Baseball, General

Fighting Chicago’s ‘Traffick’ problem

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Fighting Chicago’s ‘Traffick’ problem

The WISCH LIST

July 25, 2009

Last Sunday evening in the Peace Garden outside Old St. Pat’s Church in Chicago’s West Loop, the weather was perfect.

And the topic at hand anything but.

Standing there on the grassy patch of tranquility adjacent to the 159-year-old cathedral – the only church to survive the Great Chicago Fire – were dozens of people, including many journalists, all in attendance for a vigil in honor of detained American reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Taken into custody on St. Patrick’s Day near the China-North Korea border while reporting for Current TV on the issue of human trafficking, Lee and Ling were tried and sentenced last month to 12 years of “reform through labor” in a North Korean prison.

News outlets reported on Monday that the U.S. and North Korea have begun “delicate negotiations” regarding the future of Lee and Ling. And one day earlier, it was the hope of those at Old St. Pat’s – including Euna Lee’s husband, with whom she has a 4-year-old daughter – that their future remains bright.

“We appeal for amnesty for Euna and Laura,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said while delivering the opening prayer at the vigil. “That they might be returned to their families, that they be sustained and that their hopes be lifted … Faith will prevail.”

For the victims of the issue of human trafficking – the modern-day form of slavery that exploits vulnerable women, men and children in conditions of sexual and labor servitude that Lee and Ling were investigating – hope, sustenance and faith often are in woefully short supply.

The Chicago-based organization Traffick Free, however, is working to change that. And not only abroad, but right here at home in the Windy City, as well.

“That’s the biggest thing that people are surprised about,” said Nicole Culverson, the public relations lead for Traffick Free. “They all think human trafficking only happens in Third World countries, and not in the United States. Or, in Chicago, in particular.”

On Tuesday evening, as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the issue, Traffick Free held an outdoor screening of the 2007 film “Trade” at a patio on the Near North Side.

Based on a true story, the movie tells the compelling tale of a 13-year-old Mexico City girl whose abduction by sex traffickers sparks a frantic mission across the U.S. border by her 17-year-old brother to save her.

Depicted in the film are many of the ways that traffickers use the tools of fraud, deception, threats and force to transport people against their will for the purpose of performing commercial sex or labor acts.

The movie also shined light on the fact that human trafficking – on par with illegal weapons transactions as the world’s second largest criminal industry behind drug dealing, according to Traffick Free – is not just a global issue, but a local one, as well.

Last year, the U.S. State Department estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually. Traffick Free reports that as much as $250,000 can be made from one trafficked woman in the U.S. and that, globally, slave traders in 2007 made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks.

Combined.

In large part because O’Hare Airport is considered a key transit location for traffickers to transport victims and disperse them to other cities and states, the New York Times in 2003 labeled Chicago as a national hub for human trafficking. In 2005, the FBI also designated Chicago as one of 13 locations of “High Intensity Child Prostitution.”

Traffickers also have been known funnel greater numbers of women into Chicago for sexual exploitation when the city is filled with large numbers of spectators or tourists.

The 2016 Olympics, no doubt would be one such occasion. And with Chicago vying for the 2016 bid, a petition was passed around during Tuesday night’s film screening urging the International Olympic Committee to issue a public service announcement regarding human trafficking.

Closer to home, Culverson said Chicago-area residents can do a number of things to raise awareness about human trafficking, both locally and beyond.

“As a consumer, they can make sure that things they purchase are made without trade labor,” she said. “And they can educate themselves and others on the issue by holding movie screenings at home and talking to people at businesses, churches and schools to make everyone aware of human trafficking.

“We just want to get people talking. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

For more information on human trafficking and ways to get involved in raising awareness, visit www.traffickfree.org.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

How to make yourself at home at Wrigley

Before I head off to Wrigley Field — yep, again — for this afternoon’s Cubs-Indians ballgame, here’s today’s Wisch List newspaper column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

How to make yourself at home at Wrigley

The WISCH LIST

June 20, 2009

I don’t just die with the Chicago Cubs.

I live with them.

Like, literally.

Up in Wrigleyville, my apartment sits just blocks away from the Friendly Confines. Last season, I attended 30 Cubs games. And this March, for the first time, I took a trip with my family out to Arizona to catch a few spring training games – and some sunshine – in Mesa and Tucson.

Then, I really put my game face on.

On April 6, I flew down to Houston for the Cubs’ season opener. Five days later, I was up in Milwaukee for a game at Miller Park. And, after taking in a Cubs-Cardinals tilt at Wrigley on April 18, I road-tripped south one week later to do the same at Busch Stadium.

Yes, if Cubs baseball is an addiction, then I’m Amy Winehouse.

But rather than try to make me go to rehab, many of my friends just joke that I actually keep an apartment at Wrigley Field.

I don’t.

But only because they aren’t renting.

(I kid, I kid.)

Two weeks ago, though, I did find myself getting more comfy on the corner of Clark & Addison than ever before. That’s because one of the better kept secrets in Chicago – and out of it – is that from May to September on most days that the Cubs aren’t playing or are out of town, fans can take behind-the-scenes tours of Wrigley Field.

Tickets, which cost $25 and could make for a great belated Father’s Day gift, are available at cubs.com.

I’d say the tour is worth every penny. Because, after all, it’s not every day you get a chance to roam all about the ballpark where White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen claims to see rats and this week, prior to the Crosstown Series, added that:

“I puke every time I go there. That’s just being honest. And if Cub fans don’t like the way I talk about Wrigley Field, it’s just Wrigley Field. I don’t say anything about the fans. But Wrigley Field, they got to respect my opinion.”

Not really, Ozzie.

But, anyways, much like the ballpark itself, the Wrigley Field tour is a gem.

Beginning with a video narrated by Chicago TV news legend Bill Kurtis, you’ll learn that – in addition to serving as longtime home to the Cubs, and formerly the Bears – Wrigley Field has also hosted a variety of events ranging from wrestling to soccer to a ski jump competition.

The 90-minute tour then takes you through 95 years of history (Wrigley Field opened April 23, 1914, as Weeghman Park) as you weave your way from the right field bleachers through the visitors clubhouse, up to the press box, back down through the home clubhouse and finally onto the hallowed field.

Along the way, I discovered (yes, Ozzie) just how tiny the visitors clubhouse in fact is. To imagine a Major League squad getting dressed in there is difficult. To think of an NFL team doing so is inconceivable.

In the clubhouse, you’re allowed free reign to explore everywhere, except for the bathrooms. Perhaps, it’s because they wouldn’t want anyone to walk off with traces of any Major Leaguer’s DNA.

Right, Sammy?

Next stop on the tour is the press box, where you can see the pipe organ, the WGN-TV and Radio booths and the big red “COUGH BUTTON” that Ron Santo pushes (or, sometimes, doesn’t) during broadcasts.

I was interested to learn that the Cubs actually were ready to equip Wrigley Field with lights way back in 1941. But then, that December, a little thing happened in Pearl Harbor and the organization donated the lights to the War Department, instead.

Also amusing to discover is that only men are allowed to work inside the Wrigley Field scoreboard. Why? Well, because the only bathroom facilities up there consist of a PVC pipe and a copper funnel.

The Ladies Room is downstairs.

You next trek down to the Cubs clubhouse, where the players’ jerseys hang in the lockers awaiting their return. Some things, however, never leave the clubhouse. Most notably, the many dents on doors surely delivered by a player’s spikes – or bat – following a particularly frustrating outing.

Finally, it’s up onto the ivy-laden field to take in the most beautiful vista in all of sports.

Although, of course, Ozzie may disagree.

Speaking of which, I did notice on their Web site that the White Sox offer similar tours of U.S. Cellular Field. It doesn’t appear, however, that Guillen ever moonlights as a tour guide.

Rats.

And I really had my hopes up.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs

Still fighting the 100-Year War

“And when the day comes for that last winning run. And I’m covered in beer. I look to the sky and know I was right …

To think someday we’ll go all the way.”

— Eddie Vedder, “All The Way”

I went for a run last night.

Laced up my Nikes. Tucked my iPod headphones into my ears. Pulled my Cubs cap down onto my head.

And jogged off into Wrigleyville.

Every week since I moved to Chicago three summers ago, I’ve embarked on late-night runs through my neighborhood.

Heading down Sheffield to Addison, up Clark and along Waveland, I complete a circle around the ivy-covered burial ground six blocks from my apartment building.

Some nights while I run, Wrigley Field is jumping. Other nights, it’s silent.

And, occasionally, when the calamitous happens — as it did this past Wednesday and Thursday — it’s both.

In the same inning.

For Cubs fans, October never has been the kindest of months. Our tricks start a month before Halloween — and we never get the treats.

But after a century of heartache, this year was supposed to be different. It seemed different. And until this week, it was different.

The Cubs won 97 games, coasted to the NL Central Divison title, had the most imposing offense and pitching staff in the league …

And then, well, they started playing like the Cubs.

Like usual.

Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1988 when I was 11 years old, I recall thinking to myself that the Cubs couldn’t possibly go EIGHTY years without winning a World Series.

Eighty years? There was just no way.

I’ve, ahem … learned a lot since then.

Most of it the hard way.

And among my tough-luck lessons is the fact that when it comes to the Cubs, “The Curse” does exist.

In the embodiment of 100 years’ worth of pressure, it exists.

It does.
Now, that’s not to say there’s some billy-goateed spectre of evil lurking over Wrigley Field pulling on the Cubs’ marionette strings, but there is an entity surrounding the North Side ballclub that truly is tangible in the postseason.

And it’s something that can be crushing on Cubs players, often causing them to tighten up, no matter if they’ll ever admit that or not.

I’ve believed in that notion wholeheartedly ever since I sat in the upper deck at Wrigley Field for Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

As I’ve told people countless times since that infamous night, the feeling that crept over Wrigley — spread like a virus by the frozen-in-fear fans — after Steve Bartman reached for the fateful foul ball and Moises Alou flipped his lid was the eeriest I’ve ever experienced.

Unless, you were there at the ballpark, it’s almost impossible to fully explain. But you could literally feel the tension.

I mean, feel it.

I’m certain the players felt it too. They had to. And it’s why they ultimately collapsed once things started going against them.

No matter what anyone says, Cubs players — once they get to October — know all-too-well that a century of failure is weighing on their shoulders. And it’s not just a city, but an entire nation’s eyes are on them.

That’s heavy.

And it’s the reason why routine grounders pop out of gloves. It’s why simple fastballs go awry. It’s why hot bats suddenly go oh-so-cold.

I firmly believe that’s what happened again on Wednesday night, when Ryan Dempster lost his control. And on Thursday, when every Cub forgot how to field.

The incredible pressure to succeed made the Cubs fail.

That’s “The Curse.”

And that’s the burden.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be lifted. I believe it can be. Although, it’s going to take a Herculean effort — and it will never be easy.

Not for the Cubs. Not after 100 years.

I honestly do think, though, that the best thing for this team right now is to get the heck out of Dodge(r) and head for the (Beverly) Hills.

There’s just too much pressure in Chicago right now.

Los Angeles ought to feel like a vacation.

Regardless of how they played in Games 1 and 2, everyone should remember that this Cubs team is good. Damn good.

It’s the best North Side bunch I’ve seen in my lifetime, and while it’s unlikely, it’s hardly inconceivable that they could win twice on the road this weekend.

For 5 good reasons why there is still reasonable reason to hope for a Cubs miracle, I suggest reading this excellent piece by Michael Bradt, the creator of the entertaining Cubs blog “Hire Jim Essian” who, coincidentally, I met on the Red Line this summer.

En route to a game at Wrigley, of course.

The points Bradt makes in his piece were the same ones I was bantering about with co-workers this morning once the fog from Game 2 lifted and I decided that rather than pout, I’d instead remain hopeful.

Sure, I’m hopeless, but the fact is:

  • The Cubs still have excellent pitchers — arguably their two best — slated to pitch Saturday and Sunday in Rich Harden and Ted Lilly.
  • The (sadly) woeful Kosuke Fukudome is mercifully leaving the lineup. Mike Fontenot should be playing. He needs to be playing.
  • And, Ryan Dempster will almost surely bounce back with a strong showing — if the Cubs get to a Game 5.

During this, the most magical summer of my 32 years, I’ve been to a ridiculous 30 Cubs games (I counted them up tonight).

I’m just not ready to let go of this season just yet. In fact, today, I was able to buy tickets online to Game 2 of the NLCS.

It’s slated for next Friday, a night on which I’ll probably jog down to the ballpark, no matter what.

But it sure would be nice if the Cubs decided to show up there with me.

Hey, you never know.

Even Mordecai Brown could count to three.

Take a guess …

Baseball

My Dad: A Little League Big Shot

When it comes to my family’s baseball gene pool, I ended up in the shallow end.

With a pair of water wings.

Whereas I didn’t hit my growth spurt or figure out how to really hit a baseball (keep your head down!) until it was far too late, my younger brother, John, was a perennial youth league all-star and an all-conference performer during high school.

And my dad?

Well, he was all-everything.

My Pop, throwing filth

During college in the 1960s, my father, Joe, excelled as a pitcher at Kankakee High School and then Illinois State University. Excelled so well, in fact, that after earning his sheepskin from ISU he was plucked out of the Major League draft by the San Francisco Giants and dispatched to a minor league gig in Medford, Ore., where he lived out his dream.

Spending his days spinning curveballs under the Oregon and Idaho sun, my dad competed against the likes of future Major Leaguers such as Ron Cey and Doyle Alexander, the latter of which he defeated when Alexander was a peach-fuzzed 17-year-old making his minor league debut for the L.A. Dodgers.

With the Giants, my dad played alongside teammates that included George Foster, who won the 1977 NL MVP with the fabled “Big Red Machine,” and Leo Mazzone, who rose to fame as pitching coach for the 1990s Atlanta Braves featuring Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine.

Unfortunately, for my dad, his own career came to an abrupt halt when midway through his second season in Medford he injured his pitching elbow and never recovered.

“I needed Tommy John surgery,” my dad has said many times. “They just didn’t have it yet.”

If they did, it might be known as “Joe Wischnowsky” surgery today.

Nevertheless, despite the sour end to his playing days, my dad came home with plenty of sweet stories from the final years of his baseball career.

Although it’s always been the beginning that’s fascinated me the most.

Because, 50 years ago this summer, my then 12-year-old dad first broke onto the hardball scene in a starring role for one of the greatest Little League teams to emerge from the Land of Lincoln.

Ever.

In 1958, my father’s Kankakee Jaycees All-Star team’s incredible postseason run led them from small-town Illinois to Williamsport, Pa., and, ultimately, to a berth in the title of game of the Little League World Series, where they faced the defending world champions from Moneterrey, Mexico.

In the U.S. Championship game prior to the title bout against the Mexicans, my dad took the mound against a Gadsden, Ala., featuring a flame-throwing pitcher by the lyrical name of Mackey Moats.

Moats, according to what one of his teammates told my dad back then, was known an avid weightlifter.

Even though he was only 11 years old.

Nevertheless, my dad defeated Moats and the boys from ‘Bama 3-1, providing me with what’s probably my favorite of all of his baseballl anecdotes.

Many of the rest of the Jaycees’ memories, however, were captured nicely this past Sunday in an article written by Steve Soucie of the Kankakee Daily Journal .

The story is posted below. And I just want to say, I’m proud of ya, Dad.

And I’m glad I never faced your curveball.

I wouldn’t have stood a chance.

50 years later, Jaycees are still Illinois’ best

By Steve Soucie

Assistant sports editor

When Little League’s postseason slate began in 1958, most of those in the know believed the Kankakee Jaycees entrant in the tournament wouldn’t even get out of town.

But in reality, the team was about to begin a journey that has never been bettered by an Illinois squad in Little League baseball history.

The tournament was a single-elimination event at every one of its stages in 1958, which required capable teams to never have a bad game or even a bad inning, lest their fate be decided with a loss.

Fortunately for the Jaycees, they were built in a fashion that wasn’t apt to allow that to happen. The club won 12-consecutive games using an iron man pitching staff of two arms to claim the U.S. Championship before losing a 10-1 decision to a loaded Monterrey, Mexico, team in the World Championship game.

Not bad for a team that was an underdog from the start.

The postseason begins

In 1958, the tournament began with a Sub-District, which was contested prior to the District Tournament. The Jaycees earned wins over Wilmington and Bradley to earn a berth in the District Tournament, but most, including some of the players themselves, believed the Kankakee Lions (now the Kankakee Knights of Columbus) might be too powerful to overcome.

“In the District Tournament, the Lions were supposed to be the team to beat,” Jaycees third baseman Mike DeBetta said. “They had some huge players.”

But Spring Valley took care of the Lions in District semifinal game, and the one-and-done format ended the so-called favorite’s run in their tracks. The Jaycees topped Coal City 12-0 in the other semifinal and then bested the upstarts from Spring Valley to move along.

The Jaycees had little trouble in the Sectional but ran into a bit a rough patch in the State Tournament, fending off tough teams from Marion and Evergreen Park to keep the dream alive.

Through it all, Don McKay and Joe Wischnowsky (who strangely went by the name of Wischnowski throughout his athletic career, never bothering to correct an erroneous spelling of his name) did all of the pitching. McKay threw a bit harder than Wischnowsky and would often throw the first game of the tournaments. Wischnowsky, armed with a surprisingly good curveball, would then pitch the second. The duo alternated between shortstop and pitching positions..

Only once was either of the two relieved for during tournament play — when McKay was forced out of the World Championship game after being plunked by a batted ball. Wischnowsky was unavailable having pitched in the U.S. title game, so outfielder Brian Adame was pressed into action.

“There’s no doubt Joe Wischnowsky was the better pitcher of the two of us,” McKay said from his home, just outside of Dallas, Texas. “Take a vote of the team and he’d win in a landslide.”

That tandem pitched back-to-back shutouts in wins over Gary, Ind., and Birmingham, Mich., at the Regional.

At that point, the team had achieved what basically nobody thought was possible — a berth in the Little League World Series.

At Williamsport

The format at the Little League World Series was just as unforgiving as the previous tournaments. One loss ousted a team from the tournament. The four U.S. qualifiers (Kankakee Jaycees, Darien, Conn., Gadsen, Ala., and Portland, Ore.) were joined by international representatives from Canada (Valleyfield, Quebec), Latin America (Monterrey, Mexico) and the Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii). The Hawaiian team had to go through Pacific qualifying as Hawaii wouldn’t become a state for two more years.

The odd seven-team bracket had the Jaycees opening against the squad from Oregon. McKay locked horns with Portland‘s ace pitcher Rick Wise. Wise would later win 188 games in Major League Baseball with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland and San Diego.

But on that day, Wise was just another pitcher the Jaycees had to topple to keep the dream alive.

It was an epic battle.

Portland drew first blood with a run in the third inning, but DeBetta who emerged as a serious threat with the bat in the postseason, blasted a Wise offering over the fence for a game-tying tally.

“That was something,” DeBetta said. “I still get asked about that. I don’t hesitate to talk about it, either.”

The two teams stayed deadlocked until the sixth inning when Tom Fowler, the Jaycees strapping first baseman, connected for another home run off of Wise.

“I didn’t know him, of course, but what he did always left an impression on me, Rick Wise was at home plate congratulating Tom,” Wischnowsky said. “That’s sportsmanship. I don’t know if you’d see that today.”

McKay needed to get three more outs to get the Jaycees to the U.S. title game. He maneuvered that minefield successfully, and the Jaycees unbelievable run continued.

Alabama was next and the only team standing in the way of the U.S. title. Wischnowsky handcuffed Gasden for four innings before giving up a solitary run in the fifth. The Jaycees offense wasn’t exactly potent, either, but managed to turn two hits into three runs for a 3-1 victory.

Against Mexico

The U.S. title game was quickly followed by an opportunity to win the whole ball of wax. But Monterey, Mexico, the tournament’s defending champion, had overpowered each of its foes throughout the tournament and did so again, toppling the Jaycees 10-1 in the championship game.

“They were by far the class of the tournament,” Wischnowsky said. “What struck me was how mature some of them were. I think some of them were already shaving; it was like men against boys. We were hoping to beat them, but it was obvious pretty early on we weren’t going to.”

Hector Torres, a 9-year Major League veteran who played the 1971 season with the Cubs, stymied the Jaycees’ bats, limiting them to just three hits and a lone sixth-inning run, well after the outcome was decided.

But few, if any of the Jaycees, focus on the loss. For them, it’s about the journey that came before it.

“It was just a really fine collection of boys,” coach Gus LaRoche said. “We played great defense and we had really good pitching. It was something else. One loss and you were out. We didn’t get that loss until the last game.”

The celebration that ensued following the team’s return to Kankakee was impressive. A large contingent of team supporters caravaned the team back to Kankakee before a huge reception back at Beckman Park.

Banquets and other perks followed, including an on-field tour and recognition at Comiskey Park, where the team brushes elbows with Chicago White Sox greats Sherm Lollar and Nellie Fox.

“We knew it was it something special, but we were kids and we were just having fun, and I don’t think we realized the magnitude of what we were doing,” Wischnowsky said. “But as we look back, we realize it. I still get thrilled about it, even 50 years later.”