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.

Cubs, General

Five rings, Two babies and One month to go

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Five rings, Two babies and One month to go

The WISCH LIST

Sept. 5, 2009

Pat Sandusky is in demand.

On Monday evening, while sitting at a Wrigleyville watering hole and having a beer with an old Pony League Baseball teammate (me), the lead spokesman for Chicago 2016 watches his Blackberry light up on the table in front of him.

An anchor from Fox Chicago is calling.

In just the past few hours, Sandusky has fielded calls from ABC7, WSCR and the Sun-Times, in addition to stopping by the Tribune Tower to meet with the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.

Pretty soon, he’ll need to leave the bar so he can get back home. After all, his wife – and their newborn twins – are there, waiting for Dad.

Like I said, Pat Sandusky is in demand.

In less than a month on Oct. 2, the members of the International Olympic Committee and the bid teams from Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo – the four cities vying for the 2016 Olympics – will convene in Copenhagen, where we’ll finally learn who will host the world’s biggest sports spectacle seven summers from now.

As a key member of the Chicago 2016 delegation, the pages of the calendar are falling off at a rapid rate for Sandusky, a Bourbonnais native and 1993 graduate of Bishop McNamara High School.

Not that the hectic pace is really anything new, considering life has been quite the blur for Sandusky and his wife, Kate, since June 19 when their twins, Brendan and Jessica, were born.

Yet even in the midst of the madness inherent in juggling kids and a high-profile job, Sandusky said that becoming a first-time father – twice – has actually put him more at ease than ever before.

“It immediately puts things in perspective,” he explained about fatherhood to the second power. “I’m a pretty easygoing guy, but it’s made me even more easygoing with the perspective it gives you. It’s actually been the total opposite of stressing me out.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Sandusky is relaxed.

“I’ve been to London more often lately than I’ve been to Bourbonnais,” he said with a chuckle. “When a random flight attendant at Heathrow (Airport in London) recognizes you, you know you’re traveling too much.”

In just the past few weeks, Sandusky has flown to England, Italy, Germany and Denmark. He’s missed his wedding anniversary (and surely made up for it), has watched Usain Bolt sprint (in Berlin) and Michael Phelps swim (in Rome). He’s piled up gobs of frequent flier miles and also packed on a pound, maybe two.

“One thing I’ve had to sacrifice right now,” Sandusky said wryly, “is going to the gym.”

He’ll get a workout over the next 25 days, though, as Chicago 2016 attempts to tie up its loose ends in preparation for the big day in Copenhagen. Sandusky and the city’s delegation know there’s still work to be done, as indicated on Wednesday when the IOC released a report sizing up Chicago’s chances of landing the 2016 Games.

While the feedback was favorable overall, the IOC did express concerns about Chicago’s transportation issues, how the city will divvy up management responsibilities and, most significantly, who exactly is on the hook for the Olympics’ tab.

The latter is an issue of concern for many Chicagoans, as well, according to the results of a Tribune/WGN poll released on Thursday. The survey, which polled 380 city residents, indicated that support over whether Chicago should host the Games has declined since February, when the approval rate was 61 percent.

The latest poll found that 45 percent of city residents now oppose Mayor Richard Daley’s Olympic plans, while 47 percent are in support. It also was reported that 84 percent of city residents oppose using tax dollars to cover any financial shortfalls for the Games.

However, in an editorial also published Thursday, the Chicago Tribune noted that, “The organizers of Chicago’s bid for the Olympic Games have made significant moves in recent days to assure the city that their operations will be transparent and that they will carefully manage the financial risks. We, too, have more confidence than we had a few weeks ago that taxpayers will be protected.”

Sandusky acknowledged the criticisms directed by some towards a Chicago Games, but believes the plusses outweigh them.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s been amazing to be a part of something that – if we win – will be an altering event for the City of Chicago,” Sandusky said. “More than anything since the turn of the (20th) Century, it will change the face of Chicago for the future. And to be part of that would be an amazing thing. It’s also why everyone (with Chicago 2016) is so committed.”

And as for whether the stork will be bringing five Olympic rings to the Windy City like it brought two babies to the Sandusky household?

“I think we’re in a great position,” Sandusky said. “There are a lot of great cities in the race, but I think we’re going to be in a position to win it when we make our final presentation in Copenhagen.”

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 …

Cubs

Safe at ‘home’

I used to live a few blocks away from Wrigley Field.

Not anymore, though. This summer, I’ve decided to just move into the place.

Seems like I spend most of my time there anyways.

So, it’s back to the bleachers again.

(I know, rough life, right?)

Remarkably, the weather is even nice.

So, two days after drinking this at Thursday’s night game – on May-frickin’-29th! – I’m planning today to instead have one of these.

Or, maybe, two.

And, who knows, maybe the Cubs will rally from 10 down today.