White Sox

5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

744576.jpg

5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones 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 guestone of the hardest working beat writers in town who covers one of the best, if not THE best team in the NBA: the 2011-12 Chicago BullsBulls fans are hoping this guy keeps covering games for the next two months as the Bulls strive to bring the city its first NBA title since the Jordan erawhat are we waiting for, its playoff time for crying out loud!...get ready for 5 Questions withNEIL HAYES!

BIO: Neil Hayes returned to his native state in 2006 after spending 15 years covering the San Francisco Bay Area sports scene. Since being hired at the Sun-Times, he has covered Northwestern football, Notre Dame football, the Bears & Bulls, while also producing features and columns on other local and national sports stories. He is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Footballs Longest Winning Streak. His book inspired the ESPN documentary, 151: The Greatest Streak, which he also wrote. Hayes is also the co-author of The Last Putt: Two Teams, Two Dreams and a Freshman named Tiger. In 2005, he was named one of the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

The Northern Arizona University and Rochelle Township High School graduate grew up in a home where Bears Sundays were sacred. He also spent countless summer nights trying to make out shadowy White Sox players in what appeared to be a snowstorm on UHF Channel 44.

1) CSNChicago.com: Neil, with NBA Playoff time upon us once again, the thrilling prospect of another NBA championship returning to Chicago is on everyones mind, especially within the legions of die-hard Bulls fans in our city and around the globe. Optimism runs high among fans this time of year, especially with the teams solid starting line-up and very deep bench. Simple question: should we be optimistic about them winning it all this year? Your thoughts.

Hayes: After what this franchise has been through since Michael Jordan retired, youd be crazy not to. The Bulls, Heat, Spurs and Thunder are all championship contenders in my mind with the Celtics, Lakers and Pacers being potential dark horses. The Bulls are going to need some sort of advantage to get past the Heat, whether it be a Heat player being slowed by poor performance or injury or some lights-out shooting by Kyle Korver andor Rip Hamilton, but it can definitely be done. Derrick Roses health is the key, obviously, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will have to step up as well. Coach Tom Thibodeau also needs to find a way to use his bench as effectively in the postseason, when rotations are shortened, as he has during the regular season.

2) CSNChicago.com: If the stars align and both teams advance through the first two rounds as they are expected to, an Eastern Conference Finals re-match against LeBron & Co. seems very likely to occur once again. What are your top 3 on-court key elements that the Bulls need to accomplish to get past the Heat this year?

Hayes: They are going to have to match the Heats physicality. That was an issue in the regular-season finale between these two teams, when the Bulls were bullied by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Assuming Rose is healthy, they will also need Carlos Boozer to win his matchup with Chris Bosh, not only when it comes to scoring, but rebounding as well.

The Bulls ability to dominate the boards is a great equalizer, and they were out-rebounded in the last game in Miami.

Finally, they are going to need the Bench Mob to really step up and make a difference, by which I mean make some shots. It may be Taj Gibson, who can make an impact on both ends of the court, or perhaps Korver, as I mentioned earlier, or even John Lucas III hitting some timely threes. Omer Asik was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Many inside the Bulls organization believe not having Asik to defend the rim when Noah was on the bench was a huge factor in that series.

3) CSNChicago.com: As youve naturally already read, GQ recently published an interview with Bulls superstar Derrick Rose. In that interview, Rose stated hes still not used to the limelight and all the well-deserved attention he receives on a daily basis. He also discussed how Michael Jordans six titles with the Bulls drives him and makes him work even harder. In your opinion, is it even fair to put that kind of pressure on D-Rose at this early point in his career to compare him to MJ?

Hayes: I dont think anybody puts that pressure on Derrick. He puts it on himself. Hes a very driven individual and that drive is largely responsible for where he is today. It defines who he is. As far as handling fame, Derrick is one of the most unique athletes Ive ever covered. Ive never meet anybody -- inside or outside of sports -- who is as genuinely humble and sincere. Thats why the story about him going to management and asking them to trade Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol earlier this season didnt make sense to me. If you know Derrick, even a little bit, you know hes not capable of that type of manipulation. Hes just not wired that way. Hes an introvert in a very extroverted world. He will grow more accustomed how he will have to live his life, but he will never be comfortable being the center of attention anywhere other than a basketball court.

4) CSNChicago.com: As someone who has interviewed countless pro athletes in the NBA, NFL and many other sports over the years, whos been your favorite athlete to interview and why?

Hayes: Interesting question. I used to have great conversations with ex-49ers quarterback Steve Young. He was the most down-to-earth superstar Ive been around. He was one of the highest paid athletes in sports and was living in a loft he was remodeling himself. He even changed his own oil. I remember a long conversation with him about handling fame. He said, Fame is an elaborate hoax the world plays on you. He went on to say if an athlete wants to get noticed, hell wear the most expensive clothes, sunglasses and be ushered into private dining rooms with his entourage. He found the best way to go unnoticed was to put his name on the restaurant's waiting list, sit down and wait like everybody else. I thought that was a refreshing perspective.

As far as Chicago guys, Paul Konerko is everything you think he is. Hes as thoughtful and humble as it gets. his Bulls teams might be the best collection of athletes in one locker room Ive ever worked with, and that extends to general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson. What they say about hockey players is true, too. Most come from blue-collar backgrounds and are amazingly level-headed and easy to deal with. For the most part, they dont worry about spinning things. They are the most accountable group of athletes youll ever be around.

5) CSNChicago.com: Lastly, and this one is hard-hitting Neil so get ready: tell us your favorite basketball-themed movie(s) of all-time. Interviewers note: TVs The White Shadow is an acceptable answer.

Hayes: I loved "The White Shadow" as a kid. I never missed an episode. Ironically enough, Thomas Carter, who played James Hollywood Hayward during the three-year series run, is now a Hollywood director who has signed on to direct a movie based on my first book, When the Game Stands Tall. I havent yet had a chance to pick his brain about his days on the set of "The White Shadow," but I will. Im also a sucker for "Hoosiers." Its not only a great basketball movie, but one of the great sports movies of all time. Hoop Dreams was also excellent.

Hayes LINKS

Chicago Sun-Times Sports official home page

Neil Hayes on Facebook

Neil Hayes on Twitter

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

0622-avisail-garcia.jpg
USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

0622-reynaldo-lopez.jpg
USA TODAY

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

The White Sox are on a seven-game losing streak and are 25 games below .500.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the losses have piled up in a season that was always going to be about player development and advancing the rebuilding effort. Rick Hahn didn’t call this the hardest part of the rebuild for nothing.

But losing is fun for no one, and to be in the midst of such results on an everyday basis can unsurprisingly cause frustration to build.

The most verbalized display of that frustration to date came earlier this week, when at the end of a sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cleveland Indians, pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said he and his teammates “looked like clowns.”

“It’s unacceptable for us to look the way we looked today,” Lopez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, through a translator after Wednesday’s 12-0 loss in Cleveland. “Nobody is happy about the way we looked today. Honestly, we looked like clowns there, starting with me. But I know we can do better. It’s a matter of us to keep grinding, improving and working hard.”

Calling the people you work with “clowns” might cause some problems in the average workplace. But the leader of this team, manager Rick Renteria, was fine with what Lopez said and complimented him for making the comments, not a dissimilar reaction to the one he had after veteran pitcher James Shields said he didn’t care about the rebuild and wanted to win now earlier this season.

“Good for him,” Renteria said of Lopez on Friday. “I think he was just speaking what everybody was probably sensing. I think nobody was hiding it. I think the players knew it. I think we addressed it a little bit. You know, when the pitcher comes out — I mean, he took accountability for himself, that’s one of the things we were talking about, that’s a good thing.

“I think when these guys express themselves to each other and make it known that we expect certain things and we’re not doing those things and we want to get back to what we’ve always preached.

“I think they’re all accountable. They look in the mirror. They understand, I believe, that he was speaking from a place of trying to get us back to understanding that there’s a level of play that you expect, there’s a level of focus and concentration that you’re looking to have, and it’s the only way you have a chance in order to compete.

“I mean, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the game of baseball. You need to have that focus and concentration in order to give yourself a chance. He just made it known.”

As Renteria kept saying, Lopez was just as hard on himself, and he had a right to be. He allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in just 4.1 innings. Surely he’d be happy to avoid the Indians again this season: In two starts against them, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 14 hits over seven innings.

But he wasn’t alone in Wednesday’s ugliness. The offense mustered only two hits in the shutout, Yoan Moncada committed another fielding error, and the bullpen allowed seven more runs, six of them charged to Bruce Rondon.

Similar vocalizations of this team’s frustrations have come from the likes of Hahn, Renteria and Shields. But now it’s coming from one of the young players who are the reason for this organization’s bright future. Lopez has pitched as well as any White Sox pitcher this season, and he figures to be in the mix for a spot in the team’s rotation of the future.

“I think it speaks volumes for him,” Renteria said. “You can’t be scared to voice what you believe is, in your opinion, something that you’re viewing, especially (about) yourself. And then you can direct it, if you need to, to the rest of the club. And I think he did a nice job. I thought he did it very respectfully, to be honest.”

The level of talent on this roster obviously isn’t what the White Sox hope it will be in the coming years, and because of the development happening in the minor leagues, many of the big league team’s current players aren’t expected to be around when things transition from rebuilding to contending.

But the attitude and identity that made “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” a rallying cry is still expected to be on display every day. It’s hard to find that kind of thing in a 12-0 loss.

Of course these players don’t want to lose, and Lopez’s comments are a way of saying that. Hence why the manager of the supposed no-quit boys was happy to hear them.