White Sox

Proviso West's 32-team tourney set

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Proviso West's 32-team tourney set

Joe Spagnolo always has been an innovator, a visionary and a wheeler-dealer. And the longtime director of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament outdid himself this year.
Spagnolo came up with a couple of new innovations for the 52nd annual event, which will be conducted on Dec. 22, 26-29 and 31 at Proviso West in Hillside. He has expanded the tournament from 16 to 32 teams, and the championship game will be played on New Year's Eve afternoon.
It is advertised as the largest high school holiday event in the nation conducted under one roof.
It isn't the first time a holiday tournament in the Chicago area has been concluded on New Year's Eve afternoon. Spagnolo recalls when the old All-Chicago tournament conducted its final game at that time and he thought it was a good idea to copy.
In the early 1970s, the all-city event was held at Illinois-Chicago's old gym on Roosevelt Road. In 1973, Leo and Tony Parker, father of NBA star Tony Parker, won the event. Crane dominated in the 1980s with Cory Blackwell, Ken Colliers Norman, Anthony Emanuel and Joe Daughrity.
The afternoon final had enormous appeal for high school basketball fans who could watch some of the city's best players and teams and then have plenty of time to attend New Year's Eve parties.
"I've been working on this project in the back of my mind since the summer of 2011," Spagnolo said. "I brought in logistical people to see if it would all work. It was one of the best-kept secrets until we announced it."
There were many questions to be answered. Can we install a college floor? Do we have enough electricity? How can we move people from gym to gym? Will fans accept a 32-team concept?
It will be the biggest event of its kind in the country...six days, 61 games, as many as 16 games in one day, 132 officials. And every game will be televised on High School Cube.
In scheduling the championship game on Monday afternoon, New Year's Eve, Spagnolo was influenced by the old All-Chicago tournament at UIC.
"I thought it was great, a day where people didn't do a lot of things. They could see the games and still celebrate," he said. "We're committed to not playing on Sunday. So I like how the calendar fell with the semifinals on Saturday and the finals on Monday. It was a no-brainer. We'll be the only game in town. All the other tournaments will end on Saturday night."
In addition, Proviso West will conduct games in two venues at the same time--the 3,000-seat gym and the adjacent field house. Proviso West will bring in new seating for about 1,200 people, a wooden floor, scoreboard and backboards to transform the field house from a track facility into a basketball-friendly arena.
"I think people will like the idea of coming and going back and forth all day to watch games," Spagnolo said. "We're just trying to perfect our 32-team plan. We will have more fan-friendly stuff, more contests, more marketing things and fan-fest activities in the field house. It will be a circus-like atmosphere."
The 32-team field is headed by 13 schools that have participated in the event for 10 or more years--Proviso East, Proviso West, St. Joseph, New Trier, Westinghouse, Homewood-Flossmoor, Morton, Benet, Fenwick, Glenbrook North, Hillcrest, Von Steuben and Morgan Park.
There also are 13 first-time entries--Urban Prep, Ellison, Crespi from Encino, California, Bogan, Lincoln Park, Maine South, Nazareth, Oswego, Rockford Auburn, St. Charles East, Stevenson, Thornton Fractional South and Wheaton Academy.
Other teams are Hinsdale Central, Foreman, Downers Grove South, Brooks, Dunbar and Glenbard East.
Tickets for the 2012 tournament currently are on sale. On-line sales will run through Dec. 14. Season ticket booklets, good for all 61 games, can be purchased for 75 on-line at www.pwhoops.com.
"We're going for greatness," said Spagnolo, who has been affiliated with the tournament since 1978 and has served as tournament director since 1981. "We've been working on it for a long time. It will give more teams an opportunity to play here. I got tired of saying 'no' to new teams that wanted to play here."
In expanding the event from 16 to 32 teams, Spagnolo said he didn't want to negatively affect other holiday tournaments.
"Our original plan was to get as many good programs as we could," he said. "We didn't take more than two teams from any existing tournament. A lot of emerging schools wanted to get into our holiday tournament. We had our eye on some of them."
For example, Proviso West had never invited an out-of-state school--until this year. But Crespi contacted Spagnolo. The Encino school had qualified for the Final Four in the California tournament in four of the last five years and boasts one of the most widely recruited point guards in the West, London Perrantes, who is committed to Virginia. Spagnolo jumped at the chance to add Crespi to the 32-team lineup.
Ellison is a small charter school in Chicago, the first charter school to be invited to participate in the tournament.
"I like the blend of teams. It gives us a little bit of everything," Spagnolo said. "Our goal wasn't to bring in the top 32 teams in the state, just 32 good programs that have interesting stories."
Spagnolo didn't get everything he wanted. He talked to Farragut but coach William "Wolf" Nelson doesn't like to play at Christmas. He talked to St. Rita but the Mustangs are going out-of-state at Christmas. He also lost one school, St. Patrick, which opted out of its contract to compete at Hinsdale South.
"Our mission has always been to promote high school basketball," Spagnolo said. "Our motto is: 'Proviso West is where basketball is best.' we want everyone to enjoy what we have, from paying customers to referees to participants. We think it is a special event and we want more people to get involved in it."
First-round pairings on Saturday, Dec. 22, will pit Oswego vs. Lincoln Park, New Trier vs. Nazareth, Westinghouse vs. Downers Grove South, Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Ellison, Benet vs. Urban Park, Morton vs. Dunbar, Proviso East vs. Thornton Fractional South and Rockford Auburn vs. Foreman.
First-round pairings on Wednesday, Dec. 26, will pit St. Joseph vs. Brooks, Crespi vs. Bogan, Morgan Park vs. Wheaton Academy, Proviso West vs. Fenwick, St. Charles East vs. Von Steuben, Stevenson vs. Hinsdale Central, Glenbard East vs. Glenbard North and Hillcrest vs. Maine South.

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."