Cubs

Super Bowl security tighter than ever?

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Super Bowl security tighter than ever?

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- From pickpockets and prostitutes to dirty bombs and exploding manhole covers, authorities are bracing for whatever threat the first Super Bowl in downtown Indianapolis might bring. Some -- nuclear terrorism, for instance -- are likely to remain just hypothetical. But others, like thieves and wayward manhole covers, are all too real. Though Indianapolis has ample experience hosting large sporting events -- the Indianapolis 500 attracts more than 200,000 fans each year, and the NCAA's men's Final Four basketball tournament has been held here six times since 1980-- the city's first Super Bowl poses some unique challenges. Unlike the Final Four, which is compressed into a weekend, the Super Bowl offers crowd, travel and other logistical challenges over 10 days leading up to the Feb. 5 game. And unlike the 500, where events are largely concentrated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about seven miles from Lucas Oil Stadium, the NFL's showcase event will consume 44 blocks -- about a mile square -- in the heart of the city, closing off streets and forcing an anticipated 150,000 or more NFL fans to jockey with downtown workers for space much of the week. "This is clearly bigger in terms of the amount of people who will be downtown over an extended period of time," city Public Safety Director Frank Straub said. Under a security risk rating system used by the federal government, the Super Bowl ranks just below national security events involving the president and the Secret Service, said Indianapolis Chief of Homeland Security Gary Coons. The ratings are based on factors including international attention, media coverage, the number of people the event attracts and visits by celebrities and foreign dignitaries, he said. The Indianapolis 500 ranks two levels below the Super Bowl. The city has invested millions of dollars and worked with local, state and federal agencies to try to keep all those people safe. Up to 1,000 city police officers will be in the stadium and on the street, carrying smartphones and other electronic hand-held devices that will enable them to feed photos and video to a new state-of-the-art operations center on the city's east side or to cruisers driven by officers providing backup, Straub said. Hundreds of officers from other agencies, including the state police and the FBI, will be scanning the crowd for signs of pickpocketing, prostitution or other trouble. One concern has been a series of explosions in Indianapolis Power & Light's underground network of utility cables. A dozen underground explosions have occurred since 2005, sending manhole covers flying. Eight explosions have occurred since 2010. The latest, on Nov. 19, turned a manhole cover into a projectile that heavily damaged a parked car and raised concerns about the safety of Super Bowl visitors walking on streets and soaring above the Super Bowl village on four zip lines installed for the festivities. Since December, IPL has spent about 180,000 to install 150 new locking manhole covers, primarily in the Super Bowl village and other areas expected to see high pre-game traffic. IPL officials say the new Swiveloc manhole covers can be locked for security reasons during the Super Bowl. In case of an explosion, the covers lift a couple of inches off the ground -- enough to vent gas out without feeding in oxygen to make an explosion bigger -- before falling back into place. An Atlanta consultant hired by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission last summer to audit IPL's underground network of cables for a cause of the explosions says the new covers are merely a Band-Aid. "We've argued it's better to prevent," said Dan O'Neill of O'Neill Management Consulting, which filed its report in December. O'Neill's team couldn't pinpoint an exact cause for the explosions but said a flawed inspection process contributed, noting that IPL workers missed warning signs such as road salt corroding an old cable or leaks in nearby steam pipes. In a report filed Jan. 19 with Indiana utility regulators, the power company said it had overhauled its inspection process. IPL will dispatch extra crews to the area around the stadium in case of power-related problems, such as a recent breaker fire that left 10,000 customers in homes south of downtown without power. Spokeswoman Crystal Livers-Powers said the company doesn't anticipate any power issues. Straub, the public safety director, said he's confident the city is prepared and notes that Indianapolis hosts major events "pretty regularly." Special teams from the Department of Energy will sweep Lucas Oil Stadium and the surrounding area for nuclear terror threats, and a new 18 million high-tech communications center that opened in time for the lead-up to the game will tie it all together. "We're using more technology, and state of the art technology, than has been used in any Super Bowl before this one," Straub said.

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

MESA, Ariz. — Ben Zobrist has long been known for his versatility on the field. But it might take a new kind of versatility to get through what’s facing him for the 2018 season, being versatile when it comes to simply being on the field.

Zobrist was among several notable Cubs hitters who had a rough go of things at the plate in the follow-up campaign to 2016’s World Series run. He dealt with injuries, including a particularly bothersome one to his wrist, and finished with a career-worst .232/.318/.375 slash line.

And so, with younger guys like Javy Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. forcing their way into Joe Maddon’s lineup, it’s a perfectly valid question to ask: Has the 36-year-old Zobrist — just 15 months removed from being named the World Series MVP — been relegated to part-time status for this championship-contending club?

Obviously that remains to be seen. Joe Maddon has a way of mixing and matching players so often that it makes it seem like this team has at least 12 different “starting” position players. But Zobrist, ever the picture of versatility, seems ready for whatever is coming his way.

“I’m prepared for that, if that’s what it comes to. I told him, whatever they need me to do,” Zobrist said Sunday, asked if he’d be OK with being in a platoon situation. “You’ll see me at some different positions. As far as at-bats, though, I’ve got to be healthy. That was the biggest thing last year that kept me from getting at-bats and being productive. So if I can be healthy, I think I can play the way that I’m capable of, and the discussion then at that point will be, ‘How much can you play before we push you too far?’

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times. But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the National League and the way Joe Maddon manages.”

It’s no secret, of course, that when Zobrist is on, he’s the kind of player you want in the lineup as much as possible. It was just two seasons ago that he posted a .386 on-base percentage, banged out 31 doubles, smacked 18 home runs and was a starter for the team that won the World Series.

But he also admitted that last year’s injury fights were extremely tough: “Last year was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had as a player.” Zobrist said that while he’s feeling good and ready to go in 2018, with his recent physical ailments and his advancing age, he’s in a different stage in his career.

“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever. I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130,” he said. “And I think that would be a good thing to shoot for, if I was healthy, is playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about postseason, too, when you add the games on top of that, and well, you need to play for the team in the postseason, you’ve got to be ready for that, too.

“From my standpoint, from their standpoint, it’s about managing, managing my performance and my physical body and making sure I can do all that at the highest level, keep it at the highest level I can.”

Maddon’s managerial style means that Zobrist, even if he’s not technically a part of the everyday starting eight, will still get the opportunity to hit on a regular basis, get a chance to play on a regular basis. Baez figures to be locked in as the team’s No. 1 second baseman, but he’ll need days off. Maddon mentioned Sunday that Zobrist, along with Happ, have been practicing at first base in an effort to be able to spell Anthony Rizzo. It’s the crowded outfield where Zobrist could potentially see the most time. He’ll be a piece of that tricky daily puzzle along with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and the aforementioned Almora and Happ.

Unsurprisingly, in the end that versatility, combined with how Zobrist has recovered physically and whether he can get back to how he’s produced in the past, will determine how much he will play, according to the guy writing out the lineups.

“I think he’s going to dictate that to us based on how he feels,” Maddon said. “Listen, you’re always better off when Ben Zobrist is in your lineup. He’s a little bit older than he had been, obviously, like we all are. I’ve got to be mindful of that, but he’s in great shape. Let’s just see what it looks like. Go out there and play, and we’ll try to figure it out as the season begins to unwind because who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn back the clock a little bit, he looks that good. I want to keep an open mind.

“I want to make sure that he understands we’re going to need him to play a variety of different positions. He’s ready to do it, he’s eager, he’s really ready. He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it and now he’s really been refreshed. So I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist right now.”

Two years ago, Zobrist played a big enough role to go to the All-Star Game and get named the MVP of the World Series. In the present, that role might be much, much smaller. But Zobrist said he’s OK with anything, admitting it’s about the number of rings on the fingers and not the number of days in the starting lineup.

“I’m 36 as a player, so I’m just trying to win championships at this point. It’s not really about what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual,” Zobrist said. “Everybody wants to have great seasons, but I’ve told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ Just going to prepare to fill the spots that need to be filled and be a great complement to what’s going on.”

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.