Preps Talk

5 Questions with...Billy Dec

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5 Questions with...Billy Dec

CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guest ... one of the nations premier and most popular dining and entertainment entrepreneurs -- however, our guest this week is more than that ... he's become a city leader for his 24/7 philanthropic work helping those in need around the world ... plus, his venues around the city continue to attract the biggest names in both sports and entertainment a Chicago native who continues to give our city a good name, here are 5 Questions with ... BILLY DEC!

BIO: Billy Dec is an Emmy Award Winning Entertainment TV Host and CEO ... Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, Chicago's premier restaurant and entertainment development company, specializing in the creation, marketing and management of some of the city's top venues including Rockit Bar and Grill, Rockit Wrigley, The Underground and most recently his New Asian restaurant Sunda.

Dec's educational background includes the University of Illinois where he majored in EconomicsPre-Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law & the Harvard Business School. He has received numerous awards including Operator of the Year from the Nightclub & Bar Conference, Excellence in Business Award from the State of Illinois, the Asian American Hall of Fame Award, The Byrne Piven Community Service Award and the Cook County States Attorneys Asian Pacific American Community Leadership Award and Chicago-Kent College of Law Alumni Professional Achievement Award.

Dec is also actively involved in various committees and boards for non-profit organizations in Chicago, including: American Cancer Society; Make-A-Wish Foundation; After School Matters; the formerly held Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, where he served as Director of Cultural Relations; and Lookingglass Theatre Company. Billy also enjoys participating annually in Mayor Daleys Chicago Public Schools Principal for a Day.

Dec writes his own blog on www.BillyDec.com about Chicago and its culturally rich entertainment landscape, where his contact info, press pages and upcoming events calendar are also posted, along with his much talked about www.twitter.combillydec & www.facebook.combillydec.

1) CSNChicago.com: Billy, thanks for taking time out of your always-hectic schedule to spend a few minutes answering the 5 Questions we have for you today. Lets get right to it ... your success story is off-the-charts impressive as you have grown your brand to levels that other business entrepreneurs can only dream about. Outside of your own personal drive and vision, what would you say has been the single most important element to the overall success of your business ventures?

Dec: Finding great partners, managers, employees...who share the same passion, ethics, drive, commitment, vision ... has really been the key for our successful growth thus far. Granted, that has taken a lot of personal drive to figure out, work for & develop, but our team is the most important part of our success. Not me, trends, location, celebrity, pricing, design, recipes or any one person or one thing out there. And by the way, for those that think that is a B.S. easy answer that I'm just throwing out there to be politically warm fuzzy & swell, try building a well-working team of 500 primarily young aggressive adults in one of the most cut- throat, high-pressured industries with the highest expectations from consumers in the middle of the worst recession we have ever seen.

2) CSNChicago.com: Youve received countless honors for both your business and philanthropic efforts, including recognition from President Obama. Some truly amazing accomplishments in your not even decade-old career. However, there's one accomplishment in particular that is very intriguing to us and thats your Emmy-winning documentary, Journey to Sunda. Tell us what prompted you to take that voyage to Asia and specifically how it influenced you to open up one of Chicago's most popular new eateries, Sunda.

Dec: We knew we wanted to open a unique Asian concept before the travel. In fact, all the travel through Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore was strategically planned to insure we were able to discover new things that didn't really exist in Chicago yet, so that it would be unique in food, presentation, culture, philosophy, design & more. As we have always prided ourselves on being innovators & filling voids in the entertainment & hospitality scene in what we think is the greatest city in the world Chicago, the video just naturally evolved out of our love for entertaining and telling the story.

I first compiled my travel pics into a book, then responded to requests for a copy of my book by making and gifting a thousand of them to friends and customers, then responded to even more requests to see the story of our discovery through word of mouth. So I compiled it all into a mini travel doc that I posted to the internet called "Journey to Sunda! It was a hit, it filled a void, it was innovative and a great story. Tomorrow morning, I actually leave for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand... as the Journey never ends. Follow that story on my Twitter & Facebook as I love sharing in real time now!

3) CSNChicago.com: As we all well know, Chicago is no doubt one of the worlds premier and diverse cultural gems. In your opinion, what makes Chicago and its citizens unique when compared to, lets say, New York or LA for example?

Dec: When I was Director of Cultural Relations for the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, I asked 50 celebrity friends a very similar question on camera and aired one a day each day leading up to the official decision in Copenhagen (all on www.aChicagoThing.com ... a must see ...they are so good)! I agree with them when most shared how Chicagoans were a very unique & desirable mix of personable, reasonable, hardworking, honest, diverse, sports loving, food savvy, proud, sophisticated, hospitable, cosmopolitan, grounded... people from all different backgrounds who just love their community.

4) CSNChicago.com: In addition to everything else you have going on, you have been featured lately as an actor in several movies and TV series. Is this a new direction you see yourself focusing on even more in the years to come or is it more of a side hobby for you?

Dec: Part of me wants to say acting is a hobby because I kind of just picked it up & I love it. The other part of me says its still business as we always look to entertain in new ways at Rockit Ranch, which acting ultimately is, and I love what I do here no matter what it is!

I really haven't thought about it enough, I guess? I mean, its such an amazing experience to be on a huge set like "Entourage" or "Nightmare on Elm Street"...or a small stage pretending to be someone else. I will say, having hosted TV shows NBC & Metromix in the past, it has given me a lot of confidence in getting in front of the camera to entertain in whatever capacity. So I guess we'll just have to see. Here is my reel if want to see some of my past stuff!

5) CSNChicago.com: For any young entrepreneurs out there aspiring to be a Billy Dec one day, what would you consider to be the three most important steps in becoming a success in business -- and life for that matter?

Dec: Hmmmm...here is a link to some lessons my dad taught me before he passed away. Maybe this will help.

BONUS QUESTION! CSNChicago.com: This will definitely be an easy one. Are there any upcoming Rockit Ranch Production events or charitable functions you can share with CSNChicago.com readers? Tell us, we want to hear about them!

Dec: We allllllwaaaaays have stuff going on! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook to be the first to hear the invites announced and to be connected to all of the goodness as it happens!

Dec LINKS:

Billy Dec Official Website

Rockit Ranch Productions Official Website

Rockit Bar and Grill

The Underground

Sunda New Asian

Billy Dec on Facebook

Billy Dec on Twitter

42 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard East

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NBC Sports Chicago

42 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard East

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Glenbard East

Head coach: John Walters 

Assistant coaches: Bob Stone (OC), Tony Bartolotta (OL), Joe Cristina (WR), Brian Fetterolf (RB), Steve Kuchefski (OL), Tiff Hamilton (DL), Jim Walker (DL), Maurice Mason (OLB), Jeff Cherry (DC) and Dennis Lueck (DB)

How they fared in 2018: 10-1 (9-0 Upstate 8 Conference). Glenbard East made the Class 7A IHSA state football playoff field and defeated Prospect. In the second round, they lost to East St. Louis.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Elgin

Sept. 6 vs Bartlett

Sept. 13 @ West Chicago

Sept. 20 @ Fenton

Sept. 27 vs South Elgin

Oct. 4 vs East Aurora

Oct. 11 @ Streamwood

Oct. 18 vs Glenbard South

Oct. 25 vs Larkin

Biggest storyline: Last season was one of the most successful seasons in Glenbard East football history. Can the Rams keep the momentum going this fall?

Names to watch this season: S Jason Torrevillas (Sr.) and WR Deon Cook (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Rams will need to replace 16 graduated starters from last year's roster.

EDGY's Early Take: Glenbard East made the state playoffs in 2018 for just the second time in school history. The Rams will need to reload quite a bit on both sides of the football, yet Walters’ football program has never been in better shape— both from an overall excitement level and community involvement. The 2019 schedule also gives the Rams better than a fighting chance to make a potential state playoff bid this season. 

Mike Montgomery is going where the Cubs couldn't take him in Kansas City

Mike Montgomery is going where the Cubs couldn't take him in Kansas City

Tonight, former Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery makes his debut with his new team, the Kansas City Royals. The Royals are 24.5 games out of first place, even after they won seven out of their last 10. The Cubs are riding a nice stretch in the second half and expect nothing short of a division title and a championship.

So, why would Montgomery want to leave Chicago and go to a team that is going nowhere?

Because he believes his career can go somewhere the Cubs weren’t taking him.

After throwing the golden pitch that clinched the World Series for the Cubs in 2016, he has filled many roles for the team. He starts, he relieves, he closes, he sets up, he is situational, he waits, he pitches hurt, he does what the team needs to be done to help. And for two years, he appeared in 44 and 38 games respectively, with 14 and 19 starts in those years. 

For his entire minor league career, he was a starter and when he broke in, he also started for a while in Seattle. Then in 2016, he went to the pen. But he never lost the confidence that he could be a consistent starter in a major league rotation. 

Montgomery just turned 30 years old, a new father, and there is nothing like age and family to provide clarity about how short and temporary a career can be, especially for a pitcher. 

He got hurt this year, and probably wondered if being endlessly available contributed to his health issues. It takes a toll to always be ready, especially as you get older. Predictability can be comforting, helpful at times to gaining a rhythm, and a way to take care of your body knowing you have some recovery time built in. 

At 30, the window starts to close slowly but inevitably. His time to establish himself as a starter is yesterday and because he has struggled in a utility role in 2019, he is going the wrong way for his career. He is now getting a label as a lefty that can’t get lefties out, but is not a starter either. The pigeonholing has begun.

He has to fight it, quickly and he can with this bold move. Asking out.

Not from the Cubs, but from how the Cubs are using him in 2019. He has decided that he can’t afford to sit back for the glory of oneness and hope they will take care of him on the other side. By this time in his career, he knows how expendable players are in the grand scheme. That the phone will not ring one day, you will become a memory, and even being a great memory can’t stop you from being inevitably sent home.

He knows that it is not a fair exchange to sacrifice health, opportunity and long-term security to be an insurance policy that may never get claimed. Being in that role is casting a shadow over getting handed the ball every fifth day with a chance to eat up innings and waltz into longer term security for his career and his family. It starts to not add up, especially when you already have a ring in your trophy case.

In 2003, I was traded to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers on July 30th. After recovering from an injury, I hit .389 with a .528 slugging, and a .925 OPS in July. I was on absolute fire. At 32 years old, the turnaround was happening, my one-year free agent contract was about to grow into something more if I got my 200+ at bats in the second half. 

While I was rolling along, the Rangers were 44-63 on July 30th, going nowhere, but I was going somewhere up. So I thought. 

The phone rang and the general manager of the Rangers, John Hart called to let me know he had traded me to the Cubs. Poof. Just like that. By the time I got to the locker room to get my stuff and say good bye to my Rangers’ teammates, my boxes were packed, my jerseys were gone. Poof.

Sure, the Cubs were in the race, but they were around .500 when I arrived. They had signed a bunch of veteran players whose starting days were behind them. In my case, Kenny Lofton was the guy in centerfield, which turned me into a bench player from an everyday centerfielder instantly. Not because I wasn’t doing the job in Texas, but because the Cubs needed me to do a lesser job. Lofton played almost every day and in the second half of that season, after the trade, I got 51 at bats. In 28 games. 

Not a great way to find another job after the season. But I had bought in, Dusty Baker communicated well to me and since I had never been in the playoffs, I kept my mouth shut and followed. 

We would go all the way to Game 7 to the NLCS and despite the ending, it was an exhilarating experience. Once in a lifetime. Truly special, but along the ride, no one could guarantee me any of that. Just as easily, the Cubs could have collapsed and I would have been on the bench for a team on the road to rebuilding. And they wouldn’t do it with a 33-year-old veteran centerfielder with a bad hamstring.

I did get my magic hit in the NLCS after sitting on the bench for weeks and when the season ended, Dusty Baker called me personally to express that he wanted me back. I was hoping the silver lining was that some free agent team would see that I could be a clutch performer when it counted. I was happy to get his call, but when all was said and done, he did not have the power to grant me that wish. The phone never rang from Chicago again and I ended up making the Phillies squad in 2004, barely hanging on to my career. 

At 33, I was now a caddy to Marlon Byrd and other young outfielders for the entire season. 162 at bats in 87 games. My career was dead in the water, my coaching career seemed to be growing in front of my eyes, against my will.

Of course, I thought about how I could have played better, I could have made a different decision in free agency and stayed in Philly or signed with Tampa. Those were options, but I bet on myself to go to Texas and regain starter status and after I came back from injury, I did just that. But my age was creeping up and the Rangers had little incentive to keep an aging singles hitter on a team that was fighting for last place. 

Two years after that trade, the phone stopped ringing and by the time it did ring after the Yankees released me, I had taken it off of the hook anyway. I saw the game passing me by. I wanted to start a family. It still stung to see a couple of players get rewarded with multi-year deals who I later learned were in the Mitchell Report for being associated with PEDs, one of which I helped get back to health while I was in Texas. 

So it is a tough question to ask yourself. Would you take the slim chance of winning a World Series as a bench player knowing your career may be shortened 2-3 years? Or would you seek an opportunity to keep playing every day or frequently with a chance to extend your career and have more time to find a way to be on a contender later? 

We only get one career, one shot at it. The greater glory matters, the ring is king and I will always long for the ring I never obtained. But I also learned about what can happen after you are that hired gun, or after you stay silent and accept the role the team thinks is best for them when it starts to run counter to what you believe you can do. It can sound selfish, true, but a player watches how other players are treated, not just how they are personally treated. I played with Ryan Howard when he first came up with the Phillies and years later, covering him with ESPN, he came over and said “Now, I know how you felt in 2004 at the end of your career.” Long memories.

Once a season ends where you were marginalized (even when it is because you played poorly), your career may not recover. So with the Cubs trading Montgomery, they were looking out for him in a way, something they did not have to do, and it is a funny game, he could be back one day.

Only time will tell, but as Montgomery expressed. “It’s bittersweet.” 

Bitter because he wanted to stay and have it all. Be on a contender and be a starter. That was no longer an option. 

Sweet because it was a great chapter in his career, he won, and now he can focus on being the pitcher he believes he can be, not what a team needs him to be. 

In baseball, there is nothing like proving someone wrong …

Or proving yourself right.