White Sox

Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

Frankie O's NBA guilty pleasure

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

As anyone who knows me can tell you, or even someone who unwittingly comes into my proximity, the sports affliction I possess is pretty serious. At front and center of this is rooting for my teams, those that I grew up following with a passion being raised in the Philadelphia area: The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed by their travails and exploits. Some might even call the enthusiasm I have for my teams a borderline mental disorder. I dont know about that, but, at this point, what can I do?

Even moving over 700 miles away hasnt dampened my fervor. That this would puzzle some people puzzles me even more. Among the top-5 questions that I get asked at the bar is about which of the cities teams that I root for: Philadelphia or Chicago? I often viewed this query as being ignorant to what being a fan is all about. You dance with who brung ya. Obviously, switching allegiances to any flavor of the monthduring my lifetime could have saved me years of heartache. We all know Yankees or Dallas Cowboys fans that have never set foot in either city. But Im too far in at this point. A parallel might be: for better or for worse. Why must my teams torture me? WHY?!! Ive come to the realization that this is the VERY reason that they were put on this earth: To mess with my mental well-being at every opportunity. (Wow! That is quite a parallel!)

I know some of you are saying, But, Frankie O, you had the Phillies of 08. And Ill reply: Do the math! Since 1983 4 teams per year, 1 freaking title! ONE. 1 out of 116. Whatever!

The thing that probably drives me most crazy is the spectacular way in which my teams choose to lose. There are no easy ways out when you can make your failure one for the ages. I need only mention The football Dream Team, the 2011 baseball Cardinals or a humongously crazy Russian goalie. And thats all in just the last year!

As you notice, I only referenced three teams. Thats because almost since I moved here 17 years ago, the Sixers, already regulated to 4 status, were gradually losing my interest. Now remember Im talking Frankie O interest, (Whenever you can go 3rd person, DO IT!) so compared to someone normal, I still spent way too much time on them. But even during the run to the NBA Finals in 2001, the team did not conjure the passion in me the way the other 3 teams did. Call it the Iverson effect. Talented player, but he seemed to me to represent what I didnt like about the NBA. Not that it was just him, the Jerry Stackhouse-Derrick Coleman didnt help things either, but the selfishness of their basketball was hard to watch. My nickname for Iverson was 9 for 27 since that was his shooting line every night. Im not kidding, look it up!

Anyway, in retrospect, what has now happened now should make sense. My memories of Doctor J, Mo Cheeks or Bobby Jones will never be tarnished or go away. But to sound my age, basketball was better then. Old school! This all would contribute to make me what they would call vulnerable. It wasis my weakest link.

Now the Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises in the NBA and renowned around the world. Thank you Michael Jordan! I moved here just at the end of his hiatus in 1995. Watching the Bulls and living here during the Second Three, was very cool. But as Ive written before, there was a disconnect for me, since I wasnt from here. I didnt feel that I had earned the right to be a Bulls fan and hopping on the bandwagon while they were winning titles was in bad form. I did however share the anger when they were disbanded way too early for all of our enjoyment. Any NBA fan should have felt that way.

That led to the Dark Ages for basketball in this town: Six straight years of missing the playoffs. 119-341. Ouch! Yet all during that time I watched. Of course when you spend most of your nights in a bar you cant help yourself, but still, watching those teams night after night takes some sort of devotion. (Or sickness, which is right up my alley!)

Then Scott Skiles took over as coach and along with an infusion of talent, thats when the team began to be fun to watch. Now mind you, this wasnt top-of-the-mountain talent, but they seemed to get the most out of it and this appealed to me. Theres something about scrappy teams.

Each of these teams met an early demise, but again, this is the NBA, where superior talent always wins and the Bulls still didnt have that. Scrappy teams get a wink for pluck and then have a nice summer.

Then, in a lottery winning moment, the Bulls hit the lottery-literally and Derrick Rose became a Bull, a home-grown talent as good as any player in the league. Bring in a coach as focused as Rose is talented and for the Bulls it was: game on!

During my time here, there are these little games within the game that occur when a team from Philly plays a team from Chicago. This I have written ad nauseam and I do mean nauseam! But every time, it was never in doubt for whom I was rooting. This has led to many uncomfortable moments, on both sides, but only when my team lost! Rest assured, I will have to live with the memory of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and not be at all happy. But no grudges and no worries, its not like that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Close, but not quite.

Imagine the surprise of Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren when he sat at the bar on the eve of the Flyers-Hawks game here a year later and Frankie O (3-ball!) let it all out. That was very cool. Cooler yet was the fact that Holmgren seemed to encourage me to get it all out. Love that guy!

Its a torment that I will have to carry by myself, (Along with a select 3 others that are in my same boat.) and since thats the way it is I will just have to deal until my pain is eased, some year. (Not that any of the teams seem to be in much hurry!)

Which brings me to a crossroad, and a confession.

When it became apparent, that the Bulls and Sixers were going to meet in the playoffs this year, I had a decision to make. I was asked a bunch about it but not as much by those who knew me well, Im sure they just assumed what the answer would be. Those who did ask, and did know me, just kind of gave me blank looks. Awkward!!

They must have been thinking: Who is this imposter? This cant be Frankie O! (There should be a drinking game where every time I type Frankie O, you have to drink when you read it! Twice in 2 sentences! Boo-Ya!)

Well, it is. Ive come out of the closet. The Bulls have been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. Like I said, what I have is a sickness! Even rooting for a team where I live is not something I take lightly or without guilt. Im a Philly fan for crying out loud! How could this have happened? But the Sixers and I have been growing apart for a while now, might as well face facts. I was ripe for the picking.

This series has forced me to be honest about my dishonesty, because, in a way, thats how I feel. Still I cant deny the feelings that I have for the Bulls. They are the type of team that I want to root for. They play hard. They show up every night. And most importantly, they havent broken my heart year after year! They are something shiny and new.

It was hardest to tell my kids, but I think they understand. It will be confusing for them for a while, but well get through it. In fact, my son even watched Game Six with me in his Bulls tee shirt.

Young minds, they heal fast!

It is here that we get to the series and the kick in the stomach that it was for Bulls fans, like me, in fact, especially me. I cant help feeling that Ive watched this before, say for the last 28 years!

This wasnt supposed to happen! I cant help but feel a little responsible. Is this because of me? Is this the curse of Frankie O? (Chug-a-lug!)

Have I now brought a lifetime of suffering to new, unsuspecting masses?

If so, my bad, I couldnt help myself. The allure of the Bulls was too big, too fast and too strong. Im only a man, and a weak one at that.

So bear with me as we move forward. What doesnt kill us only makes us stronger, at least thats what people I know have been telling me forever.

But there was a certain familiarity as I watched the Bulls season blow-up right in front of my face. Ive been experiencing this for as long as I can remember. If only the Bulls....

I guess the grass really isnt greener. Its just grass 730 miles west, same as it ever was.

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?