Cubs

Rowan knows how Humber feels - almost

744680.png

Rowan knows how Humber feels - almost

Philip Humber is one of only 21 pitchers in the history of major league baseball to record a perfect game.Geoff Rowan is the19th pitcherin the history of the state high school baseball tournament to register a no-hitter, the only one since 1997.But Humber is a pitcher by trade. Rowan is a catcher. When Neuqua Valley's junior right-hander threw a no-hit, seven-inning gem to beat Washington 11-0 in the semifinals of the Class AA tournament in 2007, he was a pitcher by circumstance.One of his team's best hitters, Rowan started in left field because the catcher was a senior. He also pitched in a five-man rotation, accounting for about 45 innings. He didn't see much duty on the mound until midway in the season. When the state series began, however, he was the No. 2 starter. He threw an 83 miles-per-hour fastball but his cutter was very effective."In high school, it was the first time I ever played outfield. I looked at myself as a catcher first, then a pitcher. As a sophomore, I would catch and then close. As a junior, I would pitch every fourth or fifth game and start in the outfield," Rowan said.So he was coach Robin Renner's choice to start against Washington in the state semifinals. He allowed only one base-runner, on second baseman Anthony Amadei's error. The game lasted only one hour and five minutes. Amadei and shortstop Rob Elliot made one good play after another. Elliot saved the no-hitter by cutting off a sharp grounder up the middle and throwing out the runner."I remember it was a quick game. We made a lot of plays. Defensively, we were on a whole other level," Rowan said. "And I was very quick on the mound. I didn't take time between pitches. I'd just get the ball (from the catcher), get the signal and throw it. No wasted energy."Sure, I was aware I was pitching a no-hitter. I was in a zone. You try not to think about it. But I'd rather know. It's an entirely different feeling. If you give up a hit in the first inning, it's over. But in the sixth inning, your arm feels good, you're throwing the ball exactly where you want to, you're confident no one will get a hit. You trust your fielders that they can make plays."Afterward, Rowan felt excitement and relief. He was excited that his team was going to the state final for the first time in school history. And he was relieved because the game was over and the no-hitter was in the book. He never came close to a no-hitter again.Rowan played a key role in Neuqua Valley's ride to the state championship in 2007 and to third place in the 2008 state tournament. He was an All-Chicago Area catcher as a senior and earned a scholarship to play baseball at Northwestern. He also played on a Chicago Sparks summer team that finished second in the 2008 World Wood Bat Classic.As a senior, Rowan also started in the state semifinals. But he lost 4-1 to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge. "A walk, an error on a double play ball and a couple of hits and I was back behind the plate in the fifth inning," he said."He was one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," said Renner, now in his 14th year at the Naperville school. "He willed himself to succeed. His preparation throughout the season, whether pitching or playing the outfield, was amazing. He was a great competitor."As a senior, we called him Bugs Bunny because he played all positions...pitcher, catcher, third base, outfield. In some games, he'd pitch, then catch after five innings. He also was one of our best hitters. He is one of the finest young men I have ever met, very unique, very mature for his age."Today, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is a senior at Northwestern. The starting catcher, he is hitting .350 with five doubles and has thrown out 30 of 48 base-runners or 65 percent, a statistic that would be the envy of any major league catcher.He is hoping that he will be selected in the major league draft on June 4-6. He has heard from at least two teams. "It's been my dream to play major league baseball since I was 5 years old. I would like to take (baseball) as far as I can," he said.If not, Rowan is well prepared for life after baseball. "Northwestern was the place for me. I'm majoring in political science. I want to get involved in politics. In 10 years, I'd like to be a lawyer. I've applied to some law schools. I want to get an MBA, then be a litigator or practice business law or maybe be a lobbyist in Congress," he said.Until he has to make a choice, or his choice is made for him, Rowan will continue to play the game he loves. And play the position he loves."I love catching. If it's up to me, I'd catch every single day," he said. "You have control of the game. Of course, you have to make the pitchers believe they run everything. But the catcher is in control of the game. I'm involved in every play."But for one glorious day in 2007, as a high school pitcher with an 83 mph fastball, he felt like Sandy Koufax.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

1020_albert_almora.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below:

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

1020_hawks_yotes.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.