Blackhawks

My Kind of Town!

My Kind of Town!

Friday, November 6th

Its often tough to figure the art of being a fan. I could talk for days, and have, about its origins and meanings. Since I, and I would assume you, are way past that, well save that conversation for later. But, as always though, my fan issues are never far away. Take this last week, for me it was consumed by 2 things: The World Series and meeting Sandra Bullock on a press junket for the movie The Blind Side. One of these things left me with a smile and the other with heartbreak. Im sure you dont need to read any further to guess which was which, or do you?

For various reasons we all find ourselves being fans of certain celebrities. Accomplishments would hopefully be the main reason, but there are so many other variables on why one would be a fan of another person. As far as Sandra Bullock, I wouldnt say that I was a huge fan per say, but she always had something about her. As a guy, I first noticed that shes pretty easy on the eyes. What a great start! After that, the thing for me is that she appears to be cool, someone who gets it. Meaning shes the kind of girl you would meet at a bar watching a game, and she would be watching the game, not looking around the room to see whos looking at her.

As I read up on her before our meeting, much of her history would suggest this to be true. One thing Ive learned though is, as much as I study up on people, I need to go into our meeting with a clear mind and let nature take its course, so I tried not to be too expectant but I had a feeling that this might be fun. (Another thing that I knew was that I didnt want to discuss was her recent movie history, since after Speed, I didnt know a whole lot afterwards because shes had a propensity for making chick flicks. Of course I was FORCED to watch some of them, but my strategy in those situations is to transfer myself into a vegetative state with a smile on my face so as to show my enjoyment of the experience. The whole time Im hoping not to get caught with the blankness in my eyes that indicates without a doubt that Im not watching the TV, but instead going through the mental rolodex trying to figure out my favorite Three Stooges episode. Sure it was a good movie, honey. Im the evil spirit that guards the Rootin Tootin diamond!)

As I waited to enter the room where her interviews were being conducted, I was struck by the fact that everyone who was leaving the room did so with a smile and a glow. Once it was my turn to enter, it was easy to figure out why. Her openness and warmth was easily apparent, even during an interminable string of interviews which any mortal would find mind-numbing. (Especially mine Im sure!) Our conversation, stemming from a forced situation, was natural and easy. Wow! She is the girl next door. We started talking upon my entering the room and kept going past the work part, during which I never got the sense that she wasnt enjoying herself. Shes one of those people that have a natural ability to connect. She would have been a great bartender! (In fact, shes worked in and currently owns a restaurant. No surprise.) I left thinking shes cooler than I thought. I would recommend anyone to see the movie because of that alone. (Of course to get my official recommendation, and to see some of our conversation, youll have to watch my review on SportsNite on 1119 @ 10:30pm.)

So, as you might guess, Im now a big fan of Sandra Bullock. And thats the easy part of my fandom double-header. The other part wasnt as much fun, but no less enlightening. The World Series presented the interesting, to me anyway, combination of love and hate: My Philadelphia Phillies against the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. Its hard to explain to someone from the Midwest about the feelings that the fans of other cities in the Northeast have towards ANY team from New York. Theyre the bully, the mean kid on the block, not to mention always tough to beat. From a lifetime going against them, victory, especially on an ultimate stage is elusive, to the point of knowing its probably not going to happen. And that was my mind-set going into this. Having won the title last year definitely took away some of the angst: Cant win every year, or appear to be greedy, but beating the Yanks and going back-to-back would be especially sweet.

As the Series got under way, something very Midwestern occurred. Ive often told folks from back east at the bar, that living here is great, that this is the biggest small-city in the world: Mayberry on steroids, the melting-pot of the Midwest. The constant here is that everyone is so nice. I experience it and hear about it from out-of-towners at the bar every day. There is something about the people here that even if you think differently, or root differently, thats o.k., youre allowed. I know Sox-Cubs can get bad, but after its over, its over. Sometimes a little friction isnt bad, besides theyre all unified in their love for the Bears. And from my experience, everyone here has at least one crazy relative that roots for the wrong side, teaching them tolerance of others that dont think right at an early age! So as Im about to root for the team of my youth, on the biggest stage, against THE team of professional sports, I was given constant encouragement by so many of my friends here. Texts, e-mails, phone calls, visits to the bar, you would have thought that I was actually playing. I know this probably happens to others elsewhere, but for me, it just reinforced my opinion of my adopted hometown. The people here are as sports-crazed as anywhere in the world and are no strangers to pain because of it. But in the end, its a game that youre rooting for, if it doesnt work out today, it will tomorrow. Its not the end of the world. If someone elses team is still playing, wish them well. So as many of my Cub brethren were still suffering with another untimely demise, they still found the time to offer me support on the fate of my team.

Unfortunately, it wasnt the fate that Id hoped. It still was a great ride though and the bitterness that Ive felt in the past after tough losses isnt there. (Well, lets sayas much!) Maybe, its because of increased perspective and maturity as I advance in my years. (I hope you found that last line as funny as I did!) No, its because Im tempered with the knowledge that life is more than what your team accomplishes and the people here teach me that every day. In fact, as I did my errands and went different places on Thursday, no one here seemed to care about the World Series result at all. In fact, it was just another beautiful fall day. Thank you Chicago! I needed that.

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.