Some conventional thoughts about the 2015 Cubs

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

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Five years ago, I attended my first-ever Cubs Convention in Chicago, and the team promptly went 75-87 during the 2010 season.

I haven’t been back since. And, really, neither have the Cubs.

Since that weekend spent hobnobbing with Cubs greats – and Ronnie “Woo Woo” – the club hasn’t enjoyed a winning season and has gone 346-464 overall. However, as the team’s 30th annual convention continues today and Sunday, hope finally has returned to the North Side.

Not coincidentally, it’s accompanied by talent.

In Joe Maddon, the Cubs again have a manager worthy of their stage, both in terms of leadership and personality (sorry, Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum and Mike Quade). They finally have a true ace in $155 million man Jon Lester. And if phenoms Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and others develop as hoped, they may soon have a team filled with true stars.

And as Theo Epstein & Co. fuel the fan fest excitement today, here’s some things that currently interest me the most regarding the 2015 Cubs.

Win now … and later

This week, while chatting with the Chicago Tribune about movies and baseball, Kevin Costner called the Cubs “a funny team – almost America’s team in a weird way. They need to win.”

And, yes, they do. But that doesn’t mean they have to win big now.

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Illini Fighting Way Back Into NCAA Tourney Contention

GroceThursday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Just when it looked like all was lost for Illinois basketball, suddenly, it isn’t at all.

Only nine days ago, Illini coach John Groce’s program was engulfed in both gloom (an 0-2 Big Ten record after a 77-61 setback at Ohio State) and doom (leading scorer Rayvonte Rice had been sidelined indefinitely after breaking his hand) as it prepared to face No. 11 Maryland down in Champaign.

But since then?

Well, you’ve really got to hand it to the Illini, because they didn’t just throw theirs up and surrender in the face of adversity. Instead, the Illini are living up to the “Fighting” in their nickname and have now given themselves a legitimate shot at actually making a run to the NCAA Tournament.

Getting there still won’t be easy — but it also isn’t impossible.

On Wednesday night, Illinois pulled out a gutsy 72-67 road win at Northwestern, giving the team victories in two of its last three games since losing Rice to injury. With a 12-6 record overall that includes 2-3 mark in the Big Ten despite playing four of their first five league games on the road, the Illini’s situation is now looking up.

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Warm thoughts about Chicago’s winters – really

WinterFrom the Saturday, Jan. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

In Chicago, winter is about as popular as City Hall.

Both can be terribly taxing.

And last month, with the Great Polar Vortex still wintry fresh in our minds, Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris wrote a piece entitled, “The Mass Exodus of 2014,” in which she spoke to an Evanston blogger who claims to have had 48 friends flee the area for other states during the past 14 months.

“Every year people complain about the weather, but last year especially, it was just ridiculous,” said 36-year-old Saya Hillman, who surveyed 22 of her friends about their reasons for leaving Illinois. “I think most of these people, where weather played a part, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about moving before.’ The weather was the kicker. It was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

Yeah, maybe. But I tend to think that anyone who leaves Chicago for that reason is a wimp. And as a different Tribune business columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out this week, “truth is, we’re sweating bigger problems in this state” – namely, our avalanche of financial concerns, which is something that should really chill us to the bone.

And that’s likely the true reason why most Illinoisans are leaving.

But back to the polarizing – and polar-like – issue of Chicago’s cold, which last winter dumped a whopping 82 inches of snow on the city while also plunging temperatures below zero on 26 different days, more than the during previous five winters combined.

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Short-Handed Illini Just Can’t Get A Leg Up

rayvonte-riceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Seemingly, it’s been years since Illini basketball last caught a break. And then this week, when it finally did? Well, it was completely the wrong kind.

Namely, the fractured-left-hand-of-your-best-player-during-practice kind of break, which seems so terribly cruel to a struggling team and a suffering fan base, yet also so terribly Illinois.

In terms of mood, Orange is the New Blue.

Worn weary after having missed four of the past seven NCAA Tournaments and whiffing in so many high-profile recruiting battles, Illini Nation on Tuesday didn’t respond with a passionate online uproar so much as a collective sigh of resignation when the news broke that senior star Rayvonte Rice had broken his left hand and will be sidelined indefinitely (likely around a month or more) following surgery Wednesday.

It was almost as if the reaction was, “Of course he did.”

And if ever a fan base, a basketball program and, heck, an entire athletic department was in need of a win, the University of Illinois is.

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Wisch Lists are for New Year’s

HoverboardFrom the Saturday, Jan. 3, issues of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Wish lists are for Christmas.

But Wisch Lists? Well, just like always, they’re for New Year’s.

And I’ve been waiting almost 30 years for this one.

Although, we’re already three days in 2015 and I’m still yet to see a hoverboard. Or a flying car. Or anyone wearing those cool self-lacing Nike high-tops that looked so good on Marty McFly’s feet.

But they’re probably part of the spring collection.

And surely I’ll track a pair down by the time the Cubs beat Miami to win the World Series in October.

Wait … Miami?

OK, so maybe everything about 2015 that was projected in “Back to the Future II” won’t actually happen in 2015. But here’s what I hope does.

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Groce, Illini Need To Tackle The Big Ten

Kennesaw State v IllinoisTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The University of Michigan band has been asked back early from winter break. Ticket prices for the Wolverines’ Big Ten hoops opener are reportedly through the roof. And across the country, all eyes will be on Ann Arbor this afternoon.

But it isn’t because the Illinois Fighting Illini are in town.

Or even that John Beilein’s Michigan basketball team is.

Rather, all the hoopla is because some guy named Jim Harbaugh is supposed to be introduced at Crisler Arena during Michigan’s 2 p.m. game against Illinois on Tuesday. Apparently, he coaches football, and the folks up in Ann Arbor really care about that sort of thing.

As a result, the arrival of the school’s new khaki-clad rock star direct from the NFL means that Michigan’s hoops arena should be rocking much more than it would be if the underachieving Wolverines basketball team (7-5) was the only attraction on tap.

Harbaugh’s anticipated appearance at Michigan is inconvenient for the 10-3 Illini, although Illinois coach John Groce told reporters on Monday, “We always say the louder the better, the bigger stage the better. We relish opportunities like that.”

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What you don’t know about Christmas in Chicago

Holiday2From the Saturday, Dec. 20, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Sometimes, Chicago can be a Polar Vortex.

But the Windy City also can be a Winter Wonderland. And during Christmastime, its buildings, streets and parks are filled with holiday fun – and all sorts of fun holiday facts, many of which you might not know.

To help put you in the Christmas spirit this weekend, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite holiday facts from all around the city.

It’s a tradition

Chicago has more longtime holiday traditions than you can shake a Christmas tree branch at.

Among them: For 64 years, the Museum of Science and Industry has celebrated the birth of Jesus with its spectacular “Christmas Around the World” tree exhibit. For 36 years, Goodman Theatre has told Charles Dickens’ classic tale by staging “A Christmas Carol.”And for 23 years, the Art Institute has held the annual “Wreathing of the Lions” for its pair of bronzed felines along Michigan Avenue.

The CTA Holiday Train (and Bus)

Riding the “L” in Chicago isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But if you’re lucky, it actually can be magical in December.

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Jon Lester’s Deal Isn’t About 6 Years – It’s About 1

LesterToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Is Jon Lester really worth $155 million? Probably not.

Was Alfonso Soriano really worth $136 million? Definitely not.

But would a Cubs World Series championship be worth either price?

Oh, you bet it would.

Since last week when the Cubs signed ace left-hander Lester to the richest deal in club history and the second-wealthiest pitching contract in the game, the move by Theo Epstein & Co. has been widely celebrated – and for good reason, considering the relative dearth of impact arms in the Cubs’ organization.

But as ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield pointed out last week in a blog entry, “$155 million is a lot for a pitcher who hasn’t necessarily proved himself to be a consistent No. 1 starter, let alone the second-best starter in the game.”

It’s a great deal of coin that comes with a good deal of risk. Even if he stays healthy, the reality is that with Lester turning 31 on Jan. 7, it’s almost certain that due to age he won’t be worth his average annual salary of $25.8 million during the latter seasons of his record deal.

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Chicago’s best brewery taprooms will fill you with cheer

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

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Santa may be fine with milk and cookies, but for other elves age 21 and over with an interest in something a bit stronger, there’s plenty of “Christmas Cheer” to be had in

Chicago’s thriving craft brewery scene.

The following are some of the city’s best taprooms worth visiting this holiday season – or any season, for that matter.

Lagunitas Brewery
1843 S. Washtenaw Ave.

The newest arrival to Chicago’s craft beer scene is also its biggest. In April, Rogers Park native and Northern Illinois University alum Tony Magee returned to the Windy City after having left more than two decades earlier to found the original Lagunitas Brewery in northern California.

In Pilsen, Magee opened a massive 300,000 square-foot facility inside a former steel plant that has served as a set for NBC’s Chicago Fire. In June, the brewery opened a sprawling 300-person taproom located on the building’s third floor that’s reached via a long hallway playing the theme from Willy Wonka. And it is quite the wonderland, featuring an array of long picnic tables and a large bar that feels like something of a hipster version of Oktoberfest. The taproom also offers a 360-degree view of the brewing operation, live music, delicious food – and, of course, a full lineup of Lagunitas’ celebrated beers.

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A To-Do List For Tim Beckman, Mike Thomas

dudekTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Illinois Fighting Illini have themselves a bowl game. Tim Beckman has himself another season as coach. And the football program now has itself back to where it was in 2011 when Ron Zook was fired after a 6-6 season.

Struggling just to get back to .500 and play in a lower-tier bowl wasn’t the plan three years ago when Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas explained Zook’s dismissal by stressing a need for increased Big Ten success and declaring that, “It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner.”

So far, that hasn’t proved to be the case with Beckman, as he’s posted a record of just 4-20 in conference and 12-24 overall. However, the embattled coach did close out the regular season on a surprising two-game winning streak, earning himself a reprieve from the chopping block.

And so as the Illini use this bonus month of practice time to prep for the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26 – and the 2015 season beyond – here are some action items that I’d suggest Beckman and Thomas put on their to-do list if they hope to give the weary Illinois fan base what it deserves.

Optimism.

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