Bears

Cubs waiting for their Fenway plan, or a Miami game-changer

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Cubs waiting for their Fenway plan, or a Miami game-changer

MIAMI Theo Epstein who wasnt initially invited to take part in Fenway Parks 100th anniversary ceremony on Friday took the high road and released a statement after the snub:

I hope tomorrow is a great day for Red Sox fans and for the whole organization. I have plans to be at the Cubs game tomorrow, but I will take a moment to toast Fenway along with everyone else who loves that ballpark.

As general manager, Epstein witnessed the golden age on Yawkey Way. The Red Sox won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, and began a streak of sellouts thats about to hit 700 games in their remodeled ballpark.

It wasnt long before that when people were talking about tearing down Fenway Park and building a new waterfront stadium. The Cubs are still waiting for their game-changer.

Taking in all the eye candy around Marlins Park, you wondered what a renovated Wrigley Field would mean for the Cubs. Chairman Tom Ricketts and the teams high-level business executives were curious enough on Wednesday to tour the stadium.

It effects our on-field product, Epstein said Thursday. In a renovated Wrigley, wed put our players in a better position to succeed because they can prepare better.

They can take care of their bodies better with a modern clubhouse, a modern training room. A modern BP tunnel, a modern video room just helps the players prepare like they need to.

Usually, a renovated ballpark leads to more revenues that we can pour back into the major-league team.

The Marlins knew they had to make a splash when they moved into their new ballpark in Little Havana.

Ozzie Guillen took his talents to South Beach, and if he said something off-the-cuff about Fidel Castro, well, thats the cost of doing business.

The Marlins made a run at Albert Pujols during the winter meetings last December, a big name that could be put up in lights with the same wattage as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.

In a shopping spree that stunned the industry, the Marlins wound up committing almost 200 million to Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

If you play this out at Clark and Addison, you can envision a five-year plan where Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson are all in their prime. The Cubs Way is producing players. The team is rolling in new money from Wrigley 2.0 and the changing landscape for local television deals.

It will be harder to justify a middle-of-the-pack payroll, which is where USA Today had the Cubs in its 2012 salary survey (even if the accounting isnt exact and there were reasons for scaling back). Last winter, Pujols and Prince Fielder were the right players at the wrong time, but this is where forces could collide for the megadeal.

Rahm Emanuel caught the Cubs off-guard just before Opening Day, when the mayor announced negotiations were in the final stages.

The Sun-Times has reported on Emanuels Fenway Plan, where public and private financing could fuel the renovation, which could lead to more advertising, a possible Jumbotron and street fairs on Sheffield and Waveland.

We dont know when its all going to be finalized and finished, manager Dale Sveum said. Were still two, three, four years away from major things being done. But it means a lot when you get a new clubhouse and just batting cages.

The more money you crank out, the more resources you have, obviously, for free agency or whatever it might be in the draft. It means a lot to the organization when youre trying to get somewhere and all that stuff comes together. Its huge.

The Cubs wont have the blank canvas the Marlins got on the site of the old Orange Bowl. Not when a Toyota sign or an Under Armour logo on the outfield doors generates neighborhood controversy.

If Wrigley Field is a cathedral, then what does that make Marlins Park?

The retractable-roof stadium looks like a spaceship. Girls in bikinis hang out in the pool behind the left-field wall. Techno beats pump from the Clevelander, trying to recreate a South Beach nightclub.

The walls are colored lime green, and the players wear bright orange jerseys. In between innings, cheerleaders dance on the field and a mascot fires a gun that shoots T-shirts into the crowd.

Theres definitely a lot of Miami in here, said Cubs pitcher Chris Volstad, a former Marlins first-round pick who grew up in South Florida.

There will be a lot of Chicago in how this deal is cut. You can argue about the politics, but theres no denying that it should make this a destination for free agents, and take the team to another level.

Its not just about that, Epstein said. Its also potentially a win for the fans, being more comfortable, and a win for the surrounding areas, continuing to keep Wrigley as a prime tourist attraction. So it could be a win-win-win. But it certainly has a chance to impact the on-field product in a positive way.

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”