Cubs Pay Moral Cost for Tendering Contract to Russell

“Maybe the move shouldn’t have come as a surprise given management’s recent familiarity with dubious character trades, but for a number of Chicago Cub fans (including myself) it did. Last week, and five months before he is eligible to return from a Major League Baseball-mandated suspension for violating its domestic-violence policy, the Cubs tendered a contract to shortstop Addison Russell.

Yes, baseball is a business but the Cubs of this era have built a reputation for being the good, fun-loving guys – zoo days for the players at Wrigley Field, bullpen dances, “Try not to suck,” Anthony Rizzo’s 2017 Roberto Clemente Award, “#EverybodyIn.” The Cubs care about the community, each other, their fans. Not everything is about winning and the budget, right? For many female die-hards, however, as well as members of Wrigleyville Nation who belong to the LGBTQIA community, the team’s self-propelled narrative of moral rectitude is wearing a little thin.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

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Chicago Cubs Club 400

With Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, die-hard Cub fans Becky Sarwate and Randy Richardson interviewed a diverse collection of some of the team’s most famous fans: actors, comedians, broadcasters, musicians, restauranteurs, athletes, journalists. Even those who are ubiquitous precisely because of their fandom. Cubsessions tells the story of divergent life paths – the roads taken, the failures experienced, and the successes reached – and how those paths all come together for a collective passion.

Becky and Randy were interviewed by the Club 400 Radio hosts. The podcast is an extension of Club 400, a place where Cubs fans gather and the motto is “Cubs Fans Helping Cubs Fans.”

Click here to listen and/or download the full podcast.

Edwards’ Erratic Performances Point to Huge Post-Season Bullpen Challenges

Carl Edwards Jr.

“Somehow, according to MLB.com, Carl Edwards Jr.’s ERA is a mere 1.80 in his last seven appearances. This, assuredly, does not tell the story of the lanky young right hander’s recent awfulness. I’ve been playing closer attention to the reliever these last two weeks, and he’s a strong example of the sometimes misleading nature of statistics.

It is a running joke at home between my husband Bob and I that Edwards is only bad when I’m looking. My spouse, a rabid Cubs fan and huge proponent of numeric measurement, believes that a career ERA under 3.00 points to looming greatness. However, that confidence has been mightily tested over the last fortnight. Edwards has put 10 extra men on the bases in 15 games. Most egregiously, he has done so with the bags somewhat to almost full, giving the lie to that old Earned Run Average. Most of the runs that have followed from Edwards belong to the dude who came before. He’s been undependable at home vs. the Mets, in Milwaukee, and as of last night’s very disappointing loss, Washington D.C.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

The 2018 MLB All-Star Game and Trump’s Overseas Trip: Two Complicated Breaks

Baseball

“Of course not all of the press coverage around the 2018 All-Star Game will surround toxic political air and infrastructure debates. There’s always plenty for sports pundits and fans to grumble about related to the NL and AL team lineups. This year is no exception. Rucker Haringey writes of Blake Snell and the 5 Biggest 2018 All-Star Game Snubs. His list includes the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher as well as the Washington Nationals’ own starting shortstop Trea Turner.

Certain Chicago Cub fans, who might also happen to be Contemptor contributors, are miffed at the absence of rock star outfielder Albert Almora Jr. from the NL roster.  Among all National League batters, Almora sits in third place with a current average of .317. However, Almora is a victim here, not of subjective fan voting, but rather mismanagement by Windy City favorite son Joe Maddon (Yes. I said it. Come at me, Internet).

Next week offers mid-summer breaks of several sorts. Although President Trump will be overseas potentially signing over what’s left of our national dignity to Vladimir Putin, he will at least be out of American airspace. This era of deregulation notwithstanding, the oxygen always smells a bit sweeter when the Very Stable Genius decamps. And on the lighter side of U.S. life and continuity, baseball fans can enjoy a couple of days with stakes no higher than selecting game time snacks (no more of this World Series home advantage stuff). We deserve the psychological reprieve.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

After a Winning Holiday Weekend, Is Maddon Finally Ready to #FreeAlmora?

Almora

The Chicago Cubs had a very nice Memorial Day Weekend. After winning two of three at home against the San Francisco Giants, the boys in blue (or rather green, in holiday honor of our military) took a late Sunday night plane ride to Pittsburgh in order to be at PNC Park for today’s 12:35 PM start time. With bullpen stalwart Mike Montgomery called to the mound in place of an ailing Yu Darvish, and the players working on so little rest, anything could have happened. Instead the Cubbies treated their hosts to a 7-0 rout, led by good stuff from Montgomery and a key fourth inning, two-run homer off the bench from Addison Russell.

At the time of this post, the Cubs sit four and a half games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. That’s not ideal but we’ve got two-thirds of a season left to play. Starting ace Jon Lester has been on fire, which bodes well for tomorrow’s second game of three in Steel City. There’s been some trouble with the non-Lester part of the rotation and Anthony Rizzo is still struggling at the bat. But the end of May is no time for panic. Hell, I’m even coming around to Schwarber as a permanent left fielder. If he’s going to smoke Francisco Lindor at second base like that, I may have been hasty in my season-opening judgment (yes, Internet, I can admit it).

However, nestled within my late-March outfield castigation of Kyle Schwarber was another complaint. One that remains as disappointingly active as it was during Week 1 of the 2018 MLB season. That particular column marked my first public use of the #FreeAlmora hash tag. It appears destined not to be the last. On May 23, Danielle Sauers of Locked on Cubs wrote:

“There’s no doubt that Albert Almora Jr. is a fan favorite. If he doesn’t start for more than a few days in a row, the #FreeAlmora hash tag is bound to be out in full force. He’s young, charismatic, and has been flashing serious leather in recent games, so it’s easy to see why the fans love him. But can he continue to contribute at a high enough level to justify regular starts?”

The answer, Ms. Sauers, is in the question. Almora has continuously done more than enough to justify his regular place in the starting lineup. He’s hitting a team-leading .324, a solid 34 points ahead of 2016 MVP Kris Bryant. And compared with Ian Happ’s (forgive me) hapless fielding, my guy Almora regularly robs opposing players of extra base hits. Treat yourself to another viewing of his May 27 leap into the right center field gap at Wrigley, cheating Giants’ third baseman Evan Longoria of at least a double. Even if Almora Jr. wasn’t a terrific hitter (he is), I tend to side with the stereotyped middle-aged male crowd. Defense DOES win championships.

So what gives? Why does Joe Maddon so maddeningly (there I go again) refuse to give the 24 year-old the regular starting lineup love he’s earned? Writer Tony Andracki of NBC Sports Chicago calls it the Ian Happ-Albert Almora Jr. lineup conundrum. And Sauers continues in her piece:

“The Cubs rarely have to ask ‘who’s on first?’ but the question of who will start in the outfield is a hotly debated topic. Some do not agree with Joe Maddon’s regular changes in the lineup… Almora’s marked improvement is hard to ignore.”

Yet ignore it Maddon does. He may find the Almora versus Happ topic a “poor discussion,” but I’m not sure stubbornness becomes the leader of a team barely clinging to second place in the National League Central.

Come on Joe. There’s plenty of baseball left to play in 2018. But it’s hard to imagine the sustained surge needed to take and maintain first place, unless we #FreeAlmora.

Schwarber’s No Good, Very Bad Day in Left Field

Schwarber_Jersey_Resized

I made my husband Bob giggle yesterday as we went through our morning routines, which in his case, features sports talk radio. After months of MLB season 2018 anticipation, excitement turned to anger as the Cubs opening day lineup was announced. As I’m prone to doing, displeasure was immediately expressed in colorful language. It was of some comfort to learn I wasn’t alone in condemning Manager Joe Maddon’s strategy. Julie DiCaro of the WSCR-AM 670 is behind the creation of my new favorite Twitter hashtag, #FreeAlmora.

The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?

Kyle  Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.

It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injuryto help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.

But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field. Throughout the offseason, Bob and many other diehard Schwarber fans made much of the player’s dramatic weight loss, ostensibly an effort to lighten his feet in left field. On February 22, Bleacher Nation Tweeted out side-by-side photos of Schwarbs’ physique from Spring Training 2017 versus 2018. The difference is indeed striking, and led the writers to observe:

“This is what incredible hard work and discipline looks like. Anyone want to bet on Kyle Schwarber not having a big season? I’ll take that bet.”

Well Bleacher Nation, I hope your offices are near an ATM, because if Day 1 of the MLB season is any indicator, you’re going to need some cash. Yes, yes I know Schwarbs hit a home run. And that’s just swell. When he hits the long ball, it’s an objectively beautiful sight to behold. However Chicago Sun-Times writer Satchel Price hints at the overall loss resulting from a Schwarber cost-benefit analysis:

“[The 2018 season opener] wasn’t always the prettiest game, including two errors by each team and a brief outing from Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester, but the Cubs have to be thrilled to come away with a 1-0 record.”

Who committed the two errors from The Cubs side? Let’s read on…

“Joe Maddon…made a couple changes entering the bottom of the seventh, bringing in relief pitcher Pedro Strop and replacing Kyle Schwarber in left field with the defensively superior Albert Almora. Schwarber finishes his day at the plate 1-of-3 with one walk and one home run.”

It’s worth mentioning that the two errors from left field resulted in two of four total Marlins’ runs. So while it’s great that Schwarber contributed to the offense, his defense more than erased the gift. The Cubs won 8-4 and if Maddon is going to continue to put Schwarber’s stone glove in the outfield, we’re going to need dominant bats and solid pitching all season long.

Let’s not risk it. Given the Chicago Cubs’ exciting offseason personnel moves, we have a real shot at bringing home our second trophy since 1908. We can’t afford outfielders giving away free runs, especially against teams stronger than the Marlins.

#FreeAlmora

And For My Next Trick…

I have a problem. One that is entirely First World in its privilege, but challenging all the same.

I’ve been a personal blogger longer than I’ve been any other kind of writer. It was the easiest place to start on a campaign that began in 2009 (however unwittingly) to finally figure out my truths and learn to live them. Then as now, blogging platforms were democratically accessible and mostly free. In addition, I was in such a bad place nine years ago – personally and professionally – there was no want of material for such a creative endeavor. I was so lost in life, so inexperienced with the craft, I didn’t know enough to feel self-conscious – about fledgling skills or the nakedly intimate topics doubling as cries for self-help.

I actually went looking for my first-ever blog post on Which End Is Up Today?, a brief project on which my sister and I collaborated. It was a fun union of two close, but distinct voices – Jenny’s suburban mom with a broadcasting career; I the childless, urban dwelling, semi-starving artist. However the platform has been dormant for so many years, Google stopped indexing the site. That’s probably for the best.

My early work, while charmingly guileless, is fairly cringe worthy in form, structure and content. For one, I wrote under a pseudonym, a handy metaphor for the near-complete lack of self-awareness with which I was stumbling through life at the time. For example, if you dare, just gaze upon the hackneyed, uninteresting and fundamentally dishonest bit of autobiography on display here in early 2009. There are reasons beyond artistic self-flagellation for keeping these early efforts alive. I have always believed that the road to self-improvement is paved with recycled asphalt from wrong turns and dead ends.

Back to my present problem. While I remain an unmalleable square peg, with the help of abundant group and personal therapy, as well as hard labor, I’ve found the holes where I fit. I’m not only comfortable in these spaces, I luxuriate in them. Although it’s taken years of repeating empowering mantras until the syllables lose meaning, I deserve this recent comfort in my skin, this confidence about my place in the world, at home, at work and in Chicago’s literary community.

But though it’s an amazing feeling to discover one’s own version of equilibrium, it’s taking a while for new order to jibe with the fight or flight panic that characterized 36 years. Sometimes I’m still unsure what to do without the consistent, existential burn caused by fear, lack and overwhelming envy.

So it was that during a moment of unattached boredom, I found myself Googling, in vague search of answers to a question I never thought I’d ask.

“What’s next after achieving all your goals?”

The precursor to this interrogation of the World Wide Web was wrestling with a few philosophical queries on my own:

  • What’s next after marrying the love of my life last year, my true spiritual partner in all things, the one who respects and supports my complicated past and present quirks of character? I chased the wrong men for three decades. This self-defeating past-time consumed a great deal of energy. Three years into a more healthy and balanced love, how do I channel old frenzy into the new, healthy maintenance habits our marriage deserves?
  • Bob and I have a beautiful home that is fully representative of us. We’ve spent three years converting his divorced guy bachelor pad into our mortgaged happy place – paint, furniture, linens, multiple rounds of decluttering, infrastructure repairs. Our condo is clean, everything works as it should and I’ve had ample time to let go of old fears that I could be dumped/evicted/foreclosed upon, forced to rebuild alone. What’s next after achieving hard won domestic security? Am I supposed to set goals higher than what’s already more than enough?
  • After years of toiling as a poorly paid freelancer, working temporary or otherwise unstable jobs to make ends meet as I waited for my “real career” to begin, I recently confronted a truth. “One day” has fully arrived. Once certain I’d never find fulfillment in a corporate setting, I work for a publicly traded company that entrusts me with challenging work matching passion and skill set. My day job provides me with the financial stability to underwrite riskier, less remunerative creative efforts to which I’m no less committed. Like say, teaching an adjunct English class at my alma mater that’s designed to help students turn liberal arts degrees into jobs. Or publishing a once-in-a-lifetime charity book project about the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series with a friend and colleague. I sit on the boards of two vitally important Chicago-based communications organizations that put me in regular networking contact with brilliant creatives. As a whole, my career is more well-wounded and rewarding than ever seemed possible. But I am a born striver. Do I even know how to stop wanting more than I need?
  • After sustained efforts at breaking toxic, co-dependent relationship habits, I’m blessed with healthy, supportive friendships and good relationships with the family members I choose to include in my life. For the most part, I’ve given over obsessing about the estranged, broken and bizarre bonds with my parents that used to make me feel ritual, low-grade shame and discomfort. Is it ok to let go?

If you’re are wondering why the hell one would overthink success and contentment, I couldn’t agree with you more. But I suspect this quote from a recent article on the Lifehack website gets at the heart of the real issue. It’s about fear – of losing what I’ve gained, rather than failing to accrue addition:

“What do you do once you achieve your big goal and make it to the top? This can become a big problem if it looks like the only way you can go is down…The problem can be one of maintaining the position [if this is what you want], or figuring out where to go next while avoiding a big letdown.”

I’ve worked so hard to get to this place, I don’t want to disappoint anyone, myself most urgently of all.  After a life of operating (correctly) like I had nothing to lose, I’m somewhat confounded by today’s emotional, physical and spiritual plenty.