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The chauffeur was sent to O’Hare for ‘Canandaigua’: The Chicago Bears GM search ended a day later with the hiring of Ryan Poles

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Candidates, connections and ‘Canandaigua’: The Chicago Bears coaching and GM searches have reached the in-person phase — and outside intrigue is peaking

The video surfaced late Monday night, a little before 11 p.m. Undercover, of course. And shared on social media by Eric Bohn, whose Twitter bio identifies him as “your trusted resource for Chicago’s Northside and the North Shore residential real estate market.”

In this case, he was moonlighting as an impromptu P.I. — with his cellphone ready.

This, after all, is what we do in 2022. See, share, then open the floor to reaction.

Bohn’s covert video documentation showed what certainly appeared to be Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey strolling through O’Hare airport with a man who certainly appeared to be Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles, a finalist for the Bears general manager job.

Finally! In the third week of the Bears’ hunt for a new GM and head coach, we had eyes on the process, evidence of McCaskey, with boots on the ground, meeting Poles at the airport and bringing this all-important search party into a new in-person stage.

And well, from there everything escalated rather quickly. After Poles’ second interview with the team Tuesday, this time at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, he agreed to become the Bears’ new general manager, a move first reported by ESPN and the NFL Network.

By Tuesday morning, Bohn’s airport video had more than 700 likes and close to 300 retweets. Many of the replies went as you’d expect.

There was predictable sarcasm. From @puttinonfoil: “Wow. George running an Uber now.”

There were jump-to-conclusions responses. From @Eric11Lackey: “Personally, I love this. Ryan Poles is our next GM as long as he accepts. George is adding that extra personal touch, him picking him up saying ‘you’re my guy, When you’re my guy, you’re family.’ This is a huge sign of respect to the candidate.’

And then, naturally, there were next-level social media sleuths who froze the video, zooming in and seeking clues to figure out something. About anything.

Wait … Was that, in McCaskey’s right hand, a chauffeur sign that reads “Canandaigua”? Wasn’t Poles a football star once upon a time at Canandaigua Academy in the New York town of his birth? What a clever and clandestine way to welcome a prospective hire to Chicago! (Except McCaskey, in a pair of jeans and gym shoes, was also wearing a Bears mask and a Bears jacket.) So much for a stealth operation.

Still, McCaskey and the Bears did what they needed to do. They zeroed in on a candidate they felt strongly about after a lengthy round of virtual interviews with at least 14 other GM prospects. And with the Minnesota Vikings also vying for Poles, the Bears left nothing to chance.

Fifteen days after Ryan Pace was fired from the GM role, Ryan Poles was tabbed to take over.

Making progress

When Tuesday morning began, it seemed as if the Bears were simply taking the next step in what had been a long search.

Moving past the virtual phase of the interviewing process, Poles became the first known candidate for either of the Bears’ open jobs to meet with the team at its headquarters in Lake Forest. According to league sources and multiple national reports, the Bears were also working to line up second interviews with GM candidates Eliot Wolf and Monti Ossenfort while pushing to schedule in-person meetings with potential coaches Dan Quinn, Matt Eberflus and Jim Caldwell as well.

Poles’ Tuesday interview, however, reportedly ended with contract negotiations.

Poles, for what it’s worth, was also scheduled to meet with the Minnesota Vikings this week for a second time, a finalist for that organization’s GM job as well. That’s something McCaskey and the search committee remained aware of. Up in New York, meanwhile, the Giants’ coaching search has heated up quickly after they hired Joe Schoen as their new GM Friday. (Schoen spoke with the Bears about their GM opening Jan. 16 but landed with the Giants.) He also has close ties to one head coaching candidate many Bears fans have been pining for most: Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who now appears to be emerging as a top target for the Giants.

It’s entirely possible Daboll will follow Schoen to the Giants. And while that will hardly register as a knockout punch for the Bears, Daboll landing a new gig anywhere outside Chicago will leave a chunk of the fan base feeling jilted.

At the same time

This is all simply part of the deal, the way searches often evolve and change. And on Tuesday, the Bears made good on one of McCaskey’s biggest vows. As he emphasized Jan. 10: “We prefer to hire the GM first.”

That strategy always made sense. The Bears, McCaskey indicated, would look to lock in a new general manager before moving on to secure a coach. Yet for more than two weeks, the team pushed through the first phase of virtual interviews for both jobs simultaneously, meeting with at least 10 head coaching candidates while concurrently speaking with at least 15 GM prospects.

Bill Polian has been assisting with the searches. And presumably, he came in with a master plan on how to help the Bears smoothly handle the two respective hunts. “With Bill’s guidance,” McCaskey noted, “we’re going to be able to find a partnership of GM and coach that will work.”

Still, some around the league have emphasized that if the Bears were promising that their next GM will have complete oversight of the football operation, that also now means allowing Poles to conduct his own coaching search via his own methods with his own list of candidates.

That’s where the team’s push to schedule second interviews with head coaching candidates before hiring a GM has caused a bit of head-scratching in pockets of the league. At the very least, it’s something McCaskey and Phillips will have to explain.

And when Poles has his opportunity to express his vision publicly and offer an update on the next steps of the coaching search, more light will be shed on the direction that will lead the Bears to their next GM-coach union.

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Twins starting to get healthy after rash of injuries — and they expect Carlos Correa back soon

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Twins starting to get healthy after rash of injuries — and they expect Carlos Correa back soon

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Twins got crushed earlier this month with a string of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak all occurring right around the same time. Now, the reverse is happening, and it couldn’t be more welcomed within the clubhouse.

On Monday, the Twins activated outfielder Kyle Garlick (calf) off the injured list and optioned Mark Contreras to Triple-A. On Tuesday, Dylan Bundy will come off the COVID-19 list to make his first start since he fell ill.

And most impactful of all, the Twins and their star shortstop Carlos Correa are hopeful that he may make a return within the next couple of days during their series in Oakland.

Correa has been out since getting hit with a pitch on his right middle finger on May 5 in Baltimore. While there was initially fear that the finger was broken, Correa avoided the worst. Still, he has a painful bone bruise that has made it hard to hit and even harder to throw.

“I’ve been hitting with a pad on my finger. (That) makes it pain free,” Correa said. “And throwing is still a little uncomfortable. I’d say a lot when I try to throw hard. It’s tough trying to get the backhand all the way to first base, but I would say we’re pretty close.”

Being able to do that successfully, he said, will tell him that he’s ready to get back on the field and help the team.

Correa also tracked pitches when Devin Smeltzer threw pregame on Monday, trying to get his eyes adjusted to regain his timing at the plate. Correa had just started to heat up before the injury. Including that game, Correa has hit .412 with a 1.033 OPS and 14 hits in his last 14 games.

In an attempt to hasten the healing process, Correa said they’re trying “everything in the book,” from ice to massage and other treatment methods.

“It’s just a bad bone bruise in a spot where I use that finger to throw, I use that finger to hit, I use that finger for pretty much everything on the baseball field,” he said. “We’re trying to be smart about it. The last thing you want is to come off the IL and have to go back on it because you’re not ready.”

While Correa might be back this series, Baldelli said Trevor Larnach (groin) was a little bit further behind. While the outfielder has shown improvement and has started to participate in activities that he couldn’t do right after the injury, Baldelli said he’s still bothered by the groin strain.

Pitcher Bailey Ober, who has also been sidelined by a groin strain, threw five innings in a rehab start with the Saints on Sunday. He struck out seven and gave up five runs (four earned).

Most importantly, he came out of that feeling good. Baldelli said they planned on lining him up for a start this upcoming weekend, though they have yet to pinpoint the exact day for that.

BRIEFLY

The Twins will need to make a 40-man move on Monday to reinstate Bundy, who does not take up a spot on the 40-man roster while out with COVID-19. … The Twins are likely to piggyback Bundy in his first game back. … Baldelli said the Twins will have an update soon on starting pitcher Chris Paddack, who is out with an elbow injury and has been transferred to the 60-day injured list.

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Andrelton Simmons’ return provides the Chicago Cubs a timely boost with shortstop Nico Hoerner on the injured list

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Andrelton Simmons’ return provides the Chicago Cubs a timely boost with shortstop Nico Hoerner on the injured list

Andrelton Simmons’ return to the Chicago Cubs couldn’t have come at a better time.

Simmons endured a frustrating rehab from right shoulder soreness, something he never had experienced in his 11-year big-league career before it sidelined him during spring training.

But with second baseman Nick Madrigal already on the injured list, shortstop Nico Hoerner’s move to the IL on Sunday struck a big blow to the Cubs’ middle infield depth while costing them one of their best defensive players.

The Cubs activated Simmons from the IL as the corresponding move Sunday, and he entered as a defensive replacement at shortstop in the ninth inning and recorded the final out against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Simmons — who started at short in Monday’s series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field — indicated his shoulder feels pretty good but still has room to improve.

He didn’t need to wait long to collect his first hit as a Cub. With the bases loaded in the first inning, Simmons hit a soft roller down the third-base line that slowed to a stop halfway to the base without a play being made. The two-out RBI infield single was part of an eight-run first against the Pirates.

Hoerner’s stellar play at shortstop allowed Simmons to take the proper time to build up his shoulder and not feel pressured to join the Cubs before he was fully ready.

“He was holding (it down), so I’m like, all right, I’ve got some room to improve,” Simmons said. “Do I jump back in or do I try to keep getting better, as good as I can, so I’m close to my best?

“(The trainers) had my back the whole time. They made extra time for me and all that. So they want me out there. They’re doing everything to keep me on the field.”

Simmons was a little discouraged by how long the shoulder soreness lingered, but he’s happy to finally be around his teammates. All of his 1,190 major-league games in the field have come at shortstop, though he’s willing to play second base if needed.

Simmons likely will receive the bulk of playing time at shortstop for however long Hoerner is sidelined.

“I mean, I want to help the team any way I can,” Simmons said. “I know short is always going to be my forte, but Nico has been playing pretty good. So whatever they need, I’m here to help.”

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Defenders of Ukrainian steel mill declare mission complete

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Defenders of Ukrainian steel mill declare mission complete

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The regiment that doggedly defended a steel mill as Ukraine’s last stronghold in the port city of Mariupol declared its mission complete Monday after more than 260 fighters, including some badly wounded, were evacuated and taken to areas under Russia’s control.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the evacuation to separatist-controlled territory was done to save the lives of the fighters who endured weeks of Russian assaults in the maze of underground passages below the hulking Azovstal steelworks. He said the “heavily wounded” were getting medical help.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It’s our principle,” he said. An unknown number of fighters stayed behind to await other rescue efforts.

The steel mill’s defenders got out as Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback in its war with Ukraine, with Sweden joining Finland in deciding to seek NATO membership. And Ukraine made a symbolic gain when its forces reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.

Still, Russian forces pounded targets in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, and the death toll, already many thousands, kept climbing with the war set to enter its 12th week on Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. An additional 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.

She said an exchange would be worked out for their return home. Officials also planned to keep trying to save the fighters who remained inside.

“The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time,” Zelenskyy said.

Before Monday’s evacuations from the steelworks began, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the mill for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists. There was no immediate word on whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. Maliar later confirmed that the evacuation had taken place.

“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained critically important time to form reserves and regroup forces and receive help from partners,” she said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.”

The commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the plant, said in a prerecorded video message released Monday that the evacuation marked the end of the regiment’s mission.

“Absolutely safe plans and operations don’t exist during war,” Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko said, adding that all risks were considered and part of the plan included saving “as many lives of personnel as possible.”

Elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. In the Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in shelling.

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses counted at least eight blasts accompanied by distant booms, and the smell of burning was apparent some time later. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which was under an overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was lit up by an orange glow.

But Ukrainian troops also advanced as Russian forces pulled back from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers who reportedly pushed them all the way to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.

Video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a post that resembled a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker. Then they placed it on the ground while a dozen of the soldiers posed next to it, including one with belts of bullets draped over a shoulder.

“I’m very grateful to you, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on my behalf and on behalf of my family,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “I’m very grateful to all the fighters like you.”

The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers was from the border “in the Kharkiv region,” but would not elaborate, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.

Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops into the Sumy region, some 90 miles (146 kilometers) northwest of Kharkiv.

Russia has been plagued by setbacks in the war, most glaringly in its failure early on to take the capital of Kyiv. Much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas but also has turned into a slog, with both sides fighting village-by-village.

Howitzers from the U.S. and other countries have helped Kyiv hold off or gain ground against Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military assessment, said Ukraine has pushed Russian forces to within a half-mile to 2.5 miles (1 to 4 kilometers) of Russia’s border but could not confirm if it was all the way to the frontier.

The official said Russian long-range strikes also appeared to target a Ukrainian military training center in Yavoriv, near the Polish border. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership followed a similar decision by neighboring Finland in a historic shift for the counties, which were nonaligned for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her fellow citizens to brace themselves.

“Russia has said that that it will take countermeasures if we join NATO,” she said. “We cannot rule out that Sweden will be exposed to, for instance, disinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, ratcheted up his objection to their joining. He accused the countries of failing to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and of imposing military sanctions on Turkey.

He said Swedish and Finnish officials who are expected in Turkey next week should not bother to come if they intend to try to convince Turkey of dropping its objection.

“How can we trust them?” Erdogan asked at a joint news conference with the visiting Algerian president.

All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24 in what he said was an effort to check NATO’s expansion but has seen that strategy backfire. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the membership process for both could be quick.

Europe is also working to choke off funding for the Kremlin’s war by reducing the billions of dollars it spends on imports of Russian energy. A proposed EU embargo faces opposition from some countries dependent on Russian imports, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odesa and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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