The big picture: Starlin Castro meets Derek Jeter


The big picture: Starlin Castro meets Derek Jeter

KANSAS CITY In the postgame clubhouse late Tuesday night, Starlin Castro bobbed his head and danced to the rap music in front of his locker. He put on his earrings and designer jeans and did a television interview.

From the beginning, the Cubs appreciated how Castro acts like he belongs, and his swagger is hard to miss. Why would the All-Star Game be any different?

But you should have seen Castros face light up when he was asked about meeting Derek Jeter for the first time. The big smile reminded you that Castro can still seem like a little kid.

Jeter walked in from center field at Kauffman Stadium after the American League All-Star team took a team photo. Castro and his National League teammates were waiting to line up for their picture and take batting practice.

Castro recalled: He told me to keep working: Youre a very good player. Youre working hard.

This wasnt quite a changing of the guard moment at shortstop. But its worth remembering that at the age of 22 Castro is already in the class picture for best players in the world.

It happened outside Chicago, where every error can seem like a referendum on whether or not Castro can play shortstop. In trying to figure out the learning curve, remember that Jeter once committed 56 errors during his age-19 season at a Class-A affiliate in 1993.

Castro remembered that Jeter was on the disabled list when the New York Yankees came to Wrigley Field last summer. The captain also elected to skip last years All-Star Game and rest after reaching 3,000 hits.

The marketing department put Castro on billboards opposite Jeter to hype that series. Castros not nearly as calculating he comes across as more like Sure, why not? but hes talked a lot about copying Jeter.

That means going to the All-Star Game every year, staying in one city your entire career, getting 3,000 hits and winning the World Series. (It also means protecting your image by avoiding off-the-field incidents, a lesson the Cubs believe Castro has learned.)

Jeter is the face of October baseball. If the Cubs get back there anytime soon, it will be with a maturing Castro, a building block for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Maybe one, two years, Castro said. Maybe quicker. I know that Theo and Hoyer these kind of guys at the top they know how to win. They know how to prepare teams for winning games. Youve seen Theo in Boston. Everybodys waiting for that one team to win games, (get to) the playoffs, the World Series. Thats what everybody wants.

Last month Castro didnt know about a USA TODAY report putting him on the trading block which was shot down by multiple levels of the organization until a reporter mentioned it to him.

Whether its that or Bobby Valentine blasting him on ESPN last season for turning his back to home plate, Castro doesnt let it bother him. He immediately apologized to his teammates for forgetting how many outs there were last month in San Francisco.

The moments that get blown out of proportion can overshadow the internal drive Castro needed to separate himself from all the other kids in the Dominican Republic who wanted to play shortstop in the big leagues and the confidence you need to stay here.

I know what I got, Castro said.

After this season, Castro will be a Super Two player eligible for arbitration. He said that he hadnt talked much about the possibility of a long-term contract with his agent yet.

Well see what happens, Castro said. I dont know what the teams supposed to do with me. (But) Im ready to play baseball. I dont think about contract or money or nothing just play baseball and win games.

I dont want to put pressure in my mind to think about a contract or something like that. Just relax and play baseball.

Castro plans to stay in Chicago a very long time, and cant wait to find out what Wrigley Field will look and feel like if the Cubs become an elite team.

Oh my God, its gonna be awesome, he said.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona


Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

All of the good graces Bill Belichick may have won on Tuesday afternoon -- when he compared the Bears' offense to Kansas City's -- are officially gone. 

Today, when talking to reporters, a Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison came up. Belichick, who coached LT as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator in the 1980s, was NOT having it: 

"Wait a minute, we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor now. I’m not putting anybody in (LT’s) class. Put everybody down below that. With a lot of respect to a lot of good players, we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor."

A bit harsh, Bill. 

For what it's worth, here's Khalil Mack's 2018 projection, assuming his latest ankle injury doesn't make him miss time: 

20 sacks, four interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries

That's .5 sacks less and four INTS, 16 FFs and 4 recoveries more than LT had in his 1986 MVP season. And yeah, maybe "they didn't record tackles/fumbles in 1986" and "16 forced fumbles would not only blow the current record (10) out of the water but is just plain unrealistic" but whatever, we're just sayin'. 

UPDATE: shocker, LT agrees: