Philip Humber is one of only 21 pitchers in the history of major league baseball to record a perfect game.Geoff Rowan is the19th pitcherin the history of the state high school baseball tournament to register a no-hitter, the only one since 1997.But Humber is a pitcher by trade. Rowan is a catcher. When Neuqua Valley's junior right-hander threw a no-hit, seven-inning gem to beat Washington 11-0 in the semifinals of the Class AA tournament in 2007, he was a pitcher by circumstance.One of his team's best hitters, Rowan started in left field because the catcher was a senior. He also pitched in a five-man rotation, accounting for about 45 innings. He didn't see much duty on the mound until midway in the season. When the state series began, however, he was the No. 2 starter. He threw an 83 miles-per-hour fastball but his cutter was very effective."In high school, it was the first time I ever played outfield. I looked at myself as a catcher first, then a pitcher. As a sophomore, I would catch and then close. As a junior, I would pitch every fourth or fifth game and start in the outfield," Rowan said.So he was coach Robin Renner's choice to start against Washington in the state semifinals. He allowed only one base-runner, on second baseman Anthony Amadei's error. The game lasted only one hour and five minutes. Amadei and shortstop Rob Elliot made one good play after another. Elliot saved the no-hitter by cutting off a sharp grounder up the middle and throwing out the runner."I remember it was a quick game. We made a lot of plays. Defensively, we were on a whole other level," Rowan said. "And I was very quick on the mound. I didn't take time between pitches. I'd just get the ball (from the catcher), get the signal and throw it. No wasted energy."Sure, I was aware I was pitching a no-hitter. I was in a zone. You try not to think about it. But I'd rather know. It's an entirely different feeling. If you give up a hit in the first inning, it's over. But in the sixth inning, your arm feels good, you're throwing the ball exactly where you want to, you're confident no one will get a hit. You trust your fielders that they can make plays."Afterward, Rowan felt excitement and relief. He was excited that his team was going to the state final for the first time in school history. And he was relieved because the game was over and the no-hitter was in the book. He never came close to a no-hitter again.Rowan played a key role in Neuqua Valley's ride to the state championship in 2007 and to third place in the 2008 state tournament. He was an All-Chicago Area catcher as a senior and earned a scholarship to play baseball at Northwestern. He also played on a Chicago Sparks summer team that finished second in the 2008 World Wood Bat Classic.As a senior, Rowan also started in the state semifinals. But he lost 4-1 to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge. "A walk, an error on a double play ball and a couple of hits and I was back behind the plate in the fifth inning," he said."He was one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," said Renner, now in his 14th year at the Naperville school. "He willed himself to succeed. His preparation throughout the season, whether pitching or playing the outfield, was amazing. He was a great competitor."As a senior, we called him Bugs Bunny because he played all positions...pitcher, catcher, third base, outfield. In some games, he'd pitch, then catch after five innings. He also was one of our best hitters. He is one of the finest young men I have ever met, very unique, very mature for his age."Today, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is a senior at Northwestern. The starting catcher, he is hitting .350 with five doubles and has thrown out 30 of 48 base-runners or 65 percent, a statistic that would be the envy of any major league catcher.He is hoping that he will be selected in the major league draft on June 4-6. He has heard from at least two teams. "It's been my dream to play major league baseball since I was 5 years old. I would like to take (baseball) as far as I can," he said.If not, Rowan is well prepared for life after baseball. "Northwestern was the place for me. I'm majoring in political science. I want to get involved in politics. In 10 years, I'd like to be a lawyer. I've applied to some law schools. I want to get an MBA, then be a litigator or practice business law or maybe be a lobbyist in Congress," he said.Until he has to make a choice, or his choice is made for him, Rowan will continue to play the game he loves. And play the position he loves."I love catching. If it's up to me, I'd catch every single day," he said. "You have control of the game. Of course, you have to make the pitchers believe they run everything. But the catcher is in control of the game. I'm involved in every play."But for one glorious day in 2007, as a high school pitcher with an 83 mph fastball, he felt like Sandy Koufax.
As Kris Bryant stood at his locker before Wednesday night's game, a reporter asked him how the Cubs have been able to get by recently without their "best players" — referencing the injuries to Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez.
The reporter quickly clarified and said, "SOME of your best players," but Bryant didn't even bat an eye and he certainly didn't appear to take any offense to the accidental slight.
In fact, he agreed and also referred to Rizzo and Baez the Cubs' "best players" throughout the interview.
It was just a small, innocuous interaction, but it is a window into how Bryant views himself.
He's obviously confident (no player can make it to the big leagues without self-confidence), but he's also his harshest critic and a perfectionist.
There's a strong argument to be made that Bryant is the Cubs' single most important player even when everybody is healthy — he is the only guy in that locker room who has ever won an MVP award — but now that Rizzo and Baez are likely done for the regular season, all eyes are on Bryant.
If the Cubs are going to get where they want to go, they're going to need an MVP-level performance from Bryant. And he'll have to deliver that while battling through right knee inflammation that has hampered him for the last two months.
Bryant received a cortisone shot in that knee last week in San Diego and returned to the lineup with such force that he was named National League Player of the Week. He also surpassed Ernie Banks for the most homer by a Cubs player (137) in his first five years with the team.
He wasn't willing to credit the shot as a magic cure, but he admitted it played a factor in his turnaround at the plate.
"When you speak up and say something's not right and then you — I wouldn't say fix it — but make it feel a lot better, that's very satisfying," Bryant said. "Sometimes people are scared to say stuff or speak up because you think you're gonna look a certain way or you're not gonna look tough. But at the end of the day, you gotta do what's best for the team and at that point, I was hurting the team by not saying anything. I'm glad I did."
Bryant said he still feels like he has a lot to learn in that regard — finding the balance between trying to tough out injuries and speaking up to get some time off or other treatment to address the issue. Even after dealing with last year's shoulder injury and this year's knee issue, he still doesn't know exactly how to walk that fine line.
Part of that is because he has such high expectations for himself.
He's so tough on himself that earlier this month, Joe Maddon resorted to emailing Bryant some notes and included his career WAR, highlighting how impactful he's been as a player in his five years with the Cubs.
"He can be his own worst critic," Maddon said. "This guy really sets high standards for himself and so does everybody else around him — almost to the point that the standards are unsustainable or unreachable."
The Cubs skipper called Bryant an "underrated" player and feels the 27-year-old with a .904 career OPS still has another level of production he can achieve as he continues to learn how to give himself a break.
Over the weekend, Bryant was discussing his career to date and said he felt it was filled with good and bad but probably more bad days than good.
The guy who trails only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts in WAR since the start of the 2015 season believes his career has been filled with more bad days than good?
"Think where he came from: He was supposed to be this guy since he was 12," Maddon said. "So he's been dealing with these kinds of thoughts for a long time. And any time he has a bad moment, it becomes overamplified, there's no question about it.
"...I appreciate that, the fact that he is self-critical in a sense. But he's also gotta give himself a break. Cut yourself some slack, brother. There's 29 other teams that would love to have him."
Bryant agrees that he's his own harshest critic. So any time a fan expresses frustration after he strikes out or complains when he doesn't come through in the clutch, what they're saying holds no weight compared to what he's already telling himself inside his own head.
He appreciates the way Maddon and his Cubs teammates and coaches have had his back and provided him with positive reinforcement over the years, especially when he's slumping or just having a tough day.
But he also doesn't anticipate a world in which he is not his own harshest critic.
In fact, Bryant and those around him feel he's actually gotten HARDER on himself over these last few years, even though he's already accomplished so much personally and for his team (including etching his name in history books forever by playing a central role in the 2016 World Series championship).
Bryant is still learning how to forgive himself and not beat himself up too much. Even after hitting two homers in the Cubs' rout of the Pirates Sunday, he spent more time thinking about how he struck out in his final at-bat of the game.
"It's a game of failure," Bryant said. "I need to think that way so that it brings the best out of me so that I'm never satisfied or complacent with anything I do on the field, 'cause I don't ever want to feel that. And it's tough because I'm so hard on myself, but that's just who I am.
"I'm still working on that. It's really hard to get to that point because I think it's just natural for us to be negative sometimes. There's so much negativity in baseball. You're failing so much. But I truly think in sports, the strongest and most mentally tough people are baseball players because you really have to do it for 162-plus games a year — just constantly succeeding and then getting beat up for four straight at-bats, then succeeding, then doing it again, then making an error in the field or making a nice play. Just so much going on, but I wouldn't trade that for the world."
The Chicago Bears are entering Week 3's Monday night game against the Washington Redskins with a defense that, to no one's surprise, is ranked among the NFL's elite once again.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano hasn't missed a beat in 2019. The Bears are ranked fourth in total yards allowed per game and are sixth against the run. They've been getting to the quarterback, too, ranking sixth in total sacks through two games.
So, yeah, the Redskins offense has their work cut out for them. Washington's starting QB Case Keenum knows how good the Bears defense is, but remains confident.
"Well they do a lot of stuff well, they’re ranked pretty high in a lot of categories," Keenum said of Chicago's defense Wednesday. "Up-front, obviously, with the guy they got last year in that trade, it makes them, it brings them to a whole other level, up-front I think we got our work cut out for us.
"They’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of experience on the back end, some guys who’ve played together a long time. I know they got a new defensive coordinator, but they got a lot of experience playing together, so their communication skills, as far as making the right checks and stuff, they do a good job of disguising a lot of stuff, so recognizing coverages, recognizing fronts, and then knowing our plan to attack those is gonna be key."
The Redskins played better than expected over the last two weeks against opponents who also feature strong defenses. Despite sitting at 0-2, Washington played both the Eagles and Cowboys tough.
"I don’t know if there’s anything we take away from them being great defenses," Keenum said of the Redskins' early-season opponents. "We’re confident, whoever we play, we’re gonna line up and move the ball and go score touchdowns. Everybody in this league is really good, and we got our work cut out for us again, I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Keenum is off to a hot start in 2019 and will challenge the Bears' secondary, maybe even more than most fans are expecting right now. He's completed 69 percent of his passes for 601 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions so far this year, numbers that look more like what Chicago was hoping for from Mitch Trubisky than what was projected for a journeyman like Keenum.