March 2012 Archives

SATURDAY SPRING PRACTICE REVIEW

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Spring11 - JLynch throws (small).jpgNorthern Illinois completed its first week of 2012 spring practices with a two-hour workout in full pads Saturday at Huskie Stadium.  After practicing Wednesday and Thursday in shorts and helmets only, NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren enjoyed seeing the Huskies in full contact mode.

"It was fun to see guys hitting today," Doeren said.  "The ball was on the ground a little too much but that's going to happen when guys get hit for the first time in a while."

After moving through the national progression of practice from individual position drills to specific run and pass game work, to 7-on-7, Saturday's session ended with several periods of full team scrimmaging. While cornerback Rashaan Melvin started 11-on-11 by intercepting Jordan Lynch on the first play, Lynch and the offense came back when the team moved from stationary plays to actually moving the chains. Facing the first team defense on the first drive, Lynch drove the offense down the field and hit Tommylee Lewis on third and goal from inside the 10-yard line for a touchdown.  

Earlier in the practice, NIU middle linebacker Devon Butler made his first interception of spring during seven-on-seven drills.

Although hesitant to grade the day before reviewing the tape, several players did catch Doeren's eye.

"There was good energy today but I have to watch the film to say exactly how good of a day it was," Doeren said.  "Luke Eakes had a nice day. Tim Semisch made some plays and the tight ends looked good.  I saw our two defensive ends, Alan Baxter and Sean Progar, doing some good things.   I'm anxious to watch the tape."

The Huskies return to the practice field next week with workouts Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon at Huskie Stadium.


FAREWELL TO A WARRIOR, A PREACHER, A CHICAGO LEGEND

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I wanted to post a few words today in remembrance of Rev. Lacy J. Banks, the Chicago Sun-Times reporter who covered the Huskies for the last several years for that esteemed Chicago paper.  Joe Summins and I attended Lacy's "Celebration of Life" at Liberty Baptist Church in Chicago today...just a few of hundreds of colleagues, pastors, family members, friends and church members who came to pay their respects to a truly unique individual.

No doubt most of the people at the event knew Lacy more as a preacher than as a sportswriter.   As one of the speakers said (and I am paraphrasing), sportswriting was what he did, but preaching was who he was.  We will miss his coverage, and also miss him as an advocate for more Huskie coverage with his editors.  Mostly we will miss him as a person.

Lacy, the first African-American sportswriter at the Sun-Times, led quite a life.  Renowned in Chicago and around the NBA for his coverage of the Bulls, as well as boxing, I believe he truly enjoyed covering the Huskies in recent years.  I marveled as he took his seat in the press box with his heart pump, and told stories of his battles with a brain tumor, prostate cancer and heart failure, of how he would miss a couple weeks while going up to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to make sure he was still in shape for the potential transplant.  I tried to make sure he had a ride to and from his car in the media parking lot at Huskie Stadium and that he would not have to make the trek down to the postgame press conferences but would get quotes in the box. We all prayed he would get the call that his new heart was ready, but it did not come.

Joe and I reminisced about Lacy with Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune today.  No one could ask a question like Lacy.  On the line by phone for our weekly press conferences, our players would smile whenever his turn to ask questions came.  One week, during the player portion of the press conference, Lacy's unmistakable voice came through the phone "I would like to speak with the dynamic, the impeccable, the graceful, the athletic, the esteemed (pause)..." Pat Schiller pointed at Chandler Harnish, Chandler sat up a little straighter and grinned, obviously thinking that the question would be directed his way, "...Mr. Willie Clark."  Everyone in the room smiled.  You couldn't help it.  That was the effect Lacy had.  I think our players got as much from talking to Lacy as he learned for his stories.  I wish they had known his background, known that they were talking to a part of history and that they were talking to a person who had battled more in his life than they ever would on a football field, faced down more adversity than they could imagine.

Lacy was very excited to cover our football game at Kansas, his alma mater, last year.  He planned the trip for weeks, setting up credentials, making arrangements for parking near the stadium.  He spent the entire following week re-visiting his alma mater.  Fred said he knew that the trip was a highlight of his past year.  

Everytime you called Lacy - whether at home or on his cell phone - you got his trademark greeting "God Bless You."  As we say a fond farewell and pass along our heartfelt condolences to his family as well as his Sun-Times family, Lacy, God Bless You.
   

SOCCER RINGS ARRIVE

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IMAG0125.jpgTuesday was an exciting day for the NIU men's soccer program as their 2011 Mid-American Conference Championship rings arrived. The rings commemorate not only NIU's conference championship but also the Huskies' trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and school record-tying 15 wins. The Huskies will open the home portion of their 2012 spring schedule on Saturday, March 31 when they host UIC at the NIU Soccer Complex at noon.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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Gymnastics: Northern Illinois earned its highest team scores of the season on both floor exercise and vault en route to a fourth-place finish at the 2012 Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships Saturday at the NIU Convocation Center. The result reflected a marked improvement from the Huskies' seventh place finish of a year ago as five different NIU gymnasts in six events earned spots on the awards stand at the conclusion of the meet.

Baseball:
Northern Illinois won their home opener Tuesday with an 8-6 victory against the UIC Flames to give sophomore Eli Anderson his first career win. The team opened MAC play at Kent State, but were swept in the three game series. Alex Klonowski notched four hits against the Golden Flashes in a 12-6 Friday loss. Saturday turned into a pitchers' duel, but KSU emerged with a 6-1 win. The Huskies could not prevent the sweep Sunday with a 5-3 loss.

Men's Golf: The Huskies earned a pair of top four finishes in Florida during the week to complete their mid-March Florida trip. at UCF's Rio Pinar Invitational, NIU was led by Blake Emory's final-round 67 to earn fourth place in the 15-team field. Later in the week at the FAU Spring Break Championship, Northern took third place, trailing only Florida State and Ohio State in the team standings.

Women's Golf: The Northern Illinois University women's golf team sits in third place after posting a strong first round at the 18th Annual Saluki Invitational at Hickory Ridge Golf Course Sunday.The Huskies shot a season-low 317 with junior Allie Parthie leading the way with a four-over-par 76. Parthie is in the top 10 placing sixth after one round of play.

Men's Tennis: Facing the preseason Mid-American Conference favorite Western Michigan, the Northern Illinois men's tennis squad entered unafraid and defeated the Broncos, 5-2. It was the Huskies 11th win all-time versus the Broncos and the first win in at least a decade against WMU.

Women's Tennis: The Huskies dropped their first two Mid-American Conference matches of the season. On Friday, NIU was swept by Western Michigan, 7-0, in Kalamazoo. They returned to the courts Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio, but were ousted by the Falcons, 7-0.

Seven NIU teams are in action during the week. Among the highlights are softball's home opener Tuesday against Illinois State and ensuing four-game weekend slate, the start of baseball's eight-game homestand and men's and women's tennis' DeKalb openers. 

CONGRATULATIONS AND BEST WISHES

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Diem-Ryan.jpgFormer Northern Illinois University offensive lineman and Indianapolis Colt Ryan Diem announced his retirement from the NFL today. Diem played 11 years (2001-11) all with the Colts. He began his career at right guard before playing right tackle for nine seasons. He returned to right guard this past season. Diem played in two Super Bowls and was a member of the Colt team that won Super Bowl XLI. 
You can see why NIU women's basketball Head Coach Kathi Bennett was interested in Howards Grove's (Wis.) guard Alexis Lindstrom.  Bennett preaches defense and her trademark "pack" philosophy.  Lindstrom was just named Wisconsin Sports Network's top senior Defensive player.  Sounds like a great fit!

HUSKIES BUILD THREE-GAME WIN STREAK

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EDITED_Jamison Well 1.jpg
Jamison Wells stole his 14th base of the season against UIC Tuesday afternoon

Northern Illinois won its home opener Tuesday afternoon against Illinois-Chicago, 8-6, largely in part to a six run second inning. Northern Illinois tacked on two runs in the fourth inning and hit a walloping 13-for-33 (.393) against UIC.


All things considered, I think it was a successful opening day. A good crowd of students, parents and fans came out to Ralph McKinzie Field to support the Huskie baseball team under the sunny 80 degree sky... In March. In fact, it was actually warmer in DeKalb yesterday (83 degrees) than it was in Phoenix, Ariz. (66 degrees). It was a beautiful thing.


Aside from a good crowd in the stands, there was a good crowd in the press box as well to cover the Huskies. Check out some of the links from yesterday's game and another from Saturday afternoon's win against Southern Illinois, the start of NIU's three-game win streak.


NIUHuskies.com - TIMELY AND CONSISTENT HITTING CARRIES HUSKIES OVER FLAMES

http://www.niuhuskies.com/sports/m-basebl/recaps/032012aaa.html


DAILY CHRONICLE - GLANCY WORKS FOR SAVE

http://www.daily-chronicle.com/2012/03/20/glancy-works-for-save/auwciui/?page=1


NORTHERN STAR - BULLPEN HAILS OFFENSE FOR HUSKIES

http://northernstar.info/sports/article_97c4e97c-72f6-11e1-99cf-001a4bcf6878.html


NORTHERN STAR - BASEBALL WINS HOME OPENER

http://northernstar.info/sports/article_0dbddb6e-72f4-11e1-baaa-001a4bcf6878.html


WSIL - SIU BASEBALL BLOWS LATE LEAD

http://www.wsiltv.com/sports/local/SIU-Baseball-Blows-Late-Lead-143077826.html


NIUHuskies.com - NAWROCKI WINS MAC WEST PITCHER OF THE WEEK

http://www.niuhuskies.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/032012aab.html



IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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Wrestling: Huskies Kevin Fanta and Brad Dieckhaus were eliminated Thursday at the NCAA Championships at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. to end the Northern Illinois wrestling team's 2011-12 season. Fanta lost to #9 Nick Dardanes of Minnesota, 12-4, then was eliminated by pin against Iowa State's Luke Goettl. For Dieckhaus, he lost an 8-4 decision to Nathan Schiedel of Binghamton before being forced to forfeit his wrestleback match due to injury.

Gymnastics: Senior Tanya Rachan scored a 9.900 on floor exercise, the top score by a Northern Illinois gymnast on floor since 2005 and the first 9.9 by a Huskie on any event since 2009, to lead NIU at the State of Illinois Classic Saturday in Champaign, Ill. With the score, Rachan tied for first on floor exercise and was named to the 2012 All-State team. Rachan's score led the Huskies to a season-best 49.000 team total on floor exercise, the team's top score on any event all season and a mark the floor squad had targeted since the first meet of the season. Natalie Sutter scored a 9.825 on floor exercise to tie for fifth and freshman Peyton Taylor added a career-high 9.800 to take seventh place.

Baseball: The Huskies went 2-4 during the week. After dropping 7-2 and 4-1 decisions to Saint Louis in midweek play, NIU headed to Carbondale, Ill., to take on Illinois and Southern Illinois. After a 6-4 Friday loss to the Salukis, the Huskies were defeated by the Fighting Illini, 7-2. Northern rebounded with two wins to finish the week. Saturday afternoon, NIU topped SIU, 9-4, then followed that up with a 3-0 shutout of UI on Sunday.

Softball: Northern Illinois went 5-4 in a busy week in Florida. NIU began the week with a Tuesday sweep against Canisius and Florida Gulf Coast, then split their Wednesday pair of games against Iona and Central Florida. At the USF Tournament, the Huskies got off to a quick start by defeating Towson, 7-0, and Bryant, 7-6. The remaining games, though, did not go NIU's way. On Saturday, the Huskies lost 4-1 to North Florida and 5-1 to South Florida. Their week was completed with a 2-0 loss against Boston.

Women's Golf: The Huskies competed in two tournaments during the Spring Break week. On Monday and Tuesday, NIU finished 12th at the Don Benbow Invitational, with Allie Parthie leading the Huskies with a tie for 15th. At the NIU Snowbird, Northern held on to seventh place, while Parthie paced NIU with a fifth place showing.

Track & Field: The Northern Illinois track & field team got their outdoor season off to a quick start in Saturday with two event titles and two school records at the UCF Black & Gold Challenge. As a team, the Huskies combined for 15 top five finishes and nine personal records in the season-opening competition.

Men's Tennis: The Huskies went a perfect 4-0 in Florida. On Monday, NIU defeated North Carolina Central and Quinnipiac by identical 6-1 scores. They followed that up on Tuesday with a pair of 6-1 wins against Youngstown State and Bucknell.

Women's Tennis: NIU split their two games in Florida during the week. The Huskies defeated Bethune-Cookman, 5-2, to end the Wildcats' 10-match winning streak. The next day, Northern dropped a 6-1 decision to Embry-Riddle.

Six Huskie teams will be in action this upcoming week. Baseball opens their home schedule Tuesday with a game against UIC at 3 p.m., then begin MAC play during the weekend at Kent State. Additionally, men's golf has two tournaments in Florida, while men's and women's tennis open conference play on the road. Women's golf is also in action, as they head to Southern Illinois for the SIU Invitational.

NIU OR ND. WHO HAS THE BEST FOOTBALL PROGRAM

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Football team taking the field.jpgYou'll have to bear with us on this entry. Dennis Dodd, the national college football writer for CBSSports.com, wrote this article on the BCS and Notre Dame's place in it. You'll have to read the article to see Dodd makes a very interesting comparison between the football programs at Northern Illinois University and Notre Dame.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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Men's Basketball: The Huskies' season came to an end this week with a big upset and a near miss the second time. NIU traveled to Ypsilanti, Mich., Monday to take on fifth-seeded Eastern Michigan. Led by Tony Nixon's 14 points, Northern knocked off the Eagles, 48-45. The Huskies nearly found that magic again Wednesday night in Cleveland, but Western Michigan pulled away late for a 71-54 win.

Women's Basketball: Northern Illinois defied the odds and made a deep run in the MAC Tournament all the way to the quarterfinals. The Huskies were stuck in a nail-biter Wednesday afternoon against Akron. Trailing 60-59 with under ten seconds to go, Kim Davis grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it in with six seconds remaining to give NIU a 61-60 victory over the Zips. Their season came to an end Thursday afternoon, though, when third-seeded Toledo earned a 72-62 win.

Gymnastics: Northern Illinois struggled on its first event, the uneven parallel bars, and went on to a disappointing third-place finish and an overall score of 192.075 Saturday night at the EMU Eagle Invitational. The Huskies finished behind host Eastern Michigan, who totaled a 193.850, and runner-up Air Force (192.250), while picking up a win over Temple (190.725), to put their season record at 5-7 overall. NIU finishes its MAC regular season slate 2-4.

Baseball: The Huskies took two of three over the weekend at the Riverview Inn Challenge in Clarksville, Tenn. They began the weekend with a 5-1 win over host Austin Peay when Jordan Rishavy drove in the winning run in the top of the 10th inning. NIU repeated that performance Saturday with a 6-5 win against Arkansas State. Their weekend ended with a 13-9 loss to Dayton.

Softball: Northern Illinois split their four games at the DeMarini Invitational in Columbia, Mo. Saturday saw the Huskies throttle Alcorn State, 11-3, in five innings and top Boise State, 5-1. The next day, NIU dropped a 4-3 decision to Boise State and a 8-0 loss to host Missouri.

Men's Tennis: With two singles matches left to play, Northern Illinois was at the heels of No. 68 Brown, 3-2. However, the Huskies were unable to overcome of the deficit and fell to Bears, 5-2. The loss drops NIU to 10-5 on the season.

Spring break week will have many teams competing in warmer climes, as five of the seven teams in action (women's golf, men's tennis, softball, women's tennis, track & field) will be in Florida. Meanwhile, baseball has a two game set in St. Louis before a weekend round-robin at Southern Illinois, while wrestling caps off their season at the NCAA Championships in the Gateway City.

INSIDE LOOK AT THE BENNETT COACHING FAMILY

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Bennett.jpgSteve Yanda of The Washington Post dives into the Bennett basketball coaching family focusing on how faith is the linchpin of the family.  Click here to read.

GAME DAY IN CLEVELAND

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Cleveland.jpg
It should be a fun day for Huskie hoops in Cleveland as the NIU women play Akron in the MAC Tournament Second Round at 1:30 p.m. CT and the NIU men face Western Michigan in the MAC Tournament Second Round at 6 p.m. CT. For this afternoon's women's game, you can hear all the action with Andy Garcia on WLBK in DeKalb and on Huskie All-Access. You can also see the action online at mac-sports.com.

For tonight's men's contest, catch Bill Baker's call on WLBK, WJOL and Huskie All-Access or watch online at mac-sports.com or on ESPN3.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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Men's Basketball: The Huskies closed out their regular season by splitting two hard-fought games. On Wednesday's Senior Night, NIU came from behind to defeat Toledo, 65-61, behind double figures from Abdel Nader and Aksel Bolin. That momentum partially carried into Saturday, where the visiting Huskies grabbed an early lead on Ball State. However, the Cardinals emerged with a 62-51 win in Muncie.

Women's Basketball: Northern Illinois faced Western Michigan twice in DeKalb this week with far different results. On Tuesday, the Broncos spoiled Senior Night with a 66-64 overtime victory in the Convo, despite Satavia Taylor's 20 points. The Huskies, though, exacted revenge on their MAC West rivals in the first round of the conference tournament, handing the Broncos a 68-51 defeat Saturday.

Wrestling: Senior Brad Dieckhaus and sophomore Kevin Fanta both secured bids in the NCAA Championships for Northern Illinois Sunday at the MAC Championships. As a team, the Huskies finished fifth with 41 points, falling just a half-point behind Ohio for fourth. Central Michigan won the tournament title with 89 points, followed by Kent State, Eastern Michigan and the host Bobcats. Buffalo took sixth place on the day.

Gymnastics: The Huskies recorded the second-highest team score in school history en route to a 195.100-194.350 dual meet victory over Illinois State Sunday in Normal. NIU posted its best team totals of the year on uneven parallel bars, balance beam and floor exercise with six scores of 9.800 or higher in three different events. The Huskies did not count a score lower than 9.650 on the day while raising their record to 4-5 overall. Northern Illinois' total topped its previous season best of 194.775, set Feb. 11 at Bowling Green. The 195.100 matches the mark posted on Feb. 1, 2004 at Kent State which ranks behind only the 195.650 school record set March 23, 2003 at the State of Illinois Championships.

Baseball: Northern Illinois came close again, but failed to notch their first win of the season. Following Monday's 3-2 heartbreaker at No. 24 Texas Tech, the Huskies headed to Surprise, Ariz., for the Coca-Cola Classic. On Thursday, the team collected 10 hits, but lost 14-7 to Winthrop. The next day, NIU took No. 11 Arizona State to extras, but lost on a walk-off single, 4-3. NIU rounded out the tournament with a 10-5 loss to Iona and a 11-3 defeat from Oregon State.

Softball: The Huskies went 2-2 over the weekend at the Coach B Classic in Carbondale, Ill. On Saturday, NIU defeated Wright State, 5-1, before falling later to SIU-Edwardsville, 4-3, in eight innings. Northern would go 1-1 again on Sunday, shutting out Western Illinois, 5-0, and losing to the host Salukis, 15-7.

Men's Tennis: The Huskies returned to their winning ways at home Saturday with two 7-0 wins against Southern Illinois and Eastern Illinois. In both matches, NIU lost just one doubles match each to earn their ninth and 10th wins in 2012. However, the winning streak came to an abrupt end Sunday when Northern was handed a 6-1 decision at Wisconsin.

Women's Tennis: Northern Illinois took down the Milwaukee Panthers on Sunday by a score of 4-3 for its sixth win of the season. It was the second time this year the Huskies found themselves on the winning end while at the Boylan Tennis Center. With the victory, NIU sits at 6-4 on the season.

NIU's upcoming week will be dominated by MAC Tournament action. The women's team heads to Cleveland Wednesday to take on Akron at 1:30 p.m., while the men open their tournament Monday night at Eastern Michigan. Additionally, men's tennis hosts Brown in Rockford Friday; gymnastics goes to Ypsilanti, Mich.; baseball is in Clarksville, Tenn., and softball plays in Columbia, Mo.

SPRING TRAINING... THEN AND NOW

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To fans of baseball there are two words that will always bring a smile to their faces - spring training. It marks the start of the new season. It reminds us of sunshine, the smell of the fresh cut grass and the sound of leather smacking together around rawhide.


For over a century, baseball teams have traveled southbound to get out of the rain, cold and snow to work out the kinks and prepare for the long season's grind in warmer climates. Whether its black and white photos of players in hawaiian shirts, or fictional stories of Walter Matthau's character Morris Buttermaker striking out Ted Williams a la Bad News Bears, fans can't help but smile or be nostalgic over spring training.


After opening the season at Tennessee, the Northern Illinois baseball team is on their longest road stretch of the season, having just concluded a four-game trip in Lubbock, Texas. The team traveled straight from Texas Tech to Surprise, Ariz. for a four-day stretch at the Coca Cola Classic, where the Huskies will meet Arizona State, Oregon State, St. Mary's (Calif.) and Winthrop. (click here for game notes)


With a day to spare before the first game, the Huskies needed to get a practice in on Wednesday afternoon. Though the team had the option of working out at the Surprise Stadium complex, home of the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals, the team reached out to the Chicago White Sox and obliged to the Huskies, allowing NIU to work out at the complex.


With the team on its own spring training trip right now, I began preparing for next week's notes and found myself in the NIU Media Relations archives to research next week's notes and waist deep in 100-plus years of NIU baseball history. With student worker Mark Scott and myself trying to find results from the 1960's era of Huskie baseball, we found some old photos and a document from the Huskies spring training trips from 1962 and 1965 that I thought were worth sharing.


HISTORY LESSON

First record of the Huskies heading south was in 1951 on a trip to Mississippi and then to Memphis, under then-Head Coach Ralph McKinzie's steady watch. From that year on NIU went almost annually to Louisiana or Mississippi to open its season, generally at the end of march. The '51, enshrined in the Huskie Athletics Hall of Fame, finished the trip down South 3-2 and finished 11-6, en route to the IIAC Championship.


The document in the gallery (the last photo) is a travel itinerary from the team's trip in 1965, where they traveled by train on the Illinois Central's Panama Limited line to Hammond, La., to play at LSU and Southeastern Louisiana.


The itinerary shows the team stayed at Strawberry Stadium on the campus of the Southeastern Louisiana for the first two nights of the trip, before leaving Hammond for New Orleans to play Loyola (La.). The itinerary also shows the team ate in each school's respective cafeteria for meals during the trip.


The photos caught my eye at first because of the old cars parked in front of the stadium, mostly 50's era automobiles. Not to mention a big, giant brick wall that read "Strawberry Stadium" on its backside. The stadium, erected in 1936, is still home to the Lions, but has since been renovated. And of course, the rest and relaxation photos of players laying in the grass and working on their Illinois tan was funny as well. 


For fun, Google the stadium and compare the press box in 1962 to today... Drastic changes! The stadium is but a mere shadow of its former self in many respects.


With the advent of flying from location-to-location in today's world, its hard to imagine teams traveling by train for a long haul trip to play baseball. But, those were the times and I'm sure the trip resonated or still resonates to the guys on the trip. As skipper Ed Mathey said about this year's trip, "It's a day the kids won't soon forget."


Like I said earlier, spring training will always bring a smile to a baseball fan's face. It inspired me to write this posting and share some of the goodies from the archives, along with highlights from yesterday's big day for the Northern Illinois baseball team at Camelback Ranch.


I'd like to close by once again giving a big thank to the Chicago White Sox organization for providing us with video, publicizing us on their website and of course for letting us practice at the facility.