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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Baseball and snow is like sobriety and Tara Reid- some things are just not meant to go together. A combination of snow, wind and cold changed the White Sox home opener versus the Kansas City Royals from Monday to Tuesday (weather permitting). Despite the atrocious weather, when Opening Day does finally commence, it will be quite ceremonious.

The National Anthem will be performed by Grammy-nominated recording artist and Chicago native Matthew Santos. Prior to the National Anthem, Santos will perform with Grammy-Award winning hip-hop artist and south suburban native Lupe Fiasco. The collaboration will perform their well-known song, “Superstar,” which is nominated for two Grammys.mark-buehrle-ws

This game will feature guys who sell lots of records and the tying of a White Sox club record. This year’s starting pitcher, Mark Buehrle, will tie Billy Pierce’s record with his seventh career Opening Day start. Pierce will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the game. President Barack Obama was invited, but his job keeps him quite busy these days, and he will be in Turkey. Pierce, who spent 13 seasons with the White Sox, was named to the White Sox “All-Century Team” in 2000, had his uniform #19 retired in 1987 and a sculpture of the lefty pitcher was unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field in 2007.

Getting the opening day start is quite an achievement, because it’s typically reserved for the staff ace. “Especially with the years that {John} Danks and {Gavin} Floyd had last year, for them to name me it’s definitely an honor. The first day is a big day because it’s such a buildup of two months of spring training.”

Games that Buerhle pitches in notoriously take less time than usual, so fans braving the cold, wet elements on Tuesday will likely not be outside for the full length of a regular game. Seven of his career starts have taken less than two hours. The Sox ace spoke about Mother Nature impacting the opener.

“I don’t really know if it’s an advantage for me or them. I don’t like pitching in the cold weather and I’m sure they don’t like hitting in it, but both sides have to deal with it, so go out there and do the best you can,” Buerhle said.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street TeamWhatever you call U.S. Cellular Field: Sox Park, Comiskey II, The Cell, you must admit the park has come a long way since it opened in 1991. Prior to hosting the All-Star game in 2003, the park began a series of major projects augmenting the park into a warm and friendly baseball-going experience. One prominent detail from 2003, the exploding fireworks within that year’s All-Star game logo, is prominently featured in 2009’s facelift. The same logo catches the eye at the new entrance/atrium at Gate 5.

“It’s something that is our mark because of the fireworks from the exploding scoreboard and you’ll also see the same exploding fireworks on the façade of gate 4,” said Lou Hernandez, director of Public Relations. Fireworks have been a big part of the team’s brand awareness since the Bill Veeck era- when colorful designs shot up to the sky from the “exploding scoreboard” following wins and home runs.

Media were allowed to view the U.S. Cellular Field improvements on Thursday, and the demonstration of the team’s new out-of-town scoreboard was another impressive sight. It features dynamic color resolution and up-to-the-second updates on statistics and scores. “It’s all through Major League Baseball’s computer and the advantage of this one is you can see whose up, who’s on base, what just happened and it will flip over to every game in baseball,” said Scott Reifert, Vice President of Communications.

Down the stretch last year, you might remember how irritating and frustrating it was waiting until they posted an update of the Minnesota Twins (or other teams we needed to lose during the pennant race) score, and by the time they did it was outdated. This year, you’ll have a gigantic, enhanced version of Yahoo Game-Tracker available on the wall behind right field to keep you up to speed.

The media tour also included an inside look at the trainer’s room, specifically the new hydrotherapy room at the ballpark. It was kind of like sports bar meets the Sybaris as three massive pools (therapy, cold plunge, and communal hot tub) are centered in a room with four plasma televisions. With all the new upgrades, the White Sox home continues to maintain its place as Chicago’s most state-of-the-art baseball facility.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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D.C. “Fete Select TV” Crenshaw, NBC Chicago Street Team

Finding a good place to watch the big game can sometimes be a challenge.  The challenge is finding a place that has a good crowd, plenty of televisions, but most importantly great food and drinks.  Chicago has a lot of those places to choose from, but if you just head a little north of downtown, O’Donovan’s Pub & Restaurant is the place to be.xmas-20081

O’Donovan’s, located in the North Center neighborhood, can attract a large crowd.  However, the venue is spacious enough for everyone to get a table or a seat.  The food tastes much better than the average pub in town and the cocktail specials are just what you’re looking for in this economy.  Their menu consists of burgers, sandwiches, paninis, wraps, soups, salads and a variety of appetizers.  But they also have hearty entrees such as “Prime Rib”, “BBQ Baby Back Ribs”, “Brick Chicken” and “Chicken Marsala”.  The mashed, baked and au gratin potato side dishes alone will have you salivating.  O’Donovan’s has weekly drink specials.  Depending on the day, you can enjoy five dollar martinis, five dollar champagne cocktails, or half off a bottle of wine.  There is also a thirty cent wing and two dollar burger and fries night.  Their Sunday brunch features an all you can eat buffet for $13.95 that includes an omelette and waffle station.  O’Donovan’s Easter brunch will increase to $15.95 per adult and $7.95 per kid.

A nice touch that also adds a little entertainment to O’Donovan’s is Al James the magician.  Al provides ‘table-side” magic for guests that includes card, coin and rope tricks.  He creates images with balloons for kids, which makes the restaurant family friendly.   O’Donovan’s outside cafe and beer garden makes it the perfect hangout place during the summer months, which keeps north-siders coming back again and again.

 O”Donovan’s is located at 2100 W. Irving Park Road.  For more information or to make brunch reservations call (773) 478-2100 or log onto www.odonovansbar.com.  For more restuarant reviews and to get an inside look at the newest and best Chicago restaurants, watch Fete Select TV on www.efete.net.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Last week, Baseball Prospectus predicted the Chicago White Sox to win just 73 games and finish dead last in the AL Central. Although the formula and prognostications of sabermetrician geeks sounds bleak, remember almost no one predicted the Sox to win the AL Central last season.

Back in the World Series year of 2005, most people predicted the pale hose to finish third! Lots of people forcasted the Sox to win the division in ’06 and ’07, yet they controlled the division for just 36 combined days during those two seasons. In summation, it’s wide open.

One guy with White Sox knowledge second to none is Soxman, who offered his spring prospectus.

Click here to read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team Last weekend included St. Valentine’s Day, a time of year that more women than men look forward to quite frankly. But once it’s over, Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training, which is to most guys what chocolate, jewelry and flowers are to women. Since we’re talking love, I consulted Soxman, the person who loves the White Sox more than any other individual on this Earth about what occurred in the offices on 35th and Shields this winter. You might recognize Soxman from…pretty much anywhere local media may roam.

On the Javier Vazquez trade:

“After his miserable play-off performance, almost every Sox fan would agree that Javy wore out his welcome on the Southside. The trade was crucial in rebuilding our anemic farm system as it yielded two of the top 20 prospects overall in the Braves system,” Soxman said.

2B/SS Brent Lillibridge is the player to watch in 2009. He’s expected to battle Chris Getz and Jason Nix for the starting job at second base. Kenny Williams believes he’s capable of stealing 40 bases if he gets 500 Abs.

Tyler Flowers could develop into the Sox next big slugger and 3B prospect Jon Gilmore has drawn comparisons to Scott Rolen.soxlogo

The Southside Dark Knight also opined on the signings of the so-called “Cuban Babe Ruth” Dayan Viciciedo and Bartolo Colon.

“Sox fans should not expect Viciedo to immediately perform like Alexei as he’s only 19,” the Soxed Crusader articulated. “There’s a ton to be excited about however. He slugged over .500 in two of the past three seasons in Cuba and was an All-Star in Cuba’s top league at age 16.

“Colon is exactly the type of pitcher I expected Williams to sign. The once awesome, aging pitcher plagued by injuries, trying to revive his career…at an ultra cheap price. In limited action with the Red Sox last season, he looked very good.”

In the case of Bobby Abreu and Jermaine Dye, we spent weeks listening about trade deals and prospective signings only to see no moves made. It kind of felt being stood up on a date. I asked the love interest of female Sox fans everywhere what he thought of the non-deals- the trades that didn’t happen.

“I was surprised the Sox did not go after Orlando Hudson as he still has not signed with a team, “ Soxman replied.

Finally, Soxman offered his predictions as to whether GM Kenny Williams has a major move or two left in him before the first pitch is thrown April 6th.

“With the economy it is pretty much a buyers market right now ,” Soxman said. “I think Kenny will see how the 2-3 position battles pan out and if any bargains fall his way, he’ll pounce.”

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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D.C. “Fete Select TV” Crenshaw, NBC5 Street Team

Upscale tends to be the trend in sports bars these days.  Or at least the hope is to attract a more sophisticated and trendy crowd that would typically choose a hipper environment to spend their Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights.    The new River North sports bar, Bull and Bear, not only lures the hipsters, but attracts businessmen and women during the lunch hour.91101

The name Bull and Bear obviously recognizes two of Chicago’s major sports teams, but also refers to the financial world and appeals to the CBOT crowd.  The restaurant has a nice layout and designs, but can get a little too close for comfort when crowded.  After talking with a few friends about the menu, I wanted to see if their food matched the upscale vibe.  Well, let’s just say that it didn’t measure up.

The Bull and Bear menu has a ton of starters, salads, main courses, sides and short order options.  There are a plethera of burgers and sandwiches to choose from as well as a few non bar food entrees.  The “Onion Tower” and “Sweet Potato Fries” were typical.  Nothing great, but nothing bad about either dish.  The “Lobster Bisque” was deemed to be a signature item and would have been if it wasn’t served luke warm.    The “Double Cut Grilled Pork Chop” was a little dry and didn’t live up to the waitresses billing,  but my dining guest really enjoyed his “Pulled Hammy” pork sliders.  We were graciously served with a sampling of all of their desserts, which consisted of a chocolate chip cookie draped in vanilla ice cream, cinnamon doughnut holes with three different dipping sauces, peanut butter bread pudding, and a “Thrilla in Vanilla” shake with Filandia Vodka and Godiva Dark Vanilla Royale.  They were all savory, but I wouldn’t necessarily have paired peanut butter and bread pudding together.  The service started off sketchy, due to a mishap with my reservation, but the owner and waitress attempted to make up for it.  Don’t expect upscale service during crowded nights though, because it is still, however, a sports bar.

A unique feature to Bull and Bear are their 5 premiere booths with Personal Table Taps.  Each booth has two taps (1 domestic, 1 import) that dispenses beer, which is recorded on a meter at the table.  The goal is to allow guests to pay-as-they-pour and enjoy a no-wait standard of service.  This feature should be a big hit for beer lovers.

Bull and Bear has only been open for about 3 weeks, so they may still be working out the kinks.  Although they didn’t meet my dining experience expectations for what they deem as an “exclusive luxury sports bar”, I may give them another shot once the madd rush dies down.

Bull and Bear is located 431 N. Wells St.  For more information log onto www.bullbearbar.com.  Also watch Fete Select TV on www.efete.net to check out the newest and hottest restaurants in Chicago.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen often comes under fire in the media for what he says to and about managers, players, and journalists alike. Guillen is certainly never afraid to speak his mind. He’s earned a reputation for being animated. (or some would say eccentric.) And the Sox play in the ALDS so far is enough to make anyone affiliated with the team go “eccentric”. My personal opinion? I’m proud that my Sox are led by somebody with a Borat like candor and Tony “Scarface” Montana like habits for adjective, verb and noun usage. I LOVE that we have a personality considered as “colorful” as anybody in all of sports. He’s even been parodied on Mad TV. His soundbites are even better in person as I recently had the chance to listen to him in the dugout and clubhouse on the same weekend that he trashed his office.

On his star player Carlos Quentin breaking his hand from hitting an inanimate object, and how he would (and did) handle simlar frustrating situations…

“I used to break everything down here. TVs. Pipelines everything. Cuz I’m not going to hit myself. I’d rather pay $500 to fix it…I’m not going to show emotion in front of my players, but I go into the office, I do what I have to do, I came back out I was normal.”

On his rules regarding players breaking things in the clubhouse…

“I’m not a babysitter. I can’t control that, but I tell them when you throw something make sure you don’t hit one of your teammates, cuz that will be a problem. There will be a fight, do whatever you want, but I was the worst player doing that. I used to break ping pong tables, tv screens. I cracked three different music systems. I destroyed the bath room during the first game in spring training.”

For more “Ozzisms” and a written quotation of his most infamous tirades (careful, this link contains language not fit for the kiddies) click here

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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