Preps Talk

Kapler, Egraphs aim to improve interaction between fans and players

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Kapler, Egraphs aim to improve interaction between fans and players

Gabe Kapler is known around Chicago for hitting the ball that produced arguably the greatest defensive play in White Sox history. But if his new business venture is successful, he could be known around the city for something else.

Kapler, who retired from baseball in 2011 after 12 seasons in the majors, is the director of business development for Egraphs, a start-up that recently launched to the public. The concept is to offer fans and players a more personal interaction than they could get elsewhere, although Kapler doesn't want to compare it to other fan-to-player moments.

"We're not trying to re-invent anything else," Kapler said. "We're trying to show fans a new way to share an experience with their favorite celebrity. An Egraph is a shared experience between a fan and celebrity that lasts forever, sort of the new generation of autographs."

Users on the site can choose to give or receive a personalized message from 17 players -- three of whom are already sold out -- including David Price, Andrew McCutchen, R.A. Dickey and White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. The entire endeavor, which costs 50, is done on an entirely digital platform, with players able to record messages on their iPads and fans able to access them on their computers, smart phones and tablets.

Youkilis did a demo Egraph for Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, for example, that features him belting out Hawk's famous catch phrase. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins did one for a newborn who's third word was "J-Roll" that Kapler said was the perfect example of what the company is trying to do.

"That's what the players like about it, they know they're having a one-on-one interaction with the fan, and the fans feel that authentic energy," Kapler, who has a business background investing in a handful of other ventures, said. "When a player has a chance to sit down in their own space and time, be creative and really give a piece of themselves to a fan, it's a priceless interaction."

Youkilis, who's close with Kapler, was happy to join the project.

"I've been a friend of Gabe's for a long time, so I jumped on board," Youkilis said. "My whole basis behind doing it was, Gabe started it and I support him, and it helps gives an enhanced interaction with the fans, so it works on all levels."

Kapler spent parts of a dozen seasons with Detroit, Texas, Colorado, Boston, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay and was happy to interact with fans along his journey. But Kapler said he felt rushed trying to connect with fans, especially when he had other things to do at the park.

During spring training, Kapler and the Egraphs team went around to major-league clubhouses to pitch players on the idea. And Kapler said he didn't have to do much convincing.

"They were extraordinarily receptive, in some cases outwardly excited and so, we knew we had a hit when we saw the eyeballs in the clubhouses light up," Kapler explained.

"This platform allows for a player to really give themselves fully to the experience because they're doing it in their own space and time rather than, at the ballpark when they might have to go to batting practice, for instance, or maybe they have too many things going on and they feel a little bit rushed," he continued. "There's still a place for those in-person interactions. This is just a quality way for a fan to really get a larger, more in-depth look at who a player is.

"As a player myself, I absolutely wished I had this when I was playing."

66 Days to Kickoff: Rich Central

66 Days to Kickoff: Rich Central

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Rich Central

Head coach: Terrell Alexander

Assistant Coaches: Quincy Woods (OC), Vince Brown (OL), Art Schuldt (ST), Les Hampton (DB), Jerrell Bibbs (DB), Steve Henley (DC), Jeff Spikner (WR), Derrick Goard (LB) William Pass (DL) Chuch Robinson (Skills), Guy Smith (RB) and Shawn Mitchell (Skills)

How they fared in 2017: 8-3 (4-1 Southland Conference). Rich Central made the Class 5A state football playoff field. The Olympians defeated Marion then lost to Dunlap in second round.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Hillcrest

Sept. 1 vs Lemont

Sept. 7 @ Kaneland

Sept. 14 vs Rich South

Sept. 21 @ Crete-Monee

Sept. 28 vs Rich East

Oct. 5 vs Kankakee

Oct. 12 vs Bloom Township

Oct. 19 vs Christ the King

[MORE: 67 Days to Kickoff: Hillcrest]

Biggest storyline: The Olympians have reached the IHSA playoffs three consecutive seasons-- the first such streak in Rich Central history. Can they stay on a winning track and make a deeper playoff run this fall?

Names to watch this season: WR/S Mehki Miller (Miami of Ohio) and RB Sean Tyler (Western Michigan)

Biggest holes to fill: The Olympians will need to replace their entire starting offensive line from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: Rich Central and head coach Terrell Alexander has brought winning and stability to the Olympians football program.  The 2018 team has some firepower back in the aforementioned Miller and Tyler; however, the development of their underclassmen group this summer will determine just how far this team will go. The ingredients look to be there for another IHSA state playoff caliber team.

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is entering an interesting season. He has just as good a chance of leading the NFL in rushing as he appears to have at losing reps to Tarik Cohen, a player some analysts feel is a better fit for coach Matt Nagy's system.

It's unfortunate that Howard isn't receiving the kind of praise a player like him deserves. He set the Bears' rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016. In 2017, he became the first running back in franchise history to start a career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Howard's production suggests he should be the feature back in Chicago's ground game. In fact, according to NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew, it's a no-brainer. He recently ranked Howard in the NFL's top-10 running backs.

7. Jordan Howard (Bears)

Even with the plethora of offensive weapons thanks to some offseason additions, the Bears' offense still must run through Howard. After rushing for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, Howard will be a key piece for first-year head coach Matt Nagy and will have to carry Chicago late in the season if the squad is going to make a playoff push.

Howard will be given every chance to prove he can thrive in Nagy's system early in the season. If he can prove reliable as a receiver, he could match Kareem Hunt's league-leading 1,327 yards last season. He'll have to be effective as a pass-catcher to keep Cohen from threatening for more touches.

Howard deserves this kind of respect for what he's done through two seasons as a pro. He may not be in the NFL's elite class just yet, but if he surpasses 1,200-plus rushing yards and threatens for 10 or more touchdowns again, it'll be an undeniable fact that Howard is a true franchise back.