White Sox

We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day

We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day

Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
11:39 AM

By Joe Collins
CSNChicago.com

It's too bad we live in a world where Bears tackle Chris Williams can't play "Red Rover Red Rover." I'm guessing that the brass at Halas Hall wouldn't allow such a thing, despite the fact that he wears a lot of protective equipment and goes up against 300-pound guys all the time. They probably have a prohibitive clause in his contract, you know? It's also too bad that Juan Pierre can't be turned loose in a pickup game of "Steal the Bacon." Or that you won't see Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith as enforcers in an impromptu game of floor hockey. Or even dodgeball. But given what happened to former NFL running back Robert Edwards, I could understand why owners and general managers would frown on such acts of silliness outside of their day jobs.

The school bells will ring once again for every Chicagoland high school, middle school and grade school in the next week or so, if they haven't started already. And thanks to Illinois being one of only five states that require physical education in grades K-12, you can bet a few of those games will be played a little more often in the Land of Lincoln. And by kids who aspire to be the next Williams, Pierre, Seabrook or Keith, no less.

Gym class is always the most looked forward to or the most dreaded class of the day. There's hardly any middle ground. Kids either get excited about the chance to climb a rope or hate the fact that they have to change into John Stockton-esque 80's shorts for 45 minutes. What do you remember about being a gym class hero? Or what was it about gym class that gave you the creeps? Here a few bits and pieces you might remember:

The Presidential Challenge: Like the Pro Bowl, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or MySpace, the Presidential Challenge fitness test was a good idea for a year or two. Nowadays we all look back and laugh and say, "How could I ever take something like this seriously?" As you may remember, The Presidential Challenge focused on five staples of PE class dorkery: sit-ups, the shuttle run, pull-ups, the mile run and sit and reach. All five events reeked of potential disaster-- and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Remember how you always had to partner up with someone for sit-ups? If you picked a kid that didn't have the pork & beans with Cool Ranch Doritos for lunch, you were OK.

The shuttle run was always a torn ACL waiting to happen. Heck, depending on your gym teacher, the pull-up competition was a separated shoulder waiting to happen. The mile run always had that "if I drop before any one of you..." feel about it a'la Goldie Hawn in "Wildcats." But the sit and reach portion, where flexibility and unintentional comedy went hand in hand, was always my favorite. You had to sit and place your feet against a wooden box that looked like it was made by a D shop class student. Then, you had to stretch out your muscles (and dignity) toward a tape measure on the box. Woo hoo! What next? Can we square dance now? Fortunately, the tests were run by teachers who had to control 30 students all at the same time, so it was easy to bend the rules. "Wow Joe...87 sit-ups in a minute? I think that's a record!" Granted, these tests might set good health precedents at an early age, but where are all the Presidential Challenge winners these days? Point me in the direction of the Presidential Challenge Hall of Fame. Go on.

The Obstacle Course: This was an elementary school staple. Anybody else take part in this nonsense? Nothing says fun like turning a gymnasium into a ramshackle version of Double Dare for an hour. Usually, the PE class obstacle course featured some of the following:

1. Wobbly balance beams, three inches off the floor, getting you across an alligator lake (blue construction paper taped to the floor)

2. Having to tip-toe through the poison snake patchactually jump ropes, in the shape of snakes, strewn all over the place

3. A spooky cave contraption that was made out of soiled gym mats (which smelled like taco mix) all held together with duct tape

4. Rope swing across the canyon; in other words, a homemade staircaseplatform, a slippery rope, another platform...and a shattered femur

5. The Scooters : reckless kid doing 15 mph an unsuspecting pinky finger on another kid = a lot of screaming and an ice pack

(Random tangent: not sure if it was just my elementary school that did this, but why was every solution to a childs health problem an ice pack? Talk about a cheap fix. Headache? Ice pack. Blunt force trauma? Ice pack. Stressing out over the state achievement tests? Ice pack.)

Protect The Pin: If you see any news segments about social unrest on TV, say, on a college campus or in a city plaza, I am willing to bet that the highly motivated ones in those stories earned their stripes in games like Protect The Pin. Not sure if you had a game like this in the K-12 days, but this is what put my Tinley Park grade school on the map. Protect the Pin is like dodgeball meets handball meets a government revolt. I can't imagine that this game exists now with the push for "friendly" games in schools. Anyway, two teams are placed on opposing sides of a gymnasium. The midcourt stripe is the Mason-Dixon line. Six or seven foam rubber balls (about the size of small basketballs) were in play. Your goal was to knock down a bowling pin on the other side of the gymand doing so by staying behind the midcourt stripe. If you didnt think you could throw a ball and knock down the pin immediately, you could always peg (read: knock the living daylights out of) opponents via the thrown ball. If a member of the opposition caught the ball on a fly, you were out of the game. However, if your thrown ball was good enough to knock someone's glasses off --and the ensuing ricochet took out two more Z Cavaricci-wearing snobs-- all three were out. Fun stuff! Every Friday afternoon, the decibel level in our gym was tantamount to the old Chicago Stadium during a great Bulls or Blackhawks playoff run. See, throwing a punch in class to get even with the kid who stole your crayon was frowned on in the classroom. But you could always get even if that same kid was on the other team in Protect the Pin. All you need is a foam rubber ballor five. (Note: CSNChicago.com does not advocate violence or throwing foam rubber balls at your coworkers).

What we really need is to have some of our old gym class games on TV. Wouldnt that be fun? You knowget a bunch of free agent athletes in their prime, or even legendary athletes with a few screws loose (Tyson, Rodmanetc) and start up a 12-city dodgeball league. The Chicago Pinheads for starters. The public would never take a thing like that seriously, so you put the games on Saturday nights at 2am when people are just getting home with their steak burritos.

Hey, at least it would be a step up from a food dehydrator infomercial.

Or something like that.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

0522-james-shields.jpg
USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."