Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

As baseball winds down, hockey begins; late night golf on TV

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Wednesday night has a lot to offer sports fans, especially those willing to stay up late. For those in Chicago, a dichotomy involving their two teams is front and center.

The Chicago Cubs are in Pittsburgh to play the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game. Chicago is embarking on another attempt to win their first World Series since 1908. They have not even played in one since 1945.

Back in Chicago, the Blackhawks are helping the National Hockey League kick off the 2015-16 season by hosting the New York Rangers. Chicago, to the great disappointment of Lightning fans, will be hoisting their Stanley Cup Champion banner before the game.

Both games start at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Lightning fans will look forward to Thursday’s opener with Philadelphia.

While Chicago fans may be torn on which team to focus upon, true sports fans will tend to be more intrigued by the Cubs. It seems unfathomable that a professional franchise can go that long without a title, but truth is stranger than fiction.

This is not a call to root against Pittsburgh. Pirate backers must understand casual fans with no stake in the outcome will lean toward the Cubs because of the history.

They want to witness history. No one living on this Earth has witnessed a happy ending for Chicago’s Northside team.

Even if the Cubs do not win it all this year, they are built to do so in the near future. A good many Rays’ fans are undoubtedly wishing the best for Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon (even if he did leave us).

Pittsburgh is hungry as well. While its last championship was as recent as 1979, the Pirates went 20 years (1992-2012) without a winning season until they qualified for the post season the past three years.

Even the Cubs made the playoffs five times during that span. Miami Marlin fans remember their role in continuing Chicago’s misery in 2003.

It was that year the Marlins defeated Chicago in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series the night after the infamous Steve Bartman “fan interference” game.

Wednesday’s game features two old franchises evenly matched. Both teams hit and both teams pitch well. Their aces go tonight.

Chicago’s 22-game winner Jake Arrieta has been unhittable in the second half, while Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole is just a tick behind at 19-8. On the negative side, Pittsburgh is last in team defense and the Cubs are only 12th.

The Pirates are hosting the Wild Card Game for the third consecutive year. They are 1-2 in those games.

If Pittsburgh is to advance, Arrieta needs to come back to Earth. If he pitches as he has since mid-July, Chicago will advance to face the St. Louis Cardinals beginning on Friday night.

For those still awake after baseball, the President’s Cup golf matches from South Korea begin at 10 p.m. on the Golf Channel. This semi-annual team match play competition pits the top golfers from the United States against an international team comprised of all-stars from around the world (except Europe).

The United States team, led by Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, The (British) Open Champion Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson, is favored. The International Team is led by the current top player in the world, Jason Day of Australia.

Watson is paired with J.R. Holmes in the first match that tees off at 10:07 p.m. Eastern (Thursday in Korea). They face the team of Australia’s Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.

Spieth and Dustin Johnson, who battled each other to the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open in June, play together in the fifth and final match of the day against Australia’s Danny Lee and Mark Leishman.  Day and fellow Aussie Steven Bowditch face Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson.

The President’s Cup does not quite rise to the level of the Ryder Cup (U.S.A. vs. Europe), but they are a must-see for golf fans. The U.S. leads the all-time series 8-1 with one tie.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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