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The primary highlight of last night's Crosstown Classic opener for this Cubs fan was Geo Soto's big smile after Ozzie Guillen gave his mask the boot in the sixth. Soto had made a great play after Alexi Ramirez topped one that landed about a foot-and-a-half in fair territory and then spun backward on is way back past home plate. Soto snagged it a fraction of a second before it arrived in foul territory; all he had to do was tag Ramirez for the out.
Then the fireworks began. Guillen, seizing on an opportunity to give his team a wake-up call, raced out of the dugout, threw Ramirez out of the way and started furiously pointing to the ground right behind home plate. He obviously was contending that the ball actually reached the dirt back there before Soto picked it up.
It wasn't absolutely clear from even the best replay (the one the broadcast producers found and aired after a commercial break), but if a person had to make a call based on the playback from the camera located to the right of the plate as one looks out at the diamond, he would have said the ball didn't quite make it past the dish. In other words, the ump was right.
But Ozzie didn't care. Here was a great chance to let it rip during what had been a frustrating night in which starting pitcher Gavin Floyd, who is often not quite big enough in big games, "gave up the loot" as the Cubs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to lead, and eventually win, 6-3. ("Gave up the loot" is a phrase I first heard Cubs pitcher Matt Garza use referring to giving up a lead. It officially became a part of the local baseball lexicon when Tribune beat writer Paul Sullivan used it in the text of a gamer on Monday.)
So Ozzie stomped around and pointed to the dirt and was kicked out in only a few seconds. Then he noticed Soto's mask sitting there in the dirt right just a little bit behind and off to the side of home plate. He stepped up and essentially chipped the mask a good 10 feet in the air toward the Sox dugout.
Later on, Cubs analyst Bob Brenly joked that Guillen probably had to ice his toe when he returned to the clubhouse after the ump gave him the boot. "Those masks are not made for kicking."
"I missed the dropkick," Cubs manager Mike Quade said after the game. "It must have been good because I saw the look on Soto's face."
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The broadcast of the opener of the British Petroleum Crosstown Classic was brought to you last night by Miller Lite, Chevrolet and other sponsors utilizing patented High-Definition technology at U.S. Cellular Field. And they wonder why Cubs fans resist more of a corporate presence (i.e. more sponsorships which are of course accompanied by more signage) at Wrigley.
Then again, whenever I sit in my regular seats at Wrigley in the upper deck out beyond first base with the left field bleachers out across the diamond from me, I get a vague urge to drive my Toyota out to O'Hare so that I can hop on a United flight. Last year I was always thinking about going to Horseshoe Casino. And when it gets cold my kids do wear Under Armour undershirts. So clearly the signage that is there is having an impact. I might go broke if there was much more.
Barring any last-minute deals, which are less likely than usual because A) there is so much uncertainty about the NBA collective bargaining agreement and B) the Bulls' first two picks aren't seen as terribly valuable, the home team will draft 28th, 30th and 43rd on Thursday.
The first two picks aren't as valuable because the advantage of having late first-round picks is thought to be almost out-weighed by the disadvantage of having to give guaranteed first-round money to borderline prospects (contracts for second-round picks are not guaranteed). We're not going to project who the Bulls will take - no one has any clue and when the guys are picked, no one will have any clue about their true NBA potential. But we can take a quick look at the recent past.
The list of players drafted in the final few picks of the first round who went on to be major NBA contributors is a short one. But there is reason for hope.
Last year, Jordan Crawford of Xavier and Greivis Vasquez of Maryland were drafted 27th and 28th respectively. Both are big guards who stuck with their NBA teams as reserves and received a decent amount of playing time. Vasquez is more a distributor and defender while Crawford has big-time potential to develop a killer NBA three. The Bulls would be ecstatic to get a shooting guard prospect with similar potential.
My guess is they will use the 30th pick on a kid with an unpronounceable name playing in Europe who won't be coming to America anytime soon. That way they won't have to pay him guaranteed money just yet.
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