Cubs

Frankie O: Moment of truth

Frankie O: Moment of truth

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Death is always shocking, even if its expected and especially when it is not. The hope is that we all can live a long and fruitful existence and be able to look back over many decades as we reflect on the impact that our lives have had. Eight or nine would be nice. Im not too greedy. But, unfortunately, thats not how it always happens. Pick up a paper or watch the TV news any day of the week to realize that.

Upon turning on my TV on Wednesday, I learned of the apparent suicide of former NFL great Junior Seau. Sadly, another athletic hero is gone way too soon. The first question in this case is always the same: Why? For most of us, the thought of choosing not to live is against every instinct that drives us to be who we are. The thing that makes me especially sad is to wonder about what must be going on in a persons mind to get to the conclusion that death is the way out.

I say this as someone who has lost a loved one in a similar way. As I struggled to come to grips with the reality that I was forced to deal with, what I came to understand was that I did not understand. Depression and its effects are as devastating as any illness that we have to deal with. The problem is that unlike a broken bone or cancerous growth, its existence is not always as obvious. Sadly, many times before something can be done, a lethal chain of events has been set in motion.

I dont know anything about Seau personally, but I do remember last year when he accidentally drove of a 30-foot cliff after an argument with his girlfriend. His excuse for that was that he fell asleep. I always thought that as odd since arguments with girlfriends usually made me not be able to sleep. (Not that Ive had many!) I know Im probably jumping to a conclusion, but that is how this works. We always look backward to find clues to make sense of whats happened. This is hard to figure out even if youre close to someone. Although, in a lot of cases, those close know something is different, they just dont know how to react. This was a position I was in. Just because you know something is broke doesnt mean you know how to fix it.

For a sports fan now, we are becoming very aware of the consequences being paid by those whove entertained us for so long. The discussion has to be held about the price being paid by those who play and have played.

The issue of concussions in sports is growing out of control, or should I say, the repercussions from concussions is. Safety issues have been a major topic of discussion by those who run the NFL and NHL, the most physical of the sports we watch. So much so that even casual fans know about the problem, or at least, the sensationalized incidences that have prompted the attention.

Athletes seem to be taking their own lives at an alarming rate. Seaus death has rekindled the public debate that had died down a little since last summer when former Bear Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest and three current and former NHL tough guys left us within 4 months of each other.

That introduced us to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. (CTE) CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subject to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which may appear within months of the trauma or decades later.

Reports of CTE have steadily increased in younger athletes, most likely due to the fact that athletes are getting bigger and stronger producing a greater magnitude of force in collisions.

In 2008 The Boston University School of Medicine along with the Sports Legacy Institute worked together to form the Center of the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. They have documented over 70 cases of CTE. Included in this are 15 out of 16 former NFL players and 4 out of 6 from the NHL. (This included the late Bob Probert.) That is a staggering percentage. But unfortunately, the disease can only be diagnosed at this time with a post mortem biopsy.

Which is another way of saying: too late.

I remember as a kid playing football that at an early age I was taught to tackle by spearing. Looking back, Im lucky to still be walking. As you got older, it was almost shameful to be hurt, especially with an injury that no one could see. I can only imagine the pressure put on a pro athlete to get back in there.

But as a young kid, we dont know any better, then, we spend a large part of our early adulthood feeling invincible. It takes a while for us to truly comprehend what it is we are doing. I guess that what being old is for: To yell, Stop! Youre going to hurt yourself! And since Im old, I guess thats what Im doing here.

The conflict is that I love my sports. But should it be a conflict at all? I have no problem with the fact that life happens. We are not going to be able to control everything. But the NFL and NHL have a problem and it needs to be dealt with soon.

In NASCAR, it took the death of Dale Earnhardt to realize that they could make their sport safer, that it wasnt worth dying for. Now they have better driver restraint systems( the Hans device), soft-walls and the Car-of-Tomorrow. Radical, costly steps. But they seem to be working, since there have been no fatalities on the top circuit since Earnhardts.

In the NFL, Roger Goodell has started to crack down on player safety, and crack down hard. Personally, Im not sure about his motivation, since there is a major class-action lawsuit started by former players last summer (and adding more players daily, over 1500 at this point) claiming that the NFL was negligent in telling the players about the dangers of concussions. I think this already has presented itself as a game change. Ask James Harrison or the New Orleans Saints what they think.

But NFL football is always going to have inherent risks and there are years of macho thought processes to deal with, I wont even get into the blood-lust of the fandom.
Remember also, we live in a time where Major League Baseball players wont wear a helmet that will better protect themselves against 100 mph fastballs whizzing by their ears because the helmets arent, ahem, cool. You can only do so much.

Where this is going to come down eventually is on the parents of young athletes. They are the ones that can fight to make to make things safer. But here also, is a problem, since we cant seem to get our act together with aluminum baseball bats in youth baseball and softball.

I still hold out hope.

It all starts with a discussion, which hopefully starts a movement. Or its going to take something to get our attention in an over-the top way like Earnhardts death did.

But again, in this case of dealing with concussions and there aftermath, we are dealing with something that is hard for people to quantify, especially when it sometimes takes years to manifest.

All I know is that when I heard the news I was sad. And I thought it had something to do with the 20 years of professional football collisions that he had endured. I thought of this because I remembered Dave Duerson. Maybe they are related, maybe not, but both left us way too soon and I still cant help feeling there was something that someone could have done to prevent it. And speaking as someone who knows, their families arent going to ever get over that any time soon.

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

10-18_yu_darvish_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”