Blackhawks

Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field

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Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field

Chipper Jones still remembers his first time walking down the tunnel, into the dugout and seeing the wall-to-wall ivy.

Jones loves visiting Chicago and seeing the city. He felt the adrenaline at Wrigley Field during playoffs series in 1998 and 2003. He respects the history, but wont particularly miss this place.

Wherever the Atlanta Braves go this season, Jones will be asked for memories. He doesnt need the attention, but doesnt really mind the questions either. He noticed how his old manager, Bobby Cox, opened up to everyone during his farewell season in 2010.

Jones is 40 years old and hasnt been programmed by handlers to speak in clichs. Last month, during one of those retirement tour interviews, he told Yahoo! Sports that Wrigley Field was the worst hitters park in the game, and promised to be there when they blow it up.

Ive always said Id be in the front row whenever they drop the plunger, Jones said Wednesday with a smile, inside the cramped visiting clubhouse. But I said that in jest, (because) Im a .220 lifetime hitter here.

When Jones retires at seasons end, the seven-time All-Star can look back on a career that might put him in Cooperstown. A career .304 hitter didnt pad his numbers at Clark and Addison.

Ten of his 459 home runs were hit here. Jones remembered that two came in one game one off Carlos Zambrano, another off Kerry Wood on Aug. 22, 2005.

Its been tough sledding here for me, Jones said. But I think when its all said and done with, Wrigley Field is good for baseball, because its a throwback. Its the second-oldest stadium still standing. Having that tradition and that feel when you walk down the halls is something that I think players still enjoy experiencing.

As much as the Boston Red Sox influence will be felt throughout Theo Epsteins organization, The Braves Way also became a model for scouting and player development.

The Braves made Jones the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 draft, and watched it all come together, winning 11 consecutive division titles and a World Series between 1995 and 2005.

You got to have staples, Jones said. We had (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz forever. We had guys that were just as good as those three at certain times.

We had good, young core position players, (whether) it was guys like me and Andruw (Jones), or guys like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman now. You got to have cornerstones.

I like where the Cubs are headed. I like the two young kids up the middle (Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney). Theyre starting to get some power arms at the top of the rotation in (Matt) Garza and (Jeff) Samardzija. Thats a really good start.

I know theyre probably not where they want to be in the standings at this point. But I think theyre headed in the right direction.

Identifying and developing elite pitching and keeping those arms healthy will be a huge challenge on the North Side.

The bottom line is the Braves had unbelievable starting pitching for a long, long time, manager Dale Sveum said. The way they put the pieces together over the years the bottom line is starting pitching. When you have the consistency of starting pitching like they have (had across) the last 20 years, youre going to win a lot of games.

The Cubs hope to time their next wave of talent with a renovated Wrigley Field. Better facilities should help the players prepare each day, and there would be more revenues to pour into the on-field product.

The field itself has gotten a lot better, Jones said. The playing surface when I first came up was pretty brutal. (But) youd just like to see them expand the dugout, expand the clubhouse, expand the seats.

If you can put more people in here, why not? Obviously, Wrigley Field can sell out any time it wants. (But) it would greatly benefit from a facelift.

Maybe Jones appreciation for baseball history will lead him back here one day as a fan. It may not be his hitters park, but its not a bad place to grab a beer and watch a game.

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Blackhawks-Golden Knights full first-round schedule

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Blackhawks-Golden Knights full first-round schedule

The Blackhawks will open the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. CT. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Chicago, starting with Pregame Live at 9 p.m.

The Blackhawks are 1-6-2 all-time against the Golden Knights, who won two of the three matchups this season. The two teams will square off in a best-of-seven series after the Blackhawks eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in four games of the qualifying round to secure the No. 8 seed while the Golden Knights won all three round-robin games to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

Check out the full first-round schedule below, per the NHL website:

Game 1: Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 9:30 p.m. 
Game 2: Thursday, Aug. 13 at 4:30 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday, Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m.
*Game 5: Tuesday, Aug. 18: TBD 
*Game 6: Thursday, Aug. 20: TBD 
*Game 7: Saturday, Aug. 22: TBD 
*If necessary

As the lower seed, the Blackhawks are slated to be the home team for Games 3, 4 and 6. As the higher seed, the Golden Knights will be the home team for Games 1, 2, 5 and 7.

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Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”

 

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