Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

The key for the Cubs in 2019? It might be simple

Maddon

The WISCH LIST

On the second-to-last day of Major League Baseball’s regular season, the Chicago Cubs owned the best record in the National League.

Three days later, their season was over.

As much I wish the Cubs were still playing in the NLCS this week, I’ve also come to the realization in the past couple of weeks since the team’s premature demise in the Wild Card Game, that I really needed a break.

This Maddoning season had worn me out.

Now, anyone who knows me well knows I’m no big fan of Joe Maddon. I think the guy was the perfect manager to assume the young Cubs’ reins in 2015 and help pull the team together for the 2016 championship run.

Chicago

Celebrating Chicago’s starring role in filmmaking history

StoogesFrom the Saturday, March 3, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

With the 90th Academy Awards taking place on Sunday night, all eyes are on Hollywood this weekend – especially Hollywood’s own, as it rarely has eyes for any place else when it comes to celebrating contributions to film.

But did you know that Chicago has its own rich history when it comes to movie-making? It dates back to 1907 when a pair of aspiring movie moguls named George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson founded Essanay Studio and produced a film called “The Hobo on Rollers” starring their janitor.

In 1908, Essanay moved north to Uptown, where it become a silver screen powerhouse, launching the careers of a number of stars and even attracting the talents of perhaps the nation’s biggest one: Charlie Chaplin, with whom it produced 14 comedic shorts.But Chicago’s connections to movies hardly stop there.

The man behind the Man Behind the Curtain

Featuring ornate statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Dorothy and Toto, Oz Park is tucked in the heart (and, I suppose, the brains and courage) of Chicago’s bustling Lincoln Park neighborhood.

More than a century ago, though, L. Frank Baum – the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – lived just a few miles west of the area.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

Baseball is back to bury our Winter of Discontent

YuDarvishFrom the Saturday, Feb. 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

The Bulls are bad. The Blackhawks are bad. Illini basketball is bad. Northwestern’s is too. At 22-5, Loyola’s hoops are looking good – but, let’s be honest, the Ramblers are hardly going to get the average Illinois sports fan through this long, hard winter.

But, mercifully, there was a crack in our dark clouds this week.

Major League Baseball is back. Finally.

And with MLB teams breaking camp this week in Arizona and Florida, I thought I’d break open a few thoughts about baseball’s landscape in the Land of Lincoln – which hopefully won’t end up covered with much more snow this year.

A better Yu?

After a sluggish offseason during which the Hot Stove was more of an Ice Box, the Cubs thawed things out in a major way last weekend by signing coveted free agent pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year deal.

Acquiring the 31-year-old Darvish is huge for the Cubs, but considering that he basically replaces 31-year-old Jake Arrieta in the rotation, just how big of a difference-maker might Darvish be? If you ask veteran backstop Chris Gimenez, who caught Darvish regularly for the Rangers, he could be quite big.

“I think we really haven’t seen the best Yu Darvish yet,” Gimenez told the media at Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz., where’s he’s trying to make the roster. “He’s still evolving as a pitcher, as well. Coming back from second full season off Tommy John, physically he’s starting to really get in tune with his own body now and kind of knowing his limitations, what he can and can’t do. I think really, the sky is the limit for a guy like that.”

Gimenez also noted that Darvish’s average velocity was up in 2017. That’s significant considering there has been a noticeable dip in Arrieta’s velocity and control since his Cy Young season of 2015. And while I can’t say whether we’re yet to see the best Darvish, I am confident that the Cubs did get the best seasons of Jake Arrieta’s career – and, my how great they were.

Chicago, General

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day plans for you lazy lovebirds

Orchid-Show-at-Chicago-Botanic-Garden-CanopyFrom the Saturday, Feb. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

It’s not quite Valentine’s Day, but let’s be honest. If you haven’t already made your plans for Feb. 14, well, then I’d say you’re liable to be left out in the cold.
Both by restaurants – and your special someone.

But to all you lazy lovebirds (and lovelorn) out there, fear not. If you’re still scrambling for creative ways to celebrate Hallmark’s second favorite holiday (behind only Mother’s Day), I’m here with some last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas happening this weekend and next week in Chicago.

Dances from the Heart
Today, 8 p.m.

If you’re looking to jazz things up, tonight at 8 p.m. a special Valentine’s Day dance performance will unfold at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave.) in West Lakeview.

The event features 13 dynamic acts involving an array of dance styles, including aerial, tap, urban fusion, jazz, contemporary, stepping, Irish, Mexican folkloric, hip-hop, urban/performance art and more.

For more information, visit athenaeumtheatre.org.

Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt
Sunday, 1 p.m.

For those seeking something cheeky – quite literally – this weekend, the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) is offering adults an unblushing look at nudity in art with its Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, participants will scour the museum while scrutinizing works of bathing beauties, peeping Toms, sultry sirens and more. As the museum says, “No previous experience with art, or nudity, is required.”

For more information, visit watsonadventures.com.

Chicago, General

Feel the love (of all kinds) in Chicago this February

AutoShowFrom the Saturday, Jan. 27, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

It’s almost February, and in Chicago, love is in the air.

Love of food. Love of science. Love of spirits, ales and ciders. Love of cars. Love of chocolate. Love of nature …

What, you thought I was just talking about Valentine’s Day?

If you’re looking to feel the love in the Windy City, here are some events that may set your heart aflutter both before and after Feb. 14.

Chicago Restaurant Week

Through Feb. 8

Now in its 11th year, the annual Chicago Restaurant Week is actually two, which means you have extra time to find to take advantage of great deals at more than 370 restaurants in the city and suburbs.

Here’s how it works: Restaurants offer a three-course lunch (or brunch) for $22, and/or three- or four-course dinner for $33 or $44. Some restaurants feature lunch only, or dinner only, while some offer. In nearly every case, the restaurants’ regular menus also are available.

To research your options, visit eatitupchicago.com for a searchable list of participating restaurants and links to their respective Restaurant Week menus.

Free MSI Days

All Month

Every weekday in February, except for the 19th (President’s Day), the Museum of Science and Industry is free to Illinois residents. All you need is to show a state ID.

Whiskey, Beer & Cider Festivals

Feb. 3, 10 & 17

You can pick your poison this month in Chicago with a trio of festivals celebrating whiskey, beer and cider.

On Feb. 3, Old Crow Smokehouse (149 W. Kinzie St.) will host the Chicago Whiskey Festival (formerly the River North Whiskey Festival), offering more than 30 varieties of whiskey, bourbon and scotch from 1 to 4 p.m. For details, visit rivernorthwhiskeyfestival.weebly.com.

A week later and a few blocks away on Feb. 10, Rock Bottom Brewery (1 W. Grand Ave.) will host the Polar Beer Festival – taking place outdoors on the brewery’s rooftop deck. From noon to 4 p.m., the event will feature strong winter – and also feature a warming area. For more information, visit eventbrite.com.

Lastly, on Feb. 17, more than 150 artisanal ciders from around the world will be on the menu, along with food samples, during Cider Summit Chicago in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. The event offers two sessions, beginning at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, visit cidersummitnw.com.

Chicago Auto Show

Feb. 10-19

Chicago again is offering up its annual wintertime opportunity to witness everything that’s new in the world of cars during what’s billed as the largest and longest-running auto show in America.

Chicago, Cubs, Sports

Never mind the Cubs, Sosa owes better to baseball

SosaFrom the Saturday, Jan. 20, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) … 

The WISCH LIST

I used to love Sammy Sosa.

But these days? I don’t miss the guy. At all.

And while many Cubs fans appear to want Sosa back in the organizational fold based on the social media uproar following last weekend’s Cubs Convention, I have zero interest in seeing the pompous slugger back at Wrigley Field.

But last weekend during what was generally a sleepy fan fest at the Chicago Sheraton, the hottest topic – besides Kyle Schwarber’s waistline – was whether the Cubs would ever again embrace their all-time home run leader, who’s been persona non grata at the Friendly Confines since he was traded to Baltimore following the tumultuous 2004 season.

When asked about Sosa, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said during a panel that Sammy needs to “put everything on the table” regarding his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, a stance that Ricketts has maintained since the issue first arose. He explained, “Players of that era owe us a little bit of honest, too. I feel like the only way to turn the page is just to put everything on the table. That’s the way I feel.”

That’s generally the way I feel too, Tom. Although, I don’t think it’s so much that Sosa (and his fellow PED ilk) owe the Cubs, Major League Baseball, or even the fans, honesty so much as they owe it to baseball. Because, while the Cubs, Major League Baseball, and even the fans to some extent, may have all been complicit in the Steroid Era to varying degrees, the sport itself wasn’t.

And it deserves better from those who abused it.

Chicago

It’s the time of the year to just weather it

ChicagoColdFrom the Saturday, Jan. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

Four years ago, statistician Nate Silver attempted to rank the most “unpredictable” weather cities in America by comparing the daily conditions of 120 municipalities to their long-range averages.

What his research found was that Rapid City, S.D., is supposedly the most unpredictable weather city in the country, while Chicago rates a mere 58th – 42 spots behind Springfield, Ill., of all places.

Now, I don’t know that Chicago’s weather is so much unpredictable – it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer – as it is volatile.  That, it most certainly has been the past few weeks when the Windy City (and the rest of Illinois) fell into a prolonged deep freeze, only to be followed by a near-record warm-up this week that spiked into the upper 50s.

With the chill now back, I thought I’d try to warm your cold, cold hearts with a lighthearted look at the weather that was (and, well, is again).

Cracking the history books

From Dec. 26 through Jan. 6, the mercury in Chicago never escaped the teens, with the high on many days registering only in single digits, and on some not even that. That frigid 12-day run tied the record for the city’s longest stretch below 20 degrees, which occurred only twice before – in 1936 and 1895.

New Year’s Day in Chicago did set a record with a high of only 1 degree and, according to WGN-Ch. 9 meteorologist Tom Skilling, the period of Jan. 1 through Jan. 5 was the city’s fourth coldest on record with an average temperature of just 3.6 degrees, a level more than 20 degrees below normal.

I think the only thing colder this winter is Major League Baseball’s so-called Hot Stove League.

Chicago

Livin’ on The Ledge

Today’s Wisch List newspaper column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Livin’ on The Ledge

The WISCH LIST

July 11, 2009

At the Sears Tower, they don’t just measure height in feet.

They measure it in celebrities.

Purchase a ticket for a trip to the top of North America’s tallest building and you’ll soon learn that the 110-story Sears Tower not only stands 1,450 tall.

It stands 262 Michael Jordans high, as well.

Or 313 Oprahs, if you prefer to measure in talk show queens.

Last week, however, atop the Chicago’s trademark skyscraper, it was a celebrity of a different sort – one with glass skin, but plenty of beating hearts – that was creating a buzz even MJ or Oprah would envy.

Say hello to The Ledge.

I did.

Braving the crowds – and the heights – a week ago Friday, I visited the Sears Tower’s much-ballyhooed new addition: A quartet of enclosed glass boxes known collectively as The Ledge because they stick out about four feet from the 103rd floor Skydeck.
And leave you peering 1,353 feet straight down.

Thanks to the unique attraction, which opened to the public on July 2, visitors to the Sears Tower can now get a panoramic view of Chicago that previously was reserved only for their dreams.

Or, I suppose, their nightmares.

On a clear day atop the tower, you’ve always been able to see 50 miles away in any direction. But now you also can stare 50 miles past your toes to Wacker Drive below.

At least, it seems that way.

Management at the tower said the notion to hang glass boxes from the Skydeck was sparked by years of watching visitors – think Ferris Bueller – press their foreheads against the glass walls to get a look down. Now they have an unobstructed view – and Sears Tower custodians fewer smudges to clean.

The Ledge’s boxes, which are about the size of large elevators and suspended by 30-pound steel beams, reportedly can support at least 5 tons apiece.

That’s equivalent to the weight of an elephant, which should make the queasier more comfortable when they step onto The Ledge. Although, discovering that the boxes also retract into the building when the windows get washed, might send them leaping right back out.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the architecture firm that originally designed the Sears Tower in the early 1970s, spent a year and a half designing and constructing The Ledge. And among the challenges faced was that at times the Windy City’s wicked winds wouldn’t allow workers to construct the boxes from inside the tower.

Last week, however, many visitors seemed as if they could use a little wind – in their sails – as they flirted with The Ledge.

“I sort of went out there,” Waterford, Mich., teenager Scott Christopher said. “I stuck my foot out. But that was about it.”

Now, heights don’t particularly frighten me. But I still felt my pulse quicken a bit when I took my first step onto The Ledge. And after spending a couple minutes snapping photos and admiring the view, I then spent several more watching others do the same – or fail to.

Because, as amusing as The Ledge is, the real show is watching other people experience it.  It’s high entertainment.
Literally.

In my opinion, the view from the Sears Tower Skydeck has always been inferior to that of the John Hancock Building’s 95th-floor Signature Room. It’s shorter, but closer to Lake Michigan and looks down over the Mag Mile. Plus, you can get a Martini there.

The Ledge, though, is just the shot of adrenalin the broad shoulders of the Sears Tower sorely needs. After all, it’s been a rough year for the 35-year-old Chicago icon.

In February, its owners pitched the cockamamie idea of re-covering the tower in silver to improve its energy performance.  And now later this summer, Sears will frustratingly change its name to Willis after its new owner, London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd.

That move, to me, is akin to renaming Mount Rushmore, because the Sears Tower is more than a mere building. It’s a national monument.

One that features national figures, such as poet Carl Sandburg who has a quote painted on the wall by the Skydeck elevators that take you back down to the ground.

It reads, “Show me another city so glad to be alive.”

Sandburg just as easily could have said the same about Chicago’s people after seeing the faces of those who had braved The Ledge.

And even lived to tell about it.

To purchase tickets to the Sears Tower SkyDeck, visit www.theskydeck.com. My tip: Purchase online rather than at the tower. You’ll move through lines much quicker once inside the building.

I ain't afraid of no heights
I ain't afraid of no heights

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.

Chicago

Two Tickets to Paradise

Last week, I had a friend tell me that my life is like an episode of “Seinfeld.”

To which I replied that, no, it’s not like one at all.

It IS one.

Funny things just happen to me. And anyone who knows me also knows I have a story for every occasion (probably two stories). My world isn’t quite as small as it used to be when I was a newspaper columnist, but can still probably about fit inside a thimble.

So many unexpected things have happened to me over the years that, well, I’ve come to expect them.

But, nevertheless, I still was caught off guard a few weeks ago when I decided to test out the new Google Street View option on my iPhone.

Street View — a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 360° horizontal and 290° vertical panoramic street level views of numerous cities and regions — has been around for a couple years, but before the iPhone addition, I’d never tinkered with it before.

I had, however, heard about Street View’s controversy, as privacy advocates have objected to the Google feature since it’s been found to show, among other things, men leaving strip clubs or picking up prostitutes, people sunbathing in skimpy outfits and parents smacking around their kids.

Now, Google Street View didn’t catch me doing any of those things.

I don’t even have kids.

(Kidding, I’m kidding …)

But, in Chicago, I do break the law a lot. Or, at least, that’s what city’s Department of Revenue tells me (don’t get me started).

Because, since I moved to town in July 2005, their officers have slapped a whopping 15 tickets on my poor car. So, of course, it was only natural that when I typed my address into Google Street View that it returned an image featuring my car parked directly outside my building.

With not one ticket plastered on the passenger’s side window.

But two.

Heck, even George Costanza couldn’t top that.

(To see my Street View, click on the image below. My 7 1/2-year-old car’s the black one — wearing the tickets. )

google-street-view.png