baseman. "I have fulfilled everything," Jones said during a news conference at the team's spring training stadium in Kissimmee, Fla. "There's nothing left for me to do." Jones, who has spent his entire 18-year career with Atlanta, actually planned to retire after the 2010 season, only to change his mind. As he battled leg issues this spring, he openly wondered if he'd be able to make it through the season. So, he'll give it one more year with the Braves, then become a full-time dad to his three children. "I just want to make it final," Jones said. He praised the Braves organization, calling Bobby Cox "the greatest manager any of us will ever know," thanked team executives John Schuerholz and Frank Wren for building a perennial winner and fought back tears as he turned to his teammates. "I've been thinking about this and the reason I stayed around is you guys," Jones said. "I played on teams where clubhouse cohesion wasn't there. That never happened with you guys." Around baseball, Jones was praised for this long, consistent career, which included the NL MVP award in 1999, an NL batting title in 2008, seven All-Star games -- and, quite possibly, will include an induction ceremony at Cooperstown. Even fans of the rival New York Mets, who were continually battered by Jones as crowds in the Big Apple tried to rattle him by chanting his actual name ("Larry! Larry! Larry" was a familiar chant at old Shea Stadium), offered up nothing but respect. Jones already reciprocated by naming one of his children Shea. "He's a great ballplayer who has always been a Mets nemesis," said New York fan John Ring, speaking before Mets' spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I mean, he just tore them apart. He's been an asset to the game, but as Mets fans we never wanted to see him in the lineup." Mets third baseman David Wright grew up wanting to be like Jones, which didn't change after they both wound up in the big leagues. "He's been one of those guys where I always looked across and tried to take away some of the things from his game and apply it to mine," Wright said. "He's been so consistent, so good for so long and been part of a lot of great times. It's going be a little odd looking across there and not seeing Chipper in uniform, that's for sure." New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose 17-year stint with one team is surpassed only by Jones among active players, has always been impressed by the way the Atlanta player carries himself: a wad of tobacco in his jaw, a batting glove always dangling out of his back pocket when he took the field. "He just looks like a ballplayer, you know? His actions, his mannerisms, everything he does," Jeter said. "I really can't say enough good things about him. The way he's gone about his business, his consistency, how he took care of himself, what he means to the team. He could flat-out hit. He's a Hall of Famer, for sure." He should be a first-ballot selection, according to Cox, who attended the news conference with the only other manager Jones will have in his big league career, current Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez. Schuerholz, the former general manager and now team president, and Wren are the only GMs of the Jones era. Stability meant a lot to the third baseman, who never seriously considered leaving the Braves. "To have two top executives and only two managers at one table after all these years says a lot about this organization," Jones said. "There have been times when I could have gone into free agency to see if the grass is greener, but it never was." While other players came and went, Jones was always the one constant in the clubhouse. "He was the face of the franchise," said former teammate Andruw Jones, who's now with the Yankees. "You don't see it too much any more. It's hard for players to stay with one organization." No matter what happens in his final season, Chipper Jones will go down as one of the game's greatest switch-hitters, a guy who could hit for average (.304 in his career) and power (454 homers and 1,561 RBIs). Shortly after reporting for what will be his final spring training, Jones marveled that he was still with the Braves with his milestone birthday coming up in April. "Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball's chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old," Jones told The Associated Press. "But I like to think I've kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don't know for how much longer, but we're going to ride it as long as we can." That ride lasts one more season. The Braves said Jones hopes to remain with the organization in another capacity after his playing career ends, but it won't happen next year. First, he plans to spend some long-overdue time with his family. "I just want to be a full-time dad," Jones said. But he'll always stay involved in the game. While Jones has no desire to go into managing, he has indicated a desire to be hitting instructor some day. "I have such a passion for hitting," Jones said last month. "I'm kind of a one-track-mind kind of guy. I can't have my hands in a bunch jars and be delegating responsibility for a bunch of different areas. I'd much rather stay focused on just one area and be able to do that well. While I think I could manage, I really don't have the urge to manage. I'd much rather be a hitting coach than a manager." Jones, the top overall pick in the 1990 draft, was initially pegged to join the Braves' lineup four years later as a left fielder. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training, delaying his debut. What a debut it was. Back at his natural infield position in 1995, Jones finished second in the NL rookie of the year balloting and helped the Braves win their first World Series title in Atlanta. That remains his only championship, even though the Braves kept right on winning the NL East through 2005 in an unprecedented streak of 14 straight division titles. Jones was on teams that lost to the Yankees in the 1996 and '99 World Series. After the team slumped for a couple of years, Jones was joined by a new generation of players who led the Braves back to the postseason in 2010 -- the final year of Cox's long tenure as manager. Atlanta lost to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in a tightly fought division series that Jones missed, having gone down in August with the second season-ending knee injury of his career. Now, the Braves have one more chance to send Jones into retirement with a second World Series title. "He's had 18 remarkable years," Schuerholz said, "and I hope his 19th is his most remarkable." Injuries were an unfortunate hindrance to Jones' career, preventing him from reaching 500 homers. In addition to the two major knee operations, Jones had to deal with nagging ailments since 2004. This spring, he reported in top shape but his legs tightened, leading him to question whether he could even make it through the season. "There's not a day goes by that I don't take some kind of pill or injection ... to help me go out there," he said. When Jones was healthy, he was one of game's most feared hitters. His best season was 1999, when he won the MVP award with a .319 average, a career-leading 45 homers and 110 RBIs. Nine years later, at 36, he won his first batting title with a career-high .364 average, which remains the last of his 10 seasons hitting above .300. Despite his impressive power numbers, Jones always considered average to be the most important statistic. "You're never going to convince me I can't hit .300-plus," he said. "Hitting .300 -- that's my benchmark."

There's no rainouts in horse racing

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There's no rainouts in horse racing

It is playoff time here in Chicago. The hometown Cubs are back to their third consecutive NLCS. The Bears have played in gorgeous weather to open their season. The Bulls and Hawks get optimal conditions indoors. In racing, this isn’t always the case and last Saturday was one of those instances. 

After nearly two months of drought conditions in the Chicagoland area, racing at Hawthorne Race Course to close out the summer harness season was optimal. While the sprinklers were used constantly to keep the turf course green, the pond at Hawthorne had nearly dried up.

All of that came to an end last week at Hawthorne as Mother Nature was not quite as generous to open October. With the fall thoroughbred season commencing, the skies opened as well, with rain falling on numerous occasions to kick off the season. That was clearly the case last Saturday, when over five inches of rain came down during the course of the Hawthorne racing card.

In baseball, there would be a rain delay or cancellation. Youth sports teams get the day off. Outdoor attractions closed as flooding was prevalent in numerous locations. Here at Hawthorne…..we race.

At any racetrack, the equine stars are the showcase, but there are so many others necessary to put on the show. The folks brave the conditions and have to be well prepared.

Five stories above the racetrack, Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi provides the play-by-play for the racing action. With over 65,000 races called on his career, Peter has seen it all.

“I’ve called races in every weather condition possible and what we raced in Saturday was one of the tougher conditions to call in,” Galassi said. “When I announced races at Balmoral Park, fog would be my biggest concern. Fog was the worst. We had an occasion where myself, and our track stewards had to go from our location on the roof down to trackside for a race because the fog was so bad. We had to get below the fog to get a vantage point. Here at Hawthorne, dealing with the rain, especially at the rate it came down last Saturday, is very tough. Consider the windows of my announcer’s booth being the windshield of a car, but without window wipers. Streaks of water rolling down the panes of glass in your direct view. Add to that the glare of the lights off the glistening racetrack and thoroughbreds and riders covered in mud. It isn’t always the easiest, but what these athletes deal with on the track and in those conditions are far worse than what I am subjected to.”

Moving trackside, the race begins at the Hawthorne starting gate. Veteran assistant starter Bill Fultz and crew are responsible for safely loading the horses into the gate and keeping the horses calm in preparation for a fair start. While the job is complicated and dangerous on a clear day, the focus needed on a day where the weather conditions are menacing only increase.

“When the weather is tough and we are dealing with rain or snow, additional clothing and gear for our crew is needed,” Fultz said. “This is a physically demanding job as we are in the mud, working with horses, making sure they are safe, while also focusing on our safety. Fortunately we have an experienced crew that takes a lot of pride in their job and I feel it shows in the horses’ clean starts and performances.”

On horseback, the jockeys are limited in numerous aspects. On a good day, a rider has to not only worry about maintaining their weight, but also controlling a 1,000 lbs. thoroughbred, racing at 35 MPH, while balancing on a pair of two inch wide metal stirrups. In harsh weather conditions, limited additional clothing is allowed as the jockeys goggles become one of the most important pairs of equipment. Last Saturday was a good day for Hawthorne’s second all-time leading rider Chris Emigh as he won a pair of races in the monsoon.

“I figure you can either go out there and be miserable or go out there and have fun,” said the affable Emigh. “A lot of dirt and water gets thrown back at you and you just have to find a good spot in between the sprays of water and mud. Goggles are the key, a normal race I may have three pairs on, but on Saturday that amount doubles. We are controlling our mount, keeping balance, and trying to flip down to a clean pair of goggles numerous times each race. I get concerned when I come to that last pair and still have a quarter of a mile to go. When that happens, we just focus on what visibility we have and your finger becomes your window wiper.”

As all of the action takes place, cameramen positioned in towers around the track televise the action. Positioned at the finish line are Ryan Thompson and Nicole Thomas, the track photographers for Four Footed Fotos that work tirelessly to capture the Hawthorne action. When others may choose to wait until the last minute to capture to winner on the finish line, Ryan and Nicole take the weather as an opportunity to capture great images.

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.