Oh where, oh where...
...have our Cards, Cubs and White Sox
gone? They all held so much promise during spring training. The NL
Central is just abysmal. The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place by
some five games, but let's just say they have been anything but
impressive the last two weeks. In fact, in keeping with my longtime
promise to provide you with the closest and best coverage that I
possibly can (on a shoestring) I wandered over to Miller Park just
10 days ago to check on the NL Central leaders.
That particular night they were playing the Twinkies. Now I know
the Twinks have had a measure of success the last few years, but
c'mon... they're from Minnesota, for crying out loud. It's not like
you're playing the '29 Yankees! I don't think the Brew Crew got that
message. Not only did they get pummeled into submission before an
SRO crowd, but things got worse for me early in the contest. My
wife's son has just reached that miracle age where he has discovered
how and why to bug Dad as much as it is humanly possible in any
two-hour time block, especially at sporting events. If it wasn't a
snack that caught his eye (after we had just eaten supper
immediately before entering the park), it was a cheesy souvenir that
we just had to have to commemorate the shellacking. I didn't cave...
and will probably not win the highly coveted "Father of the Year"
Back in my day, my dad convinced us that just getting to go to a
game was all you would ever need. I bought it. And, yes, I know that
I'm old-school. I'm also very cheap. However, my son decided that
night that he did not like his father very much (I wonder what he
would've thought of my dad?). Today he likes me a lot more, but he
said that right after I bought him some ice cream. But I digress...
...the NL Central is horrible (insert Bill Walton imitation
here). I still think the Cubs will be OK and maybe the Reds. I'm not
so sure about the Brewmeisters. If they can go without any
significant injuries, they may look more like contenders. They did
shore up their pitching staff and at times have been hitting lights
out. At other times they look as lethargic as some fans at a local
basketball game (cheap shot I know, but I count on the fans to bring
their best every game).
The Cards, on the other hand, are in a world of trouble. I didn't
hold back when I registered my concerns during the preseason. They
went into the season desiring to convert relievers into starters. If
you were gonna do that with just one pitcher, I'd probably totally
buy in, but when you go beyond that, it's a major experiment. Then
Carp goes on the shelf. The experiment was iffy to begin with; you
can't expect it to produce glowing results under pressure it was not
designed to take. On top of that, the hitters never got the memo
that the winter vacation is over. The real games that count have
begun. Somebody please alert the team that the season has started
and they're already more than five games out of first! In addition,
acquisitions like Adam Kennedy, that even I heralded, have not
produced the desired results.
Basically, this team looks like it is still going to nightly
banquets hearing how great their world championship run was a year
ago. While I agree that it was a marvelous, amazing run, it's time
to start playing like the 2007 Series might matter. My concern is
that even when the Birds turn it on or turn it up a notch, they
won't have enough firepower to get 'er done. While my feelings won't
be hurt in the slightest if I'm proven wrong, they have their work
cut out for them and a long way to go to get there!
And now on top of all that comes the Yadier Molina news...
fractured wrist, out for six weeks. Sometimes when it rains, it
We've just passed the quarter pole for this baseball season, so
maybe it's too soon to really weigh where the Cubs and Cards will
finish. We'll watch 'em close till the All-Star Game and then weigh
in again at that point. The Sox have had lots of injuries and
problems of their own, but at least they play in a respectable
division. We'll talk more about them in an upcoming issue.
Where, oh where is the Chief?
I have no idea, but I'm not one bit happy about it. What's sad is
that my vote along with your vote has already been tabulated and
nobody seems to care what we think. It's a lot like politics, don't
I haven't spoken to anyone who saw the Illini practice or who
witnessed the spring game. All I do know is that Illinois reportedly
had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. I also know
that many top programs around the country didn't like that one
bit... well, boohoo! Talk about crying. Who's whining now? And even
well-meaning (wow, am I nice to use such a friendly phrase) friends
ask: Is there some possible smoke to getting such talented kids to
commit? And my answer... HECK, NO!!!
Have you ever met Ron Zook? I have. He wouldn't know me from
Adam, but that's OK. I like him. He is one of the only people I have
ever met who understands how to recruit in the Midwest... or
ANYwhere! You work your butt off. Examples: The record shows that
Zook may have set a modern-day record by the number of text messages
he sent players around the country. If I were still in the coaching
game, even in Lincoln, I guarantee you that I would be doing the
same thing. Kids like that stuff. They love technology. They like
people who are hip. And they really love it when you're thinking of
them, or thinking about them, or wanting to contact them.
[to top of second column]
Don't underestimate Zook's appeal. I spent five minutes with him
riding up the elevator at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on
Championship Monday in 2005. He had me at... hello. Though I'm
likely not destined to be one of his finest recruits ever, he did
emphatically land me as one of his supporters. I called for his
hiring. I also have not been one to jump on the bandwagon of
criticism. I'm one who believes that a coach can only do so much.
It's players that play. And they must execute. When they don't, you
get beat. A coach can prepare players and put players in a position
to win, but he can't win many games for you.
I'd like to peel back the layers and really let you know how
excited I am for the upcoming Illini football season. But I've
become jaded. The haters have succeeded in making me skeptical. I
want to see some proof. I want to see who put this schedule
together! I assure you that I was not the one! We'll try to give you
some inside looks, and we hope to bring you some sideline reports
early in the year as the Illini try to build a winning program. I'm
cautiously, hopefully optimistic!
I placed basketball here because I kinda went on a tirade last
time on hoops. Either people thought I was certifiably crazy or they
agreed with me... or they just ignored me like usual... because I
received exactly ZERO e-mail responses from my last effort. Now I
don't get like hundreds every time out (it's more like six or seven
responses each time), but it was strange to not have anyone weigh in
on the Weber-Guenther stuff. I may try a new thing in the future. If
you do e-mail me and you don't mind me quoting you, I may do some
writing around what our loyal readers think about some of these
At any rate, a lot has happened over the last few months in the
world of Illini hoops. Watkins and Alexander have been signed. We're
not sure if C.J. Jackson is gonna give football an official go or
not. It appears that we have not lost any assistant coaches, though
I did hear both Jay Price and Wayne McClain's names prominent in
some job searches.
Fans complained at what they thought was a weak schedule last
season. EXACTLY the reason why D-I programs never have fans put a
schedule together! I thought the schedule was outstanding, almost
perfect in fact. Let me just say for the record that no one
associated with the Illinois basketball program gives a rip about
what I think either! So, now we're in the same boat. I think fans
will discover why last year's schedule was so good after they see
how difficult this season's schedule is gonna be. And yes, you want
to play good people, and hopefully it makes you better and gives you
valuable brownie points with the NCAA selection committee; but if
you get your brains beat in, those other points become moot.
I told you last time out that I thought a 23-win season with the
team we had last year was an incredible achievement. However, there
is one thing I didn't say. As I watched the game with Virginia Tech
unfold, I realized that we were even better than a 23-win team, and
we were a lot better than most people thought we were (and, yes, I
drank an amazing amount of orange Kool-Aid that weekend). I'm just
saying if you get past the Hokies, there was a big run possibly in
You must be saying, "What?" Well, I love SIU as much as the next
guy. And Chris Lowery is one of my favorite young coaches. In fact,
I spoke with him the day of the Illini's final game and told him
flat-out that his club would win and could beat Kansas as well. He
agreed with me. However, I think Illinois was still way too powerful
for the Dogs to stop and that the Illini would've dominated the
boards to claim a narrow victory.
Join me on this Kool-Aid-infested trip as a breakdown of why
Illinois would've beaten Kansas. Believe me when I tell you that I
could care less about the Jayhawks. However, Bill Self befriended me
while he was at Illinois and he had no reason to do so; I could
never do anything for him. I like the guy, and though I hated it
when he left, I understood. With that being said, I think it was a
blessing in disguise. Coach Self has a lot of strong points, and
he's head and shoulders above most coaches in several areas. I just
think that Bruce Weber is a better basketball coach. He's especially
good in big games. I think Illinois would have physically taken
rock, chalk, Jayhawk on a little walk of its own. I think Kansas has
been playing the last few seasons with a huge weight on its
shoulders. I think the Illini would've been loose, and that would've
made all the difference.
How they would've got by UCLA, I'll never know. Maybe the Bruins
would've crushed them... maybe they would've choked. I'm just saying
that there was an open road had the Illini played even one more
minute of basketball (since it appeared that they took the last four
off). A Sweet Sixteen or an Elite Eight run would've made a lot of
people forget the way they hated their own Illini this past season.
I hope the hating is over with. This is a new team, with a new
personality. I can't wait to see it unveiled because deep down
inside, I think a tremor is brewing. I'll tell you why in the months
ahead. So, that's all for now. Have a great month, everybody!