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Mundelein's Borucki: Like father, like son

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Mundelein's Borucki: Like father, like son

Ray Borucki is proud of his son Ryan, who has emerged as the leading major league prospect in Illinois this spring. And he hopes the hard-throwing pitcher will enjoy all of the thrills that he experienced while he was a young and promising baseball player.

Ray was a star second basemanpitcher on Niles West's 1975 state championship team. He pitched a no-hitter to beat Springfield 13-0 in the state semifinals. It was one of 19 no-hitters in the history of the state finals. And it was the third state championship team produced by legendary Niles West coach Jim Phipps.

After the season, Borucki wasn't drafted. But he received 6,000 for signing with the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school.

"Everybody's dream is to be a professional baseball player," he said.

The Phillies assigned him to their minor league club in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was allotted 6 a day for meal money. The team took buses everywhere. He played with future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and one-time Cub center fielder Bobby Dernier.

He played in the minor leagues for five years, first for the Phillies, then for the Detroit Tigers. He never made it to the big leagues.

"But it was the greatest time of my life outside of winning the state title in high school," Ray said. "I enjoyed my teammates and the relationships. The money wasn't big. But you played because you loved it. We won two league titles. I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything."

Now Ray hopes his son will experience even more success in professional baseball. As a 6-foot-4 lefty with a 92 mph fastball, he has the kind of potential that major league scouts are looking for in a young prospect. Thirty scouts showed up at one of his recent outings. He is projected to be chosen in the first 10 rounds in the upcoming major league draft.

His father has worked an 11-to-7 midnight shift for the last 16 years so he can coach baseball, pitch batting practice to his son and attend all of his games. "It's worth every minute," Ray said.

Because his son was so small -- he was a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder as a sophomore -- Borucki never thought he would be big enough to be a pitcher. Both of them thought he would be a first baseman and a hitter. So Ray began pitching batting practice to Ryan when he was five years old.

"As much as he loves to pitch, nothing compares to the time I have thrown to him in batting practice over the years," Ray said. "He has taken more batting practice than anyone. What has been great about Ryan is he never once said he didn't feel like going to have batting practice."

Even though Ryan has grown to 6-foot-4 and become a pitching prospect, not a hitting prospect, his father continues to toss batting practice. Ryan continues to play first base when he isn't pitching. And his continues to be one of his team's leading batsmen with a .343 average. He even takes batting practice while he is sitting out with a sore elbow.

In fact, his father blames himself for his son's injury and his current 10-day layoff. Ryan came up sore while pitching a no-hitter against Cary-Grove last week. Rather than come out of the game, he stayed in to compete the no-hitter.

"I threw a no-hitter in the state semifinals in 1975 and I think part of the reason he didn't come out of the game was because he wanted to say he had pitched a no-hitter," Ray said. "So I think it is partly my fault that he has to sit out for a while."

Father and son have a great bond. They are best friends. "To watch him work this hard, to come on in the last year to achieve what he has...well, I'm really proud of him," Ray said.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.