General

Wisch List on the Air … in Champaign

Tay-Carp-FB-BanThe Hot Stove has been fairly tepid for the Chicago Cubs this winter, but it’s liable to warm up at any time. Same goes for the Illini basketball program.

And I shared my thoughts about both – as well as the (gasp!) St. Louis Cardinals – this week when I joined my pals Lon Tay and Mike Carpenter on the Tay & Carp radio show in Champaign this week. Give it a listen.

General

The best-laid plans of mice, men … and Chicago sports

Jerry-reinsdorf-tribune-photo-2From the Saturday, Dec. 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

It’s one thing to have a plan.

It’s another thing to stick to one.

The Cubs had one, and they stuck to it. The White Sox have one and … well, will they stick to it?

I’d say that very much remains to be seen.

This week during Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, the stunning news broke that Sox had offered up a package of top prospects to trade for Baltimore’s All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, despite the fact that the slugger is slated to become a free agent after the 2018 season.

Just 25 years old, Machado is a monster talent and would be a great addition to a great many teams. But I struggle to see how he makes sense for the Sox at this stage of the team’s rebuild – which, like the Cubs’ successful plan, is expected to involve a lot of youngsters, a lot of losing and a lot of high draft picks.

Machado is a guy you add if you’re looking to win – both now and later, not just later. Unless the Sox are extremely confident that they can sign him to a long-term deal before he hits free agency – a huge gamble considering Machado’s agent is Scott Boras and other deep-pocketed organizations covet him – it’s illogical to give up top prospects for a guy who could be nothing more than a rental during what’s supposed to be a rebuilding season.

Whether the Sox land Machado or not, the team’s pursuit leaves me wondering if 81-year-old Jerry Reinsdorf really has the stomach to follow through on a long rebuild. Doing so can certainly result in a lot of indigestion, but there’s also nothing more filling than successfully seeing it through.

Just ask the team on the North Side.

General

Where could a high-speed O’Hare train boldly go?

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 6.51.07 PMFrom the Saturday, Dec. 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

I like big, bold ideas – especially when they involve Chicago.

I was supportive of the city’s pursuit of the 2016 Summer Olympics. I thought the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art could have been a great attraction along the lakefront. And, as I wrote in this column in September, I’m hoping that the Windy City wins the high-stakes derby for e-commerce giant Amazon’s HQ2.

Yes, I do like big, bold ideas involving Chicago.

And, as it turns out, fast ones too.

That’s why I’m rooting for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision of a high-speed train that would whisk passengers between O’Hare Airport and downtown to become a reality. But not only because of what such a train could offer travelers, but also because of the potential that a proven high-speed rail service could ultimately portend for the greater Chicagoland region – and the entire Midwest.

Last week, Emanuel announced that the city was issuing a formal Request for Qualifications for companies interested in designing, building, financing and operating a superfast rail link between downtown and the airport (visionary billionaire Elon Musk is among those who have already expressed interest).

General

Chicago is made for Christmastime adventures

pakatwrigleyWinter-Market-2From the Saturday, Dec. 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

I always say that other than summertime, there’s no better time visit Chicago than Christmastime. With the Mag Mile awash in glittering lights, State Street truly looking like that Great Street with the festive windows at Macy’s (it’s still Marshall Field’s to me) and people bundled up with an extra layer of holiday cheer, the Windy City is tough to beat in December.

In fact, so much holiday hoopla swirls about the Chicago this month that it’s impossible to do it all. But if you’re making a list (and checking it twice), here are a few things I’d suggest putting right near the top.

Christkindlmarket at Wrigley

Wrigley Field has undergone an array of changes over the past few years, but perhaps nothing is more dramatic than the addition of The Park at Wrigley – which has now turned the old ballpark into a full-blown wintertime destination..

In November, a new outpost of Chicago’s popular downtown German-themed Christkindlmarket opened at The Park, bringing the same open-air holiday village, German food and spiced wine found at Daley Plaza to the North Side.

Unlike at Daley Plaza, The Park also allows you to take a twirl on a newly constructed 8,000-square-foot skating rink. Rink fees are $5 for skaters 13 and up, while those 12 and younger are free. Skate rental costs an additional $10.

For more information, visit parkatwrigley.com.

General

Light at the end of the Illini tunnel? I can see it

BUIt’s been a dark decade for Fighting Illini basketball.

But is there finally a light at the end of the State Farm Center tunnel?

I think so, with Brad Underwood having mercifully taken reins from the overmatched John Groce. Although, with so much youth and a lack of size, Underwood’s inaugural Illini squad may not quite reach that light this season with the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in five years.

Then again, who knows, maybe they will.

What I do know, is that for the first time in ages, I’m actually looking forward to watching Illinois hoops. Gone are the days of tired slogans and hollow coach-speak from Groce, and in is a no-nonsense coach in Underwood who won’t sugarcoat his team’s shortcomings and actually runs a real offense.

It’s that spread offense – which made its official debut on Friday night in the Illini’s season opener at State Farm Center vs. Southern – that excites me the most about Underwood. Designed around spacing, ball reversals and hard cuts, it’s helped Underwood’s teams at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State average 76 points and rank in Ken Pomeroy’s top 60 for offensive efficiency the past three seasons. Not coincidentally, each of those teams also reached the NCAA Tournament – a place where Illinois hasn’t danced since 2013.

Filled with complexities and nuances, I expect the new Illini offense to remain a work in progress for a sizable chunk of the season. I’m told, in fact, that Underwood has spent entire practices working only on players’ spacing without ever having them put up a single shot. And it’s because of that extreme learning curve that I didn’t sweat Illinois’ 80-67 exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois last week, nor will I stress out too much about other early-season hiccups.

It’s all part of the process. And in the end, Illinois may be too green this season to pile up the wins that they’ll need to go dancing this March.

Then again, who knows. Underwood has a knack for finding ways.

General

How to embrace October baseball in Wrigleyville

CubsWinIt’s October again.

But for the Cubs – and Cubs fans – it’s also a brave new world.

No longer the Lovable Losers, the North Siders are now the Cherished Champs, and in turn, the 10th month of 2017 has a different vibe than in Octobers (and centuries) past.

As the Cubs dive headlong into the National League Division Series against Dusty Baker’s Washington Nationals, there are no goats to taunt us and no curses to haunt us. After finally winning it all, this postseason is largely gravy to me. That said, I’m greedy and want to get fat on the gravy.

I think the surging Cubs can win again, although repeating will be anything but easy. However, to make things easier for you to enjoy October baseball in Wrigleyville, I’ve compiled a few tips should you be looking to get another taste.

Tickets

There’s now a new way to enjoy the postseason in Wrigleyville with the delightful Park at Wrigley hosting playoff watch parties when the Cubs are on the road. This afternoon, for example, The Park will open one hour before the 4:30 p.m. broadcast time for Game 2 in D.C.

Tickets to the event are $10 and limited to four per order, with proceeds benefiting Cubs Charities. For ticket availability for the Game 2 party and potential upcoming events, visit parkatwrigley.com.

If you’re looking to purchase tickets to actual playoff games at Wrigley, note that you can still register at cubs.com for a chance at the World Series (should the Cubs get there). That deadline is noon on Oct. 16, with a refundable $50 deposit required to enter.

For NLDS tickets to Games 3 or 4 of on Monday and Tuesday (or potential games beyond), the good news is that prices on StubHub are running lower now than last season when the cheapest were $120 for the NLDS, $375 for the NLCS and $2,000 for the World Series. The bad news is that they tickets are still pricey at a minimum of $108 for NLDS, $209 for NLCS and $1,400 for the World Series.

General

Amazon’s HQ2 could be a big win for Chicago — and beyond

amazonFrom the Saturday, Sept. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

The City of Big Shoulders remains The City of Big Aspirations. But in recent years, Chicago has more often been The City of Big Losers when it comes to actually making those aspirations a reality,

It lost its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. It lost its funding to build the 2,000-foot Chicago Spire. And it lost its bid to become home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. But, thankfully, Chicago hasn’t yet lost its nerve. And here’s to hoping that when it comes to luring e-commerce giant Amazon to town, Chicago still has some big ideas up its sleeve.

Because the Windy City is due for a big win.

Earlier this month, Amazon sent politicians, real estate brokers, urban developers and job seekers across North America into a tizzy of excitement when it announced plans to spend $5 billion to build a second headquarters ­– dubbed “HQ2” – that will be fully equal to its Seattle home base and could create 50,000 new jobs.

For a city and state in dire need of such an economic shot in the arm, the reasons for Chicago to pursue Amazon are obvious. And despite Illinois’ rocky political and financial climate, there are plenty of reasons for Amazon to choose Chicago. Its requirements include 8 million square feet of space (check) in a metropolitan area of at least a million people (check) within 45 minutes of an international airport (check), accessible to mass transit (check) and close to major highways (check).

Amazon also wants a “stable and business-friendly environment,” which will require some serious spit shining from civic leaders before bids are due Oct. 19. But, hey, that’s where those big ideas come into play.

General

Another bad season for Monsters of Midway? Grin and Bear it

Glennon

From the Saturday, Sept. 9, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

From 2010 to 2014, the Chicago Cubs lost 464 games, finished in last place every season, and made the Friendly Confines a downright hostile environment for winning baseball.

It was a brutal stretch to be sure. But with the benefit of hindsight, every Cubs fan would gladly endure it all over again considering how during the next two seasons all that losing led to 200 victories and a World Series championship.

Enter the Chicago Bears, who from 2014 through 2016 have gone 14-34, finished in last place every season and made Soldier Field a losing battleground for winning football. As the Bears prepare to kick off the 2017 campaign on Sunday against Atlanta, we may be in for more of the same.

But, because of the Cubs, I’m actually A-OK with that.

Following the NFL Draft this past April, my opinion – ­­­which ran quite contrary to popular one at the time – was that I actually liked what the Bears did. It appeared to me that general manager Ryan Pace was executing a plan during the draft to acquire the young offensive talent – including quarterback Mitch Trubisky – that he and his staff had targeted, no matter the cost.

I wrote that I had no idea if it will work out – nor do I today, although Trubisky has looked very promising – but I was more than willing to let this plan play out. I still am. And, not unlike the Cubs, I think that plan may involve losing big again in 2017 to pave the way for more high draft picks in 2018, this time with perhaps a heavy focus on defensive talent.

We’re yet to see whether Pace can prove to be a gridiron version of Theo Esptein and bring an elusive Super Bowl championship to Chicago. But for what’s been a directionless franchise for far too long, I’m pleased to finally see some direction with the Bears. And if that leads to another awful season in 2017, that may actually prove to be best in the long run.

After all, just ask Cubs fans.

General

Frustrated Illini: U. of I. fails to lead on Native American issues

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.09.23 PMFrom the Saturday, Sept. 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

I used to be a Fighting Illini.

Now I’m just a frustrated one.

And it’s not nearly so much because of the University of Illinois’ many losses on the football field and basketball court in recent years as it is from all the ways my alma mater continues to fail the vast majority of its alumni and fans.

As well as Native Americans – but not in the way most think.

Last week, news broke that U. of I. had abruptly banned the “War Chant” music – a rhythmic drum beat and hand clapping – from all Illini sporting events, including football games where it’s been a defensive third-down fixture for decades, but won’t be for today’s season opener.

Critics argue that War Chant is offensive to Native Americans and that supporters should get over it because it’s “just a song.” Supporters of War Chant, meanwhile, argue that it indeed is “just a song” and critics should get over taking offense to everything. Personally, news of the ban left me with a mix of emotions ranging from sadness to frustration to exhaustion. But mostly I was disappointed.

Again.

Because with this deeply complex issue, the truth is that U. of I. banning War Chant isn’t really just about a song. Rather, big picture-wise, it’s yet another step in the university’s maddening campaign to eradicate all things related to this state’s Native American heritage rather than find ways to better embrace it.

As readers of this column know, I’ve long been a defender of the Chief Illiniwek tradition, but I’ve also always acknowledged how the Chief was never perfect. And for decades it was the enormous failure of the university’s administration to not work toward developing the beloved symbol into a true educational tool that could raise awareness about Native American heritage and tangibly benefit their communities.

In May 2013, the Council of Chiefs – a group comprised of the men who once portrayed Illiniwek – did that work independently by submitting a plan to the U. of I. administration that would have brought back an adapted version of the Chief for twice-a-year, on-field appearances for a two-year trial basis. The Peoria of Oklahoma, one of the original tribes of long-vanished Illini Confederation, expressed a willingness to be involved with adapting the Chief tradition, but only if the university itself was on board with the idea.