White Sox

Marian Central's Streveler can sing and play quarterback, too

933657.png

Marian Central's Streveler can sing and play quarterback, too

Marian Central's Chris Streveler probably isn't a better singer than he is a quarterback. That's not why Minnesota offered him a scholarship. That's not why he accepted it. But if you take a trip on the team bus, you might wonder if Streveler has missed his calling.

"I'd like to think I'm a good singer," he said. "I thought about joining the school chorus this year but I didn't do it because it wouldn't work out with my schedule. I'm graduating early so I can enroll at Minnesota in January to prepare for spring football."

Ed Brucker, Marian Central's veteran coach, will never mistake the Beach Boys for Frank Sinatra. In 44 years, he never has experienced bus rides like this. He couldn't tell you what the lyrics are--if he knew, he probably would have to ban the song--but he's never had so much fun on a road trip.

"It's a fun group, the most relaxed group I can ever remember," Brucker said. "But they work at football. It's the best of both worlds. They know when to turn it on and when to have fun.

"They like singing as a team, on the bus and before the game in the locker room, at home and away. Streveler leads them. It's a certain song all the time. They did it last year, too. They always did it when I wasn't in the room. As long as it fires them up, it's all right with me. They sing songs that you and I enjoy. They go back to the 1960s, the Beach Boys, Billy Joel. Our bus rides home are amazing."

Streveler describes himself as the ringleader. The song is called "Sorry 4 the Wait," by Lil Wayne. As of Sept. 27, he passed Elvis Presley as the male with the most entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with 109 songs.

"It's a tradition. We started last year and kicked it up this year. Last year, only 10 of us sang it. But this year the seniors persuaded everybody to get involved. It's our thing this year. It fires us up. It's a fun thing to do after games.

"The main song before games is 'Sorry 4 the Wait' by Lil Wayne. It isn't exactly a clean song so we sing it when the coach isn't in the room. It's a cool thing. It brings us together as a team. We sing rap songs, Beach Boys, Billy Joel, country, hip hop, classical. No one knows Sinatra. All of us collaborate. Everyone sings pretty loud."

There are limits, however. The girls volleyball team wanted to play against the football team in an assembly. But Brucker wouldn't permit Streveler to participate. "He'd be too hyper and probably sprain an ankle," the coach said. Streveler understood. He has learned to calm down.

"I've been coaching for 44 years and I've never seen a better quarterback," Brucker said. "He impacts a game more than any kid I've ever had. I'm surprised in some ways. He was Player of the Year in our area last year but he has improved."

Streveler, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder who is committed to Minnesota, is completing over 70 percent of his passes for an unbeaten team that favored to win the Class 5A championship. He has passed for 2,351 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,155 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has been intercepted only twice. He could be to the 2012 playoff what Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac were to 2011.

He passed for 196 yards, rushed for 182 yards and scored three touchdowns in Marian Central's 42-10 victory over Wauconda in the opening round of the Class 5A playoff.

In last Saturday's 41-20 victory over Woodstock North in the second round, he completed 10 of 16 passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 15 times for 104 yards.

The Hurricane also got a big lift from running back Ephraim Lee, who rushed 16 times for 142 yards and one touchdown. In 11 games, Lee has carried 170 times for 1,298 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Marian Central will carry its 11-0 record into Saturday's quarterfinal match-up against Montini. Marian Central defeated Montini 49-24 in Week 7 but Montini has ousted Marian Central from the playoff in each of the last three years.

"His efficiency is unbelievable," Brucker said. "We run the Northwestern offense. To utilize his talent, we have designed runs and scrambles for him. This is the most efficient offense I've had. It's hard for people to stop us. We have all the ingredients to win the state title.

"Last year against Oswego, we were down by 22 with eight minutes left in the third quarter and came back to win by seven. That said the juniors don't quit.

"Against Montini this year, we were down 17-0. But there was no panic. We came back and scored 43 unanswered points. They beat us last year, the only game this group has lost on the varsity level. It showed me that we have something special."

To allow for Streveler's special skills, Brucker set aside three games to allow the youngster to call his own plays. "We just signaled in the formation and he would look at the defense and call the play and call the blocks. He likes that. It lets him feel what is going on. If he has to slow down, he does it. If he has to do it more quickly, he does it. He sees things so much better. He is in total control," the coach said.

But Streveler insists he didn't make a commitment to Minnesota too early. He attended a one-day camp at Minnesota, impressed coach Jerry Kill and quarterback coach Jim Zebrowski, was offered a scholarship and accepted it. At the time, his only other offer was from South Dakota State.

"When I heard Minnesota had offered me, I talked to my parents and thought about it," he said. "They were one of my favorite schools. I like the coaches. They don't have a quarterback committed. It's the place I wanted to be. The offense fits me, like ours. I love the people up there.

"They have the right people in place to turn the program around and put it back on track. I've got a great relationship with coach Zebrowski. The senior quarterback is graduating. They started a freshman last week. I feel I have a chance to go in and compete. My goal is to start as a true freshman. I want to get as much playing time as I can as a freshman."

Streveler will take his final exams at Marian Central and graduate on Jan. 16. He will enroll at Minnesota on Jan. 22. He'll return home in June to walk across the stage and pick up his high school diploma. His friends wonder if he has started to pack yet.

"I'm excited to get up there and get a new opportunity," he said. "But I'm still focused on my senior season. I still have some things to accomplish--three more games."

How important is it to complete a 14-0 season?

"I can't express it," he said. "I've been playing with my best friends since youth football at St. Mary's. We've grown up together. For a lot of them, it's their last game each week or their last practice. I want to be a part of it. It can be something special."

Streveler reminds that 9-0 in the regular season is one thing but 14-0 is quite another, a whole new season, something that people will talk about for years. That's why this team's motto is: 1-0 every week and get better every day.

"You don't want to be satisfied," he said. "You have to get better to be where you want to be."

Streveler and his teammates don't relate to the four Hartlieb brothers Marian Central's four state championship teams of the 1980s. But they do remember the 2006 team of Jon Budmayr, Bryan Bulaga and Sean Cwynar that lost to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the state final.

Streveler and his best friend, senior defensive end Liam Kirwan, think about it all the time. They met at the 2006 state championship game. It was their childhood dream to play on a state champion as seniors.

"We have swagger, a killer instinct, a mentality that we can do it every week," Streveler said. "We can see it on film when you watch the 2006 team. We talk to Bulaga (now a starting tackle for the Green Bay Packers) all the time. He donated equipment to our weight room. They were a loaded team that didn't get it done. That's a message for us."

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

justin.png
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?

sharpkanetoews.jpg
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?