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12/28/2018 6:59 am  #1

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MESA, Ariz. -- No matter what the record says, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein insists he sees progress as he begins his third season in charge. It hasnt shown at the major league level. "The people that we have in place in this organization -- the coaches, scouts -- I believe are impact, and I believe in the processes that we have in place," Epstein said Thursday. "It takes time to turn our organization around. It takes time to build impact talent and to build requisite depth. But its happening. People in those meetings, the people in this organization, really believe that were on the verge of something special. And we understand that were perceived otherwise, and thats our fault because weve been a last-place club the last couple years. Were not protesting. We need to earn our way into a position where were championship contenders on an annual basis, and we feel like that is certainly moving in the right direction." It hasnt been an easy process, and while success might be on the horizon, it doesnt appear to be at hand. Pitchers and catchers reported on Thursday, and for the Cubs, it doesnt look like much will be different this season. They were relatively quiet in the off-season, although they did hire manager Rick Renteria to replace the fired Dale Sveum and made a run at star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but mostly it looks like they are in for more rough times at the major league level as they wait for their top prospects to develop in the minors. Their most recent winning season was when they went 83-78 under Lou Piniella in 2009. With four straight sub-.500 seasons, theyve matched their longest streak since 1984 to 1988. And another losing season would put them on their longest run since they finished below .500 six years in a row from 1978 to 1983. For now, the Cubs continue to sell hope, a promise that better days are coming. They tout their minor league system, and while renovations to Wrigley Field remain on hold, they can point to new facilities in the Dominican Republic along with a spring training home that just opened. As for the Cubs record, it cant get much worse. Theyve dropped 91 or more games each of the past three years and are coming off a two-year run under Sveum that produced a 127-197 record. Theyre hoping Renteria will provide the right atmosphere for young major league players such as shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo as well as top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant. They believe they have three solid starters in Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, although Jackson struggled last season and Samardzija is a potential trade chip after he was unable to reach a long-term agreement and took a one-year deal. Jake Arrieta, a candidate to start, might not be ready for the beginning of the season because of tightness in his right shoulder. General manager Jed Hoyer revealed Thursday that Arrieta, acquired from Baltimore last July, experienced some tightness this winter and is being brought along slowly. Hoyer announced Arrietas injury after confirming the Cubs agreed to one-year contracts with starting pitchers Jason Hammel and James McDonald. Both could be candidates to be traded before the deadline if they succeed, considering thats exactly what the Cubs did with Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman the past two seasons. "We know we have some numbers now," Hoyer said. They also have hope that better days are coming. "Theres a real dichotomy between how the organization is perceived from the outside and how we look at it internally and the morale that we have internally," Epstein said. NOTES: Renteria tabbed newcomer Jose Veras as the closer. ... Hoyer basically dismissed the idea of moving Castro to another position even though he and the White Soxs Alexei Ramirez led major league shortstops with 22 errors last season and Baez is in the pipeline. "Castros our shortstop," Hoyer said. "We have all the confidence in the world that hell remain our shortstop and hell keep working hard and keep improving. And he knows theres (room) to improve there." ... Hoyer said reliever Kyuji Fujikawa will soon start throwing off the mound. Hes coming off Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. ... Epstein said the Cubs will look to draft pitchers going forward, although not necessarily with their first pick. Wholesale Shoes Cheap . With the win, the Marlies complete a three-game series sweep of the Admirals and move on to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. T.J. Brennan added an empty netter with less than 25 seconds remaining for his second of the playoffs. Wholesale Shoes Online . -- Albert Pujols is thrilled to have a reason to forget about his first two disappointing seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. Subban has picked the right time of the year to go on an offensive tear. Cheap Shoes Wholesale Free Shipping . -- During a players meeting following the All-Star break, Jermaine ONeal promised his teammates to play the rest of the regular season like he would never play again -- because he very well might not. Wholesale Shoes Suppliers .C. - Blair Jones scored the eventual winner in the third period as the Abbotsford Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Oil Barons 3-2 in American Hockey League action on Friday.Courtside seats are the ultimate status symbol in the sporting world. Thats because they cannot simply be bought. In Los Angeles, season ticket holders control every courtside seat at Lakers games. Jerry Buss, who owned the Lakers until he died in 2013, wanted four courtside seats. He decided to make his play in the late 1990s as he prepared to move his team to the Staples Center from the Great Western Forum. He wanted to take care of new corporate sponsors and friends, and, well, he wanted them because he owned the team. So he approached a bunch of actors, talent agents and corporate moguls who controlled the seats with a wad of cash in had. He thought he could make it worth their while to give up their seats. Every single one turned him down. I mean, people leave those seats in their wills, said John Black, the Lakers vice president of public relations. Its a slightly different situation in most other NBA arenas. Some NBA teams, like the Raptors and the Knicks, set aside a handful for VIPs, but others, like the Lakers, have those seats controlled by season ticket holders. Black remembers once talking about that difference with his counterpart with the Knicks. If I had eight courtside seats for Laker games Id own this city, he said. But unfortunately we dont. There has always been a steady stream of requests for courtside seats at Raptors games. In the early years, Samuel L. Jackson came to a bunch of games while he was in town shooting a movie. Theyd get musicians coming through Toronto on tour, and athletes such as Wayne Gretzky. But demand has changed in the past year. We are getting more requests now that the team is hot, said Tom Pistore, the vice president of ticket sales and service with the Raptors owner, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. And now we have a higher calibre of celebrity. On Thursday, Pistore was working on seats for William H. Macy, who contacted the Raptors to let them know he was coming to town and wanted seats for an upcoming game. There are 16 top seats at Raptors games. They are officially known by the underwhelming Team Seats, but they are colloquially known around the league as Hollywood seats. Each one at the Air Canada Centre goes for $84,765 for the season, according to Pistore. Drake, the hip hop emperor and MLSEs global ambassador, sits in two of those thrones whenever he wants, but they are owned by MLSE for marketing purposes — meaning stars can sit there when Drake does not attend. There are 300 courtside seats spread across three rows at the Air Canada Centre. Minimum buy in for a floor seats is about $25,000 per season, Pistore said. For the plebes wondering if they save up $500 for one game on the floor, they arent available. They are all sold out for the season and only available as season tickets. Requests from VIPs come in a variety of ways, including requests to Dave Haggith, the communications director for MSLE, and his team, and to Pistore as well as to the teams VIP host. Generally speaking, VIPs dont pay for these seats, Pistore said. But there is a tit-for-tat expected. Number one, those celebrities will have their face broadcast on the scoreboard at some point during the game. And many will also get involved in one of the sideshows. A few weeks ago, Canadas young tennis star, Eugenie Bouchard, played tennis (in high heels) against the Raptors mascot during a break in play. Mike Weir hit some golf balls one time and Macklemore tossed t-shirts into the crowd. For the celebs its a place to be seen, stroking their egos. And sometimes they get involved in the game. Drake has become a show unto himself, whipping out a lint roller to clean his pants in a playoff game last season. The team jumped on the attention and gave out lint rollers at a later post-season match. He made headlines again this season when he showed up to a game with George Costanza-esque glasses and an old man sweater. Celebrities have a long history sitting courtside for their favourite teams. In many ways some have even become the face of a franchise, being the constant in a world where players come and go. The Knicks aggressively pursued celebrities to come to their games in the 1960s, giving away free courtside tickets. While they had some success, most attribute the rise of Hollywood to, obviously, the Los Angeles scene. The important people didnt always flock to Laker games. In the 1960s the hot ticket in the city were baseballs Dodgers followed by the NFLs Rams. The Lakers were an afterthought. Then starlet Doris Day started going to Laker games, according to the book Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro. Then the stars started trickling in as the team started winning, led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The Lakers went to the finals six times in the 60s, but lost each time to the hated Boston Celtics. Jack Nicholson was a big fan, who was trying to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter in the 1960s. He befriended Bert Schneider, whose father ran Columbia Pictures. Scchneider was an executive producer for Easy Rider, the film that launched Nicholson to stardom, who bought six courtside season tickets to Laker games, according to Marc Eliots 2013 biography, Nicholson.dddddddddddd Schneider showed his appreciation by giving Nicholson a $20,000 advance to buy a house on Mulholland Drive and two of his courtside seats. And the courtside legend was born. Everything really changed in 1979 when Jerry Buss bought the team from Jack Kent Cooke, and recreated the Lakers and the arena in his own flashy image. Showtime was born. The idea was simple: basketball was part of a broader experience at the arena. He brought in women to cheerlead during stoppages, turned a restaurant at the Great Western Forum into a nightclub where celebrities would be ushered in via limousine and opened his wallet to bring in top-notch basketball talent. The league itself was struggling by the late 70s to the point that championship games were being shown on CBS on tape delay. The Lakers already had a star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and owned the first overall pick in the 1979 draft as a result of an earlier trade with the New Orleans Jazz. With that pick they took Magic Johnson. Buss also wanted his coaches to play an exhilarating up-tempo style, which never would have been as successful without Magic. The Lakers won the championship in Busss first season as owner and would go on to win nine more in the following three decades. Buss once said: I really tried to create a Laker image, a distinct identity. I think weve been successful. I mean, the Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood. Sometimes those Hollywood stars are just like us. They cheer, yell and sometimes get involved in the game. Spike Lee has sat courtside for decades at Madison Square Garden for Knick games. He is known as much for his courtside jawing with rival Reggie Miller as he is for his movies. And then theres Jack. In a playoff game between the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, Nicholson lost it, stepping onto the court and berating referee Mark Wunderlich for his foul call on Shaquille ONeal. The Laker crowd went nuts. The referees went to the scorers table — just two seats over from Nicholsons seats — as they discussed whether to kick the star out of the game. The officials asked security to prepare to escort the actor out. As they huddled together, Nicholson cooled and sat back down. The Lakers public address announcer, Lawrence Tantor, was at the table where officials discussed the delicate subject of kicking out the teams most famous fan. If they had thrown him out, there would have been a riot, Tantor told the Associated Press at halftime. The officials, likely realizing it was a battle they couldnt win, let Nicholson stay. I pay a lot of money for this seat, Nicholson said to the Associated Press, also at halftime. This is the NBA, you cant tell me to sit down. The next day, ONeal told reporters: Im glad somebody sticks up for me — I appreciate it, Jack. In Toronto, sitting courtside is a privilege for the privileged. Yet every once in a while, the sun shines on the average Joe. Raptor Greivis Vasquez was so moved by a video he saw online that he thought about how he could show his appreciation to the man who starred in it. The answer: courtside seats. Andre H. Arruda was inspired by a video circulating last month that showed the overwhelming harassment a woman faced as she walked around New York City in a day, while secretly being filmed by a friend. Arruda, who stands 32 because of a genetic condition known as Morquio syndrome whereby he lacks an enzyme needed to break down large sugar molecules. The video is difficult to watch. Arruda, a comedian by trade, moves around Torontos streets for several hours on his motorized chair. Hey, yo, leprechaun, shouts one man. Mini Me! yells another. Others stare, some laugh, some point and others take photos. The video went viral, which Vasquez watched shortly thereafter. So Vasquez reached out to Arruda and invited him to the game. He sat along the baseline and was welcomed by Raptor superfan, Nav Bhatia, a local car dealer mogul who has become a celebrity simply for sitting courtside. It was thrilling, Arruda said. Anyone could have missed a shot and hit me on the head, thats how close I was. I was moved by his gesture. Hes not just a star whos all in his head. He said he wanted to put a smile on my face. And he did. The speed and power of the game is difficult to describe, Arruda said, and can only really be experienced. It was a simple gesture by Vasquez, but the star power of the courtside seat caught the eye of TMZ, which reached out to Arruda for an interview to discuss not only the game, but harassment of disabled people. People think that were in Canada and were polite, but there are a--holes everywhere, Arruda said. Yet for one night, sitting along the baseline, close enough feel the heat of the sweaty players, Arruda felt like a king. 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