Cubs

Huskies' Jacques wears pride on his sleeve

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Huskies' Jacques wears pride on his sleeve

By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com contributor

Like many Miami natives, Northern Illinois middle linebacker Victor Jacques is proud of his hometown. You can tell, because he wears his pride on his sleeve.

Scratch that, his pride is actually under that sleeve.

Jacques was so excited about NIU making the 2012 Orange Bowl that he finally went out an purchased something he had been thinking about getting for three years, a shoulder-to-elbow tattoo on his left bicep, depicting the Miami skyline, the Biscayne Bay and the Miami-Dade county logo.

And shining down on this indelible city, in lieu of the sun on this partly cloudy and perhaps partly-hairy sky is an Orange Bowl logo.

It was a bit an impulse purchase Jacques was inked three weeks ago, after the announcement was made that the Huskies would be playing in his hometown. The redshirt senior had been debating whether to get a tattoo of Miami for years, and the Orange Bowl berth was the perfect milestone to commemorate.

The tattoo is ornately designed, what with the a giant marlin jumping out of the water and the Rickenbacker Causeway and the Orange Bowl logo, one error could have turned South Beach into South Dakota.

But this wasn't Jacques' first go-around. In fact, the tattoo was Jacques' third, all done at Spider Tattooz outside of DeKalb, in Sycamore, Illinois.

"It wasn't hard to find someone to get the logo right, but I had to get the money right. It's not cheap." Jacques joked. "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do it definitely had to do with Miami but it all came together. The Orange Bowl just topped it off. It was the icing on the cake."

Or the ink on the arm.

It took four hours for Spider, the parlor's proprietor, to finish Jacques' tattoo and more three weeks before it fully healed.

Jacques didn't make an annoucement when the bandages came off upon landing in South Florida. Some teammates noticed the new art underneath the cuff Jacques' No. 40 jersey. Others didn't even know he got a new tattoo. NIU coach Rod Carey didn't notice the tattoo until overhearing Jacques being interviewed for this article.

The Columbus High School graduate's hometown pride is clearly displayed, but that pride didn't swell until he left Miami to go to DeKalb. Jacques spurned offers to both stay in Miami and in Florida, instead opting to venture north and go to NIU, and he maintains it's the best decision he's ever made.

The differences are stark "there's not many cornfields down here," Jacques quipped but those differences made him value both where he came from and where he is now.

So when those places intersected on Dec. 2, Jacques was overwhelmed.

"I was smiling from ear to ear," Jacques said. "It was hard to control. It was damn-near almost emotional at times... It's a dream. Growing up here in Miami, watching the Orange Bowl, it's always been the dream. Now that I'm able to play in it, it's something that really sits well.. The emotions are still going. Coming here, it's picking right back up."

That energy has been endearing to the Huskies. NIU defensive coordinator Jay Neimann knows what kind of player Jacques is, he calls him a bell-cow middle linebacker in that case, he's likely the first cow to go from Miami to Dekalb but he's also the force that creates the bonds of chemistry on the NIU defense.

"He's just a real treat," Neimann added.

That affable personality might have backfired on Jacques though. Now that he is back, he's being hit up by friends and family for tickets to the game. All-in-all Jacques is hunting for upwards of 100 tickets for the New Year's Day affair. He'd buy them secondary market tickets are going for less than 10 on some websites but after dishing out for the tattoo, cash is a bit tight.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.