White Sox

Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders


Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 12:08 p.m.
By Taylor Bell

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Eight Chicago area products have been chosen to participate in the first Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl, the U.S. Marine Corps' contribution to high school football entertainment and the latest All-Star event to showcase the leading prospects in the nation.

The inaugural game, co-sponsored by Junior Rank Sports, will be played on Jan. 3, 2012 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be telecast on CBS Sports Network.

The eight local representatives are offensive lineman Jordan Diamond of Simeon, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, defensive end Faith Ekakitie of Lake Forest Academy, running backs Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic and Mike Panico of Carmel, linebacker Antonio Morrison of Bolingbrook and defensive backs Maurice Fleming of Curie and Anthony Standifer of Crete-Monee.

Westerkamp is committed to Nebraska, Jones to Northwestern, Morrison to Florida, Fleming to Iowa and Standifer to Michigan. Fleming likely won't be able to play, however. He is missing the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury.

According to nationally known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who is chairman of the selection committee, Illinois-bound defensive lineman Vontrell Williams of Mount Carmel, Oklahoma State-bound quarterback Wes Lunt of Rochester and Iowa-bound defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of Montini also are being considered.

Two of the state's leading prospects, Penn State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and Iowa-bound offensive lineman Ryan Ward of Providence, previously accepted invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tx.

Lemming had served as chairman of the selection committee for the U.S.
Army All-Star event for eight years but decided to join the Marines and his friend, Shoan Berry, founder of Junior Rank, when Rivals became a co-partner in the Army game.

"I'm more comfortable as chairman of the committee. Here, I'm my own boss," Lemming said. "We have to build this game from scratch. I like the fact that I can help build it from scratch, like the Army game. The Army game is on its own now and I'd like to do this one on my own."

Lemming began selecting players for the two 50-man rosters last April, four months after the other All-Star games (Army, Under Armour) had started. He has chosen 70 and will fill the other 30 spots after the 2011 season.

"I'll wait until November to see which seniors step up," Lemming said. "Some seniors take the year off if they have a lot of scholarship offers. I want to reward kids who have great senior years."

Lemming said he has extended an invitation to the nation's No. 1 player, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo. But he hasn't made a decision yet.

Other highly rated players who have committed to the Semper Fidelis game include five standouts from California--strong safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, running back Byron Marshall of San Jose, Notre Dame-bound wide receiver Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Notre Dame-bound cornerback Tee Shepard of Fresno and 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond.

Lemming rates Thompson as one of the two best players on the West Coast, Marshall as the top ball-carrier on the West Coast, Greenberry as the leading wide receiver on the West Coast, Shepard as the best cornerback on the West Coast and Tagaloa as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation.

Among others who have agreed to play in the game are Washington-bound quarterback Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island, Wash., Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston of San Ramone, Calif., running back Rushel Shell of Aliquippa, Pa., Miami-bound quarterback David Thompson of Palmetto Bay, Fla., Penn State-bound tight end Jesse James of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, Ind.

Lindquist is the best quarterback in the Northwest, Shell is a top-15 prospect whom Lemming describes as one of the three best running backs in the nation, Day was tapped by Notre Dame ahead of Schutt and is rated the No. 2 player in Indiana while Thompson is the best high school baseball player in the nation and may be the next Joe Maurer in the June draft.

Lemming hopes to make the Semper Fidelis game more competitive than the others. He will conduct a draft in late November and choose teams according to talent rather than location. He reminds that the Army game hasn't been competitive since it began in 2002.

"We will be the No. 1 high school All-America game in the next two years," Berry predicted. "We didn't want to select kids because they were fast or tall but because they were good people and good students. We are looking for the best athletes who also are the best people. We don't think other All-Star games recognize character or academic performance or community involvement."

Junior Rank is a Chicago-based sports media company that conducts a number of footall combines for junior athletes (11-16) around the country. It is dedicated to evaluating, recognizing and rewarding great student athletes while giving parents the tools, resources and opportunities to help fulfill their children's dreams of playing college sports.

Berry's organization also sponsors a junior academic All-America game for seventh and eighth graders. And he plans to launch All-Star events in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling at some point.

"We want to highlight athletes for the right reasons in the right way,"
Berry said. "Our camps are about instruction and development and character-building."

He hopes Junior Rank will serve as a pipeline for future Semper Fidelis football games. For example, 13-year-old Erik Swenson of Naperville, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left offensive tackle, is a straight-A student in eighth grade who already is catching the attention of Big 10 coaches.

Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic's outstanding running back and one of the top-rated juniors in the state, is a product of the Junior Rank program.

Berry's 13-year-old son, Justin, a quarterback who lives in St. Charles and will attend Wheaton Academy, has attracted interest from Harvard and UCLA.

Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, a junior offensive tackle, is rated among the leading prospects in the class of 2013 in Illinois. Also Chad Beebe, a freshman wide receiver at Aurora Christian and son of Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe.

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."