Dean Stavrakas is 68 years old, perhaps a bit late to be starting from scratch, but he is determined to rebuild Lane Tech's baseball fortunes. And he is off to a pretty good start.In his first year, Stavrakas took his team to the championship game of the Public League playoff for the first time since 2002. The Indians finished 21-11, and prospects for the 2013 season are positive with 17 juniors and five sophomores returning to the varsity squad.Not the least of whom is pitcher Jack McLaughlin, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander who posted an earned run average under 2.00 this season despite an 0-4 start. He could be the best pitcher in the Public League in 2013."He could beat anyone in the city on any given day," Stavrakas said.Lane Tech's once-dominant baseball program, which has a long tradition dating to the 1930s and 1940s, has struggled for the last decade. Like most sports in the city, with the exception of basketball, baseball has been on a steady decline."It's taken a huge drop," Stavrakas said.It isn't the way it used to be.Lane Tech won state championships in 1945 under Percy Moore and 1956 under George Wallenta. Jerry Szukala's 1994 team finished fourth. Ed Papciak, perhaps the school's most successful coach, was one of the first eight inductees into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in 1978.The Indians were perennial contenders for the city title and a berth in the state finals. But they haven't qualified for the state tournament since 2001.The baseball program has produced at least a dozen major leaguers, including former Chicago Cubs star Phil Cavarretta, Buzz Capra, Irv Medlinger, Ben Church, Frank Dasso and Jim Woods, who pitched Lane Tech to the 1956 state title. Other standouts included Shotgun Becker, Bud Felichio and Lou Ryniec.Stavrakas is convinced that this year's team, which lost to Simeon 2-1 in the Public League final, "took a big step to bringing Lane Tech back in baseball. We have 73 kids in the program on three levels, 28 on the varsity. Now we have jelled has a ball club."And the Indians soon will have a new home field. The Chicago Cubs have announced that they will build a new 4 million facility at the school. It will be named Kerry Wood Field in honor of the recently retired Cubs pitcher who donated 1 million to the project.Stavrakas still is learning what Lane Tech is all about. He is a South Sider, raised near 84th and Wolcott, in the Calumet High School area. Growing up, his greatest memory was watching the Prep Bowl football game between Calumet and Leo before a crowd of more than 66,000 at Soldier Field.He loved the military so he attended Morgan Park Military Academy, then graduated from Howe Military Academy in Indiana in 1961. He majored in business at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.He won over 400 games while coaching baseball at Hales Franciscan for one year, St. Benedict for 10 years and Lake View for nine years. Since 1998, he has operated his own post-construction and festival cleaning business."I played baseball for as long as I could, in college and semi-pro," he said. "I love the game with a passion. I coached semi-pro teams for many years and helped to send eight players to the major leagues, including Ron Kittle, Al Levine, Scott Spiezio and Joe Fasano."How did he end up at Lane Tech?"(Athletic director) Rich Rio and I have been friends for years," said Stavrakas, whose son George is head coach of the girls softball team at Lane Tech. "He said I was welcome to come to Lane Tech and end my career."He resigned from Lake View last year. In 2008, the principal said he was bringing too much notoriety to the school."We qualified for the city final for the first time since 1977," Stavrakas said."He didn't like the fact that baseball was getting so much publicity."It was very frustrating. He turned his back on sports. He couldn't deal with the fact that we had been so successful. It hurt me. "The day after I resigned, Rich Rio said he'd like me to come to Lane Tech to end my career. It gave me five years of additional life. I'd love to do it for a couple more years."
As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.
Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.
Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.
“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”
Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.
“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”
Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.
Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.
“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”
The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.
“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”
So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?
“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”
In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.
Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.
The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.
The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.
The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.
Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:
- The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
- One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
- Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
- The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
- The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
- The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.