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Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com
As I continue to awaken from my tryptophan induced haze, I find that my new-found clarity enables me to see sports, and life, in a different light. The scandal at Penn State has definitely been a burden and has prompted a lot of soul-searching. It makes me wonder about a priority system gone made. While I think I have mine in order, most times, the combination of the scandal, fighting through an illness during a holiday weekend and a fast approaching milestone birthday have wreaked havoc on my mental well-being. That being said, one must fight on and move forward, hoping that eventually what is right will be done. One good thing about getting older though, I think the filter that should exist in all of our heads, is staring to disappear! OMG!

The talk of the bar, obviously, is about the Bears. The Jay Cutler injury has put a huge damper on the Koo-Aid drinking. As far as his coming back, who knows? But the team cant get lost in waiting for him. This is a time when the defense needs to step up. Lost in the furor over the awful tight-end screen call at the end of the first half that led to an interception that completely changed the game was the fact that the defense didnt do their new QB any favors. I know that they had to defend some short fields(2), but they didnt look up to championship caliber at any time. Oakland scored on 7 of 13 possessions. The 10 play 61-yard drive to open the second half continued the lost momentum of the end of the first half and furthered the uphill nature of the game. Then in the fourth quarter, with Oaklands lead cut to 5 and needing a big stop with 7 minutes left, they instead gave up an 8-play 74-yard touchdown drive that effectively put the game away. This team is going to go as far as the defense will take it. Fortunately, their remaining schedule does them some favors. Up next is an offensively anemic Kansas City team that has scored one touchdown in their last 4 games. The defense shouldnt allow this to change even if KC decides to let a QB with a neck-beard lead the charge. Then they go to play Denver, led by Football Bieber and his college offense. Enough said. After which is Seattle at home. Can you name anyone on that team? The defense needs to win these next 3 no matter who the QB is.

As far as Hanie, I think he showed the inexperience that goes along with having attempted 14 regular season passes at the NFL level. Practice doesnt move as fast as an NFL defense on game day. Besides the ill-fated Martz brain-fart, his 2 other picks were awful throws: A ball that should have been thrown out of bounds and an over-throw trying to do too much on a 3rd and 13. He looked much better in a turnover free second half. The old adage is that you show the most improvement from your first to second game. Lets hope so. I personally think the kid will step up. I especially like the fact that he takes advantage of Johnny Knoxs speed by actually throwing to him. Knox is never going to be a guy who fights for the ball in tight spaces and he can make his QB look bad and has, A LOT, but his speed is the real-deal and is a legitimate threat on an offense that needs to exploit any advantage it has.

As one who is suffering due to the NBA lockout, at the bar and on TV, Im glad the NBA is coming back. In fact, much like the NFL benefited from the frenzy following their labor woes, the NBA might find this whole mess works to their advantage. My reasoning here is that less is more. The NBA season is waaaaaay too long. Now, we can avoid the dog-days and needless visits by Sacramento and Minnesota! (I like pounding crap teams as much as the next guy, but there are still plenty to go around: Ladies and gentleman, your 2011-12 Detroit Pistons!) It might also keep Carlos Boozer healthy which would be a huge boost. (Hide the gym bags!) The main question for the Bulls, as always, will be the 2-guard dilemma. I hate to say it but, they might be better off with the status quo as opposed to bringing in someone elses problem. Food for thought: After the leagues last labor stoppage, teams suffered(or should I say fans?) through the worst shooting percentages in 30 years and the Knicks (!) reached the Finals. Give me defense and D-Rose! More food: (And why not more?) The Mavs won last year because they had more guys that could create shots and shoot. You can only prevent so much and the Bulls inability to score was beaten over fans heads like the many bricks they shot at the rim. The Bulls need a perimeter compliment to Rose and the name everyone is talking about is Jason Richardson. He would be the 66 shooting guard weve been talking about here since you-know-who won 6 and was asked not to return. The question is going to have to be answered eventually. Is Richardson the answer? If they do sign him, he better be since they wont be able to afford anything else.

Not a day passes without me being asked about the new Cubs regime, or them having a press conference! But I, like everyone else, am fascinated with what approach they will take and what their signature move of this off-season will be. The signing of David DeJesus brings in a competent, professional hitter. Only a cynic like me would point out that last year he had the lowest OBS and struck out the most times in his career. Moneyball? What Moneyball? More pressing are the fates of Big Z (He HAS to go!) and Matt Garza. Garza was a very expensive, if you like young prospects, addition last year, but he is a very talented (near the) top-of-the-rotation starter. His departure would signal the team is hell-bent on developing their own talent and its going to take a few years for the master-plan to bear fruit. It might be a little tough to sell that to folks that have to pay for season tickets this year, but this group will be measured for what they achieve in the future, not this year. They have a honeymoon period where they cant do wrong, so they better take advantage of it to get their house in order, because we all know honeymoons dont last!! Remember the Summer of Jay? (You thought I was talking about something else?)

So Im pouring drinks at a furious pace during a busy convention week and I happen to glance up at one of the TVs in the bar to see if I can get a score from one of the various Big TenACC Challenge games on a cable network and I saw a commercial that made me stop in my tracks.(Cable TV has the best commercials ever!) And once again Ive been beaten to the punch! Ive always envisioned myself coming up with the next big thing, you know, like a Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg, but maybe not to the same intellectual level. Being a bartender, I know that you dont have to be that bright to come up with an idea that will make you a ton of cash. I would go through the history, but Im too embarrassed. Embarrassed that I didnt think of it! A pet rock? A chia pet? Zubaz? Cmon!!

Well, just when we thought we saw it all with the snuggie, we now have reached a new low with the Forever Lazy. What is that, you may ask? After being made totally uncomfortable (irony?) by the commercial, I, of course, had to check out the website! Upon entering, I was asked the question: Have you ever wondered why no one makes a good pair of onesie pajamas for adults? Well, since Im an adult, no, I have NEVER wondered that! These guys are brilliant! Since THEY wondered, theyve come up with the one-piece lie around, lounge around, full body lazy wear that covers from head to toe. Well, not exactly, since you have to buy matching footies that theyll give you for free, plus 7.95 P&H. Honestly? And theyve really thought this out, since the Forever Lazy includes zippered hatches, front and back, for great escapes! What?! But really, who has time for that? If Im in full lazy mode, Im not moving for nothing, and I mean nothing! That got me thinking, what these things need is a friend, thats right, a pal: A Stadium Pal! How can you buy one without the other? If youre going to do it, go the distance! Now, if youll excuse me, I have to go. Go call my friends at Forever Lazy. Can you say the holiday gift-pack every fan wants to see under his tree? Bartender approved!!

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

kipnis-1030.jpg
USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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