Category Archives: Chicago Cubs

A handshake, a smile and a conversation with my hero, Ron Santo

RIP, Ron Santo

September 1999. The Cubs are out of it.

But we — my best friend Mike and myself — are in it. “It” being our longtime destination of all time — Wrigley Field.

A throwaway late-season series between the Cubs and Cincinnati Reds was meaningless for much of the baseball world. Two teams going nowhere, even if Sammy Sosa was having another monster year after an MVP season in which he led the Cubs to the playoffs.

Looking back, the Cubs, with too many September roster expansion players who had no business on a Triple-A field, let alone in Wrigley (Ruben Quevedo, anyone?), treated the series for exactly what it was. After a towering Sosa three-run shot onto Waveland Avenue in the first game on Friday — Mike and I could trace the ball’s flight from 20th-row seats behind home plate for our very first Wrigley experience — the Cubs didn’t score again for the rest of the weekend. Our first trip to see our boyhood beloved Cubs, and they go the last 22 1/3 innings without touching home plate. We were swept out of our first Wrigley visit.

Honestly, that didn’t matter so much to us. We got to see the cathedral, the Church of Baseball, and despite the long faces that appear in a couple of postgame photos we had taken of us behind the Cubs’ dugout, Mike and I look back fondly on the trip.

And Ron Santo was a huge reason why.

Sunday’s game was an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” game, for reasons probably lost on the network itself. Ryne Sandberg sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Seventh-Inning Stretch (Caps are necessary for this at Wrigley) and we had a great view of him leaning out of Harry’s window. Mike and I had seats along the third base side, low in the upper deck, between third and home. It was a beautiful Chicago night (if you don’t count the baseball), with a brilliant view of the North Side skyline beyond the ivy and bricks.

After the game, Mike and I lingered in our seats. We had to leave at 5 a.m. for the drive home the next morning, but wanted to soak as much of Wrigley in as we could. We were two of the last the leave.

Ronnie always said what we fans said -- only he had the microphone.

A great thing about Wrigley is that the stadium is so simple. Even the bathroom troughs have some charm. The concourse, especially at that time, was the only way for fans to get to the upper deck, or for the media to get to the pressbox. We watched Sandberg walk out after the 7th, in fact. And, if you are early enough to the ballpark, you might catch a player on his way into the clubhouse.

Finally, with the brightest lights dimmed, Mike and I left our seats and walked toward the breezeway. We make the first turn on the way down, and here comes Ronnie.

Santo is my biggest baseball hero. By far. Of course, he’s one of the greatest Cubs of all time. In fact, though Cooperstown is less of a shrine without him, he’s one of the game’s greatest third basemen. But that was before my time. I loved Ronnie for a lot of the reasons people my age loved Ronnie — he is a Cubs icon, as much for his playing days as for his radio broadcast career on WGN Radio. Ronnie can’t just be called a homer, which he was, because was the ultimate fan, only with a microphone in front of him. When Brant Brown missed the easy fly ball that would have put the Cubs into the playoffs a day earlier in 1998 (thank you Neifi Perez), Ronnie said what the rest of us said: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”

But Ronnie was more than that to me. My mother fought juvenile diabetes for most of her life, as did Ronnie, in a time when few people, not to mention doctors, really understood the disease. When Santo played ball, he didn’t always treat his diabetes with insulin; many times he ate a candy bar and drank a coke. For six years, even his teammates didn’t know he played with the disease. Knowing all that, go back and look at his numbers again.

And so Santo’s unbelievable charity work for diabetes hit home with me. My mother went through two major heart surgeries, a kidney transplant in 1985 (she was her surgeon’s 50th transplant patient), numerous eye surgeries that still couldn’t save her sight in her left eye and intense pain in her extremeties. She eventually lost her fight four years ago, but along the way, Santo had his own heart trouble, had both legs amputated, and finally, on Dec. 3, 2010, lost his fight to bladder cancer.

Neither were ever known to complain about the illness. Ever.

But 11 years before this sad day, Ronnie was walking toward us, striding, I can still see through my teary eyes this morning, on his own legs. There’s no one around us. No one. It’s that late after a sold out baseball game. Somehow, we muster up the courage to say hello to Ronnie.

And Santo stops cold. “Hey guys, where ya from?”

One of us: “North Carolina.”

Santo: “Really? That’s great. You came all the way here from North Carolina?”

Me: “We even drove it.”

Mike: “Yeah, we were here for the whole series.”

Santo: “No kidding? Wow. Sorry we couldn’t have played better for you boys.”

Mike: “That’s OK. It’s nothing new.”

Santo: “Well, you got that right.”

Me: “Thanks, Ron. Thanks so much.”

He shakes both of our hands. “You guys be safe going home, OK?”

“Yes, sir.”

If only Ronnie had some clue as to what I meant in saying thanks. If only I had the time or the nerve to tell him why I had to say thanks.

But hell, I could barely breathe.

Mike and I still talk about that moment, and we laughed and cried with Santo for the next several years thanks to the beauty of MLB broadcasts on XM Radio. (“Hey, did you hear Santo when we couldn’t move the runner over in the fifth?” “Yeah, he was still groaning about it and saying, ‘Geez!’ in the 11th.”)

Today, though, we’re mostly crying.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to shake my hero’s hand. I didn’t need a picture. I didn’t need an autograph.

I had a moment with the man. And, on his way home, he was kind, generous, engaging and actually interested in what my best friend and I had to say.

Just because we were good fans.

Ron Santo, I will miss hearing your voice when the days are warm.

But I will never forget what it sounded like.



I'll miss you, Ronnie.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Ron Santo, Sports columns

Cubs/Cardinals — and Facebook/Twitter

Normally after a Cubs/Cards series, this is me. Or any other Cubs game for that matter.

In the event you are not “friends” with me on Facebook or don’t follow me on Twitter (and really, what’s the hold-up, people?), I found that attending a three-game series between my beloved (and terrible) Chicago Cubs and the hated (and damn good) St. Louis Cardinals is even more fun when you involve social media.

So then, here are my Facebook statii and/or Tweets from the weekend series from Aug. 13-15, in which the Cubs improbably took two out of three from the Cards (and beat Chris Carpenter in the process) at Busch Stadium. They are in order from when I posted them, so you can relive the games as I did (only without the giant nachos and beer).

Game 1, Cardinals 6, Cubs 3

4:30 leave for the airport. 6:30 board plane. Chance to see cubs win in st. Lou? Unlikely.

Leaving Chicago Midway for St. Louis. Got great tshirts though. Go Cubs, or something.

Why do I even bother buying a metro ticket? Nobody ever checks em. I want my 4 bucks back St. Lou. If Cubs somehow win, don’t worry abt it.

All hope is not lost for baseball. Long conversation on train abt cubs-cards with young black man. Are u listening Bud Selig?

Pujols just hit the first of his three bombs tonight. Its officially a cubs-cards game: I’ve seen pujols homer.

Cards fans know their baseball. Standing O for Yadi Molina in 1st AB at home since the brawl. Chills. Well deserved. Helluva ballplayer.

Game 2, Cubs 3, Cards 2

Kinda psyched to see a no-hitter today. Good chance with Carpenter vs. The Cubs.

Let carpenters no-hitter begin.

Busch stadium applauds the cloud that hides the sun for 30 seconds. 98 degrees with a heat index of 412.

La Russa justed bunted Rasmus in the 8th. Why doesn’t he trust the kid?

What’s it called when the Cubs finish a game with more runs than the other team? Oh yeah, a “rarity.” Still, overjoyed to be a spoiler for a day and beat Carp.

Game 3, Cubs 9, Cards 7

Game 3 today. Two out of three is waaaaaay too much to ask, right?

Great seats for cheap. Kyle Lohse pitching. Cmon Cubs. Maybe we got a shot after all.

I bring out the best in Albert Pujols. Seven games in three years: six home runs. And he’s got four more ABs today.

In busch. Line to restroom. Cubs fan leaves, sees the Santo jersey, motions for me to take open slot. Brothers in bathrooms.

Bathroom again. Cards fan gives me hell for Santo jesery. Other cards fan says: “give him a break. Santo is their mike shannon.” Shook that guys hand. Well played

What’s with all the empty seats busch? 8 2 got u down? Go Reds.

Hey, Mateo, try a strike.

AAAAAARRRGGGGGHHHHH! Only the Cubs could blow this.

Whew. Marmol. Win.

SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dempster such a gamer. Love him. Thanks cubs.

Monday

Loved my time with the Lee-Piersons and the Cubs. But really, really miss my girls and ready to get home.

Home sweet home. For so many reasons, the two of which are obvious. (Three, if you add Barkley.)

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, St. Louis Cardinals, The Sanford Herald

Still smarting over the 2009 Open Championship

Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with me.

Editor’s Note: I love major championship golf as much as anything in sports. And I especially love the British Open.

And for 71 1/2 holes last year, all I could think about was the Open Championship. But in the days, weeks and months following the last half of the 72nd hole and the subsequent playoff, it was all I could do to keep from thinking about it.

Because of my schedule, I’m not able to write my typical “Who Can Win, Who Won’t Win and Who Will Win” column this week for the Open. No big loss for you, especially afterI picked Greg Norman and Tom Watson to win the last two years, respectively.

In its place, though, I wanted to re-run a column I wrote about my experience during and after last year’s Open. It’s one of a series of “Visits with psychologist Dr. Kendall” columns I’ve written in an effort at cheap humor and intense sports psyche-dwelling.

Here’s my column that appeared last August, about a month after the 2009 Open Championship, with a few revisions:

Why I keep doing this I have no idea. It didn’t seem to resolve the Cubs’ infatuation two years ago. I still haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about steroids in baseball. And yet I’m still going back for more, ahem, treatment.

Deep breath. OK, let’s get the dog-and-pony show on the road. Open the door, sign in, flip through old magazines, wait an hour after the scheduled appointment time…

“Mr. Podlogar, so good to see you again. Dr. Kendall is waiting for you.”

Whoa, wait a minute. Last name pronounced correctly. Receptionist welcomes me at the door. Immediately sends me back. What is this?

He’s waiting for me? Seated comfortably in his chair, legs crossed, legal pad on his lap, pen in hand? Huh?

“Alex, Alex, come on in. Have a seat.”

“Um, gotta say, Doc, the service has been exemplary today. I’m a little flustered, I have to admit.”

“Well, you’re something of a rock star around here.”

“Rock star? You know, Doc, it’s kind of unsettling knowing the shrink is waiting with baited breath to see you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You’re one of our most fascinating subjects, err, patients, um, people. Yeah, people.”

“Gee, Doc…”

“So what’s on your mind today, Alex? The Cubs’ exasperating season? The ridiculous freefall of Aramis Ramirez? Carlos Zambrano’s inability to do anything remotely sane, let alone get outs? Or is it Baseball’s glacier-like progress on instant replay? Maybe it’s LeBron’s decision. Is that it? Huh? Tell me. Tell me! I’m dying to know!”

“Well, those are all good points. Especially the Zambrano thing. But that’s not it.”

“Oh boy — it’s something new?”

“Gosh, Doc, can you back away from the edge of your seat there? A little close, don’t you think?”

“Sorry. Proceed.”

“I think I need to give up sports.”

“Wait. What?”

“I take them too seriously, Doc. You should’ve seen me last year. I was a total wreck. I could barely watch the final round of the British Open, settling instead for text message updates from a friend, some of them during church. And then when I did watch, as Tom Watson, my main man when I was growing up, was about to win at age 59, accomplishing something never before seen in sports, it all fell apart.”

“I see, Alex. It’s a classic case of jinxotic paranoia. You think that because you started watching, a bad thing happened to the person you were rooting for.”

“Well, not exactly — although I totally have that. Carlos Marmol walks the leadoff guy, I turn the TV. But it wasn’t that so much.”

“Oh?”

“It’s how I felt after the carnage of the playoff. I was heartbroken, crushed, devastated. Nothing could cheer me up. It happened halfway around the world, to a man I’ve never met, and I was destroyed. Even when it looked like he would win, I could barely watch. I was a nervous wreck. My wife thought it was the dumbest thing ever.”

“Wait a second. You’re married? Boy, would I love to talk to her.”

“Focus, Doc.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Anyway, I felt horrible, and for days afterward. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch SportsCenter because I didn’t want to hear about it, see the highlights or even read the results over and over again on the scroll at the bottom of the screen. No sports talk radio. I removed myself from sports for, like, three days.”

“Wow.”

“I know. My wife loved it.”

“Have you felt like this before?”

“Oh sure. When Steve Bartman happened.”

“The 2003 NLCS, right? The guy who got in the way of the foul ball in Game 6 against the Marlins. The bobbled double-play ball right after it. The eight-run inning and the collapse in Game 7 a day later.”

“OK, OK. Enough.”

“Why Watson?”

“He was my guy when I was a kid. My first on-TV golf memory is of the ’82 Open, when he chipped in on 17 at Pebble. My dad hated Watson ’cause he loved Nicklaus. So naturally, I dug Watson.”

“Ohhhhhhh. So you and your dad have issues, too, huh?”

“Nah. It was just one of those things. We get along great. Geez, Doc, I got enough going on without you trying to make stuff up.”

“Yeah, make stuff up. That’s what we do. That’s why you keep coming to me.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

“All right, so you feel like you take sports too seriously, that the outcomes of the teams or people you root for affect you too personally.”

“Precisely. So what do I do about it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Say again?

“I don’t know. You’re a sports writer, right? How do you put those feelings away when you’re covering a game?”

“That’s different. That’s work. You just dive into your job and be a professional.”

“Can’t you do that with this?”

“What, make sports work all the time? Where’s the fun in that?”

“Where’s the fun in how you’re watching sports now?”

“Good point.”

“Look, aren’t sports about the great unknown? That anything can happen in a single moment, something that maybe you’ve never seen before? Like those perfect games this year.”

“Yeah, those have been pretty fantastic.”

“Think about what Watson accomplished last week. Does the fact he wasn’t able to win make it any less amazing that he was able to contend to the very last moment in a major championship at 59? How about the grace with which he handled his defeat? Sports are what they are, Alex. A series of highs and lows, and the lower the lows, the higher and more satisfying the highs.”

“That’s what we Cubs fans keep telling ourselves, Doc.”

“Just enjoy the moments for what they are, or turn out to be. At the end of the day, who wins and loses doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

“C’mon, you really believe that?”

“Geez, I see we still have a lot of work to do. See you in October, then?”

“Not this year, Doc.”

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, British Open, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Golf, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

A classic Bruce Drennan rant

The video above is from Cleveland Indians broadcaster Bruce Drennan, who had a particularly good rant for his postgame comment after the Tribe fell to 10-17 the other day.

This is beautiful, but it only makes me think of my woeful Cubs. Insert the Cubs nickname and replace a few players’ names with Aramis Ramirez and the entire bullpen, and you have how I feel about the Cubs right now.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

An angry Cubs retort

Maybe Phil Rogers thinks Paul Assemacher would be better.

Sorry for the invective down below, and maybe I’m just blind Cubs fan, but I can’ resist letting this go.

I think Phil Rogers is on the ball and pretty good, but this is crap, and while I don’t think the pen is very good and may hold the team back as well, this is crap.

When Lou Piniella’s first Cubs team went to the playoffs, it featured a bullpen that included $15.3 million in relief talent — a figure that easily could have been $20 million if Kerry Wood hadn’t been a post-surgery bargain that season. The steady drain of experience since then has been telling, hurting the Cubs a year ago and this season making it hard to take them seriously in their attempt to catch the Cardinals.

Since the end of 2007, the Cubs have shifted Ryan Dempster from the bullpen to the rotation, lost Wood, Bob Howry and Kevin Gregg to free agency ad traded away Scott Eyre, Michael Wuertz and Aaron Heilman. The only experienced reliever they’ve added in that time who is still around is lefty John Grabow.

Somehow, none of these pitching trades nor the Mark DeRosa deal has brought any pitching help (although lefty John Gaub has the arm to develop into a long-term big-leaguer). The Cubs came to camp thin and have had that situation exposed by Angel Guzman’s shoulder injury.

General manager Jim Hendry has been known to pull rabbits out of hats, but March isn’t the best time to stock your shelves. The choices available include signing an out-of-work veteran like John Smoltz or trading for one of the few available arms on the market. You’d have to pay heavily in terms of talent for the likes of Jason Frasor, Heath Bell, Brad Ziegler or Wood or take a financial risk for somebody like the White Sox’s Scott Linebrink.

My take: When the Cubs had Howry, Gregg, Eyre, Heilman and even Wuertz, they were crap. Crap. How do you get good pitching in return for crap? Even Wuertz sucked when he was in Chicago. And Wood sucked last year for the Indians. Yes, they are thin in the pen, but it’s not because they let too many good arms go. None of those arms were good. None.

And the Cubs shelled out huge money for Eyre and Howry and prospects for Gregg. If you follow sabermetrics at all, all the analysts say to go with young and cheap arms in the setup roles to save money for your club. Statisically, paying huge bucks for relievers is a waste of resources. Yes, they need to get a little lucky with some guys. But all teams do. What, should they have given the three-year deal to Brandon Lyon like the Astros? Anybody who knows baseball knows that was the worst deal of the offseason. I’m not saying they’ll be good or the pen will be anything other than a disaster. But it’s not because the Cubs let Heilman, Gregg go and moved Demps (and starting pitching is, um, kinda important).

This is stupid.

 

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

Next year is here — Spring version

Call it the Addition By Subtraction year.

Oh, I’m in.

I’m all in.

Ready to go. Ready for the real games to begin. Ready to be in Atlanta when the Cubs take on the Braves on Opening Day.

Ready to believe once more.

Am I setting myself up for failure? Well, not failure so much as frsutration. I won’t necessarily be losing anything, well, other than sleep after the bullpen blows another…

But wait. You stop right there, Negativity. There shall be no room for you when it’s only March 4.

Right now there is only hope.

Yes, the Chicago Cubs played for the first time on Thursday since lazily playing out the string last October. And they looked good.

Real good.

So good that I feel like there’s a chance it could be a big season.

I know, I know. I say that every year.

But that’s what’s great about the spring.

I get to believe for a few months.

And that’s something to hold on to.

Lose that, and what’s left?

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, World Series

The gifts that weren’t there under the tree

The stockings have been cleaned out, and everything under the tree has been opened. Unless one of those gifts got mistakenly mixed into the trash bag while cleaning up the wrapping paper, you know what you got for Christmas.

And what you didn’t get.

Here are a few items from the sports world that may still be deep in Santa’s bag or on the elves’ workshop floor. Maybe, if we behave, we’ll get them next year.

When will we hear from him? Actually hear from him.

A public apology from Tiger Woods

Even though the story is as stale as the fruitcake your boss got you will soon be, none of us has heard from Woods.

Oh sure, we all got the web site post, but let’s face it, not a whole lot of heart goes into something like that.

Think about it — what’s easier to do: apologize to a friend in an e-mail or in person?

Exactly.

Besides, the man’s wife deserves it.

Oh well.

A new bowl game for North Carolina

True, it wasn’t that long ago that Tar Heels’ fans distanced themselves from college football talk altogether, but a third trip to the Meineke Bowl in six years doesn’t do much to get fans — or players — excited.

Of course, the Heels have no one to blame but themselves (and the Gator Bowl for rolling over for Bobby Bowden). After wins over Virginia Tech, Miami and BC, UNC fans got to thinking that maybe a bigger bowl was in the offing. But then the Heels lost to N.C. State, reminding everyone that this was indeed still the same team that somehow lost to Virginia and collapsed to FSU.

Remember the Tiger Woods commercial “I AM Tiger Woods”? Well, North Carolina football IS the Meineke Bowl.

At least for now.

By the way, it’d be nice to at least win the game once.

He loves him some him.

Humility for Brett Favre

Yeah, right. Mother Teresa wouldn’t have been able to score this gift.

Favre’s ego is probably part of what makes him great, but now he’s having another tiff with a coach, and all of a sudden the Minnesota Vikings’ season is dangling on a cliff.

It’s true that a lot of Favre’s audibles at the line — usurping coach Brad Childress’ original calls — have worked. But the Vikings and Favre seem to be wearing down as the season closes, and all those thread-the-needle passes aren’t working so much anymore. Childress can see it, and he knows the Vikes have to run the ball to win in the playoffs.

And apparently they’ve got a pretty good running back, but one who hasn’t been the same since No. 4 showed up. You can bet, though, that Brett doesn’t notice.

Just one, please...

A World Series for the Chicago Cubs.

I need to be Mother Teresa-good, don’t I? Da…, I mean, darn.

You have to do it, too, Floyd...

Man-up Manny

Floyd Mayweather Jr. wants Manny Pacquiao to take an Olympic-style drug test before agreeing to a megafight. Pacquiao, who’s won an unprecedented seven belts from flyweight to welterweight (a 40-pound range in about 10 years), is balking, saying he will take a test administered like they do in MLB or the NFL.

This will likely all blow over — there’s too much money at stake for this fight not to happen — but it’s a sign of the times. While Pac-Man has never really gained more than 3-4 pounds per year over the decade, and while it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Pretty Boy Floyd is just flexing his will for some form of gamesmanship, this is how sport is now. We will never again take astonishing athletic achievement at face value ever again.

So now Pac-Man is threatening a defamation lawsuit and Mayweather says the fight won’t go off without the testing.

You know what? Just do the testing, the both of you, and make us all believe again — even if it is for just one night.

He's living in the weight room, right?

Toughness milkshakes

Send these to Chapel Hill. Ed Davis, John Henson and Tyler Zeller need to bulk up and be more physical if the Heels are going to contend for anything this year.

Can you make a Rachel Mii?

Wii Tiger Woods 2010

Got the game for Christmas. It’s outstanding. You can create a player, rise through the ranks and beat the pros, even Tiger.

I’m thinking Rachel Uchitel or Jamie Grubbs.

Or maybe Elin.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Boxing, Brett Favre, Chicago Cubs, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Golf, North Carolina Tar Heels, PGA Tour, Sports, Sports columns, Steroids, Steroids in sports, The Sanford Herald, Tiger Woods, UNC Tar Heels