Nothing like the Fourth of July, summer’s alarm clock, to announce that time is running out on all the things circled on my calendar I hope to do before Labor Day.
By the end of August: Go to a Fire game
No, I do not subscribe to theory that, as the joke goes, so many American kids play soccer growing up to avoid watching it. I enjoy soccer, though less than other sports, and with five major teams in Chicago it admittedly often gets overlooked. It merits more attention. (OK, John Kass is right about something.)
Compellingly, the only first-place team in town keeps igniting interest with the best record in Major League Soccer (11-3-4 overall and 9-0-1 at home) — the first time the Fire could say that after 18 games since the 2005 season. Besides German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger’s immediate impact, the Fire have benefited from the play of MLS leading scorer Nemanja Nikolic. And, yes, I had to look up how to spell Nikolic, which only underscores how Fire players aren’t household names yet. Now I need to find directions to Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
July 11: Tune in to baseball’s All-Star Game
Can’t wait to see if National League manager Joe Maddon decides to bat Buster Posey or Bryce Harper in the leadoff spot and watch White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia face Cubs closer Wade Davis in a clutch at-bat in the late innings.
July 17: See the Bulls play in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament final
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the Bulls just might bring the same lineup back to Chicago to start opening night as the one they will use to defend their summer-league title. They are young and inexperienced by design. So don’t miss a minute of the Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser Show in Vegas, coming soon to an arena near you.
July 21-23: Attend the Blackhawks Convention
Spread out over three days, this year’s convention will last almost as long as the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against the Predators. Meet new backup goalie Anton Forsberg and defenseman/body builder Connor Murphy. (Maybe Murphy will flex for you.) The good news: Ticket stubs from 2013 and 2015 Hawks conventions will be honored for the autograph sessions involving former Hawks-turned-current Hawks Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad.
July 25: Go to the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon
This is always can’t-miss for the cliche crowd. Where else will you hear grown men gather to complain about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gaining an unfair recruiting advantage by meeting the pope during the Wolverines’ team trip to Italy? Harbaugh should tweak critics by referring to Michigan’s offense as “Three Yards and a Cloud of Smoke,” and introducing a new wrinkle to the “Hail Mary” at the end of halves.
July 24-25: Cover the Cubs-Sox two-game series at Wrigley Field
Which team’s season will be executing its plan better by the annual City Series? One of these years, Rick Renteria really will see what it is like to manage the team with the most talent from a dugout at Clark and Addison.
July 26-27: Cover the Sox-Cubs two-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field
These could be the two games the Sox average home attendance exceeds the 2016 average, proving to the Sox front office that its fan base was ready for a rebuild. These also could be the final two games of a Cubs four-game sweep of the Sox if Maddon’s team hits its stride as expected after the All-Star break.
July 27: Observe the Bears’ first practice at Bourbonnais
Curiosity surrounds every move quarterback Mitch Trubisky makes, starting now. The Bears haven’t welcomed a rookie first-round quarterback to camp since Rex Grossman in 2003. Attention, Bears fan: Make sure to get quarterback Mike Glennon’s autograph early in training camp. The longer the season goes, you sense the less his signature will be worth.
Aug. 1: Enjoy pitcher Chris Archer’s Cubs debut against the Diamondbacks
OK, this agenda item is in pencil. And may never happen. But of all the top-of-the-rotation starters on the trade market, the Rays ace qualifies as the best fit for the Cubs in terms of ability, personality and contract control. Problem is, the Rays arrived in Chicago for a two-game series with a better record than the Cubs. If the Rays fall out of the American League playoff race by late July, the Cubs will have to outbid several suitors and be willing to give up at least one highly regarded prospect to make the deal happen. But it could be worth it for Archer, a fascinating professional athlete and fantastic pitcher.
Aug. 5: Stop by Bears Family Fest at Soldier Field
It’s always fun to see and hear fans experience the thrill of enjoying the Bears in their home stadium without booing or witnessing a loss — which will be hard to do in the 2017 season.
Aug. 8: Go to Yoan Moncada’s White Sox debut against the Astros
What great theater it would be to see baseball’s top prospect unveiled at home against baseball’s best team. Moncada probably could come up from Triple-A Charlotte this week and abuse major-league pitching, but the Sox figure to continue their wise, deliberate approach. But bringing the second baseman up in early- to mid-August for a 50-game stint to end ’17 makes sense.
Mid-August: Accept the tough assignment to travel to the Dominican Republic and gauge the progress of Cuban sensation and White Sox prospect Luis Robert
Technically, that trip hasn’t been assigned yet. (Hint, hint.) But the idea has merits, right? Or we always can wait until it’s colder in Chicago to plan a work trip to the Caribbean.
Sept. 2: Cover Ball State-Illinois in Champaign — objectively, of course
I love these Big Ten-Mid-American Conference matchups. Illinois coach Lovie Smith may want his Big Ten team to get off the bus running against a MAC opponent to take advantage of superior size and depth. But I will get in the car laughing postgame if my alma mater can pull off an upset over an Illini team susceptible in its season opener.
Labor Day, Sept. 4: Prepare for upcoming Bears season by studying the depth chart and walking over hot coals