School’s In For The Professor

Chicago Cubs

National League MVP Kris Bryant signing a jersey. 

Perhaps it’s the vision of seeing grass at these spring training games that is exciting at this time of year or it could be reminiscing about last November’s World Series but as we get closer to the regular season, hearing the “Pop” of the bat is music to this baseball starved fan.

The Cubs lost to the Reds 8-4 yesterday but in a league where the focus is more on getting the kinks out of the machine than going for victories, the Cubs will take what they can get. In the case of prospect Eloy Jimenez, he hit his first home run and the 15, 000+ fans took it all in. Chances of him making the squad are slim to nil but it’s the opportunity to strut their stuff.

The pressing questions that I have for this year’s team are:

“He is a left fielder slash catcher right now,” Maddon said of Schwarber. “Maybe as the years progress and the knee gets better, we’ll look at him differently, but for right now, him understanding all of that is very important to his success and ours.”

One of the locks for this season is the Opening Day starter. Jon Lester gets the call and that’s the wisest choice. He was a bulldog in the playoffs and garnered my total respect for him.

“Not many groups have that luxury — we do,” Maddon said. “Jake, two years in a row, has done an outstanding job, so has Jon Lester. Of course, there’s the ascension of Kyle. It has to go to Jon Lester based on the body of work. We feel good about that. However we want to set up three, four, five will follow.”

The ascension of Kyle Hendricks has been awesome. Whether he continues that ascension is up to him but “The Professor” is my favourite Cub and although it was incredible to see the Cubs win the World Series, for me it was that NLCS game 6 that was pure poetry. Hendricks carved up the Dodgers and if that is the defining game that turns this Dartmouth grad into Hall of Fame material, well for me, it was the most thrilling ballgame I’ve ever seen.

The Professor gets the start today against the Dodgers. Consider it a rematch of sorts. I’m not expecting much today but baseball is officially begun when your favourite player takes to the mound.

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Heyward Getting In The Swing Of Things

Cactus League

When the Cubs play the White Sox, it always makes for interesting games. No matter how good one team is or how bad the other is, when the two duke it out, they play each other hard. Yesterday’s game ended in a 4-4 draw.

Both Addison Russell and Wilson Contreras connected with their first home run of the season, even if it doesn’t count for much it means something for players trying to find their groove before the official season begins.

“It was good to get back in a game and face some competition that’s not your own guys,” Brett Anderson said after making his first start in over a year. “Hopefully, now I can get used to being in a routine every five days and multiple outings.”

One of the best parts about spring training is seeing these fresh faces like Anderson vying for their spot in the rotation. For Anderson’s case, he was off for a year with a back injury.

“He’s not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Anderson said of Pitching coach Chris Bosio. “It’s more trying to limit the pressure on my back and a mild mechanical adjustment so I don’t land on my heel as much and land on the ball of my foot or my toes so it’s not such a whiplash affect. It’s small things. He’s said he likes what my pitches do.”

This is probably going to be the most interesting season for the Cubs and their fans. It’s the first time in over a century that the pressure is on. The Cubs will receive their championship rings on the April 12th game. Call Joe Maddon superstitious but he has no plans on wearing the shiny reminder.

“I don’t wear that,” Maddon said Monday. “I gave [my] 2002 [ring] to my mom [Beanie]. She has it. [Wife] Jaye has 2008. So, 2016, I don’t know — my inclination, I’ll talk to Jaye about it [to see] if she wants to hold onto it or if she wants to give it to my mom.”

So as the Cubs do their best to prepare for the crucial season to define their legacy, another player looking to rebound from a not so spectacular season behind the plate is Jason Heyward. He’s changed his approach at the plate with a new swing.

“His hands are working so much better,” Maddon said. “Our game, as a hitter, is played between your fingertips and your elbows. Guys who get a little bit long, a little arm-y — we call it the ‘military swing’, they get a little bit arm-y. Get it? So, if you can engage from your elbows to your fingertips and use your hands and wrists — they used to talk about Hank Aaron — that’s where it happens. That’s what I’m seeing. A lot of it has to do where you start. He’s starting in a manner that promotes, for me, better hand usage.”

I think it’s going to work for him but maybe not so much Joe’s Dad jokes.

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Is It Time For Spring Training To Count?

Arizona League

As Spring training officially got under way, the excitement or honeymoon phase of the Chicago Cubs World Series victory is in full force. Yesterday, in front of a sold out Sloan park in Arizona, the Cubs treated the Oakland Athletics to a lesson of why they have the hardware. A 4-3 win.

“It was different,” Chicago starter Mike Montgomery said of the loud reception. “I’ve been in a few Spring Trainings now, and it was definitely a different experience. It was hard to control the adrenaline today a little bit. Usually in spring, it’s more laid back. Today, there was a lot of energy out there.”

This also marks an important transition for Kyle Schwarber as he takes on the Lead off role vacated by Dexter Fowler.

“What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore?” Maddon said. “There aren’t many of those high-on-base-percentage basestealing types. Guys don’t want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It’s not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more because of what it does to your legs, your wrist, your hands. You’ll see, on occasion, guys who will go, but not like [Lou] Brock or [Maury] Wills or [Tim] Raines or guys who went all the time.”

A high point in yesterday’s game occurred when Len Kasper asked Joe Maddon some questions and Rajai Davis went up to bat and Maddon quipped, ‘You remember him?”

Yeah, we remember him Joe. These are the cool moments that happen in spring training that don’t necessarily occur during the regular season.

For the first time in a long while, the Cubs have a lot of expectations. They’re the champs after all. They’ll have to whip out the WD-40 and remove any rust from the machine, which brings me to another topic.

We all know that Cactus League games don’t amount to much other than an opportunity for players to strut their stuff and for rookies vying for a spot on the roster come Opening Day and for Canadian snowbirds to enjoy Cub baseball and the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

But what if spring training meant something?

With the recent rule changes regarding intentional walks, I believe it’s the right time for baseball to create a Sunshine Series pitting the Cactus League against the Grapefruit League.

Whether it be for bragging rights or playing for a different charity, it would be an opportune time to showcase some of the best rookies and players that might not make it onwards. It would also satisfy those south bound snowbirds. They could even have the defending World Series champion having to host it for example, this year’s championship would be in Arizona.

What do you think?

Schwarber Takes The Lead For Cubs

Kyle Schwarber

We’ve all come to know and love the bold choices of Joe Maddon. Yesterday he made the choice of Kyle Schwarber in the lead off role that was vacated by “You go, we go” Dexter Fowler.  Let me put it to you this way; Fowler is an exceptional lead off guy and could go down in history as one of the best ever. Sometimes it’s hard to get onside with Joe’s decisions; (That game 7 “possible disaster” still lingers as we all know that Hendricks should have pitched another inning).

This move having Schwarber in the lead off spot is interesting and worth considering. Schwarber can hit. We all know that but what else can he do? This will be an important spring training to determine his future. He’s a likeable guy but I’m afraid he’s destined to join the ranks of the American League.

“Schwarber is the frontrunner,” Maddon said Thursday at the Sloan Park complex. “You could always consider (Ben) Zobrist if you wanted to. You could talk about Jon Jay. I’d say they’re the leaders in the clubhouse right now. But primarily I like the idea of ‘Schwarbs.'”

It’s going to be intriguing as today marks the “Official” start to spring training. Games that are on MLB.TV always get me excited. After a long cold winter, although where I am it’s been unusually warm and we don’t have snow anymore so it’s hard to get into baseball, but today is here.

The Cubs have bigger shoes to fill. They’re the defending champs and few teams will try to take that championship from them. We saw what the Cubs are capable of with Schwarber in the lineup, so imagine a full season of “Schwarbs?”

“There’s pause involved there,” Maddon said. “If you don’t want to pitch to Schwarber, the guys coming up behind are pretty interesting. It’s formidable so it’s uncomfortable from the other side.”

Yes, baseball season is underway… Naw, I’m not even going to attempt it.

Believe it.

Chicago Cubs Defending World Series Champions

cubs-cream-2016-world-series-champions-patch-model-after-1907-champions-logo-patch

It’s hard to believe that over two months ago, the Chicago Cubs became 2016 World Series Champions. It seems so long ago and yet like it happened yesterday.

For the longest time I wanted to distance myself from the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps it was just to wallow in the warm glow of being champions or it could be the unspeakable fear of them reaching that height which has alluded them for so long, now what can a Cubs fan do?

They’ve won the big prize, they’re no longer lovable losers or curse laden wannabes.

The Chicago Cubs are champions. In 2017, they’re defending World Series Champions.

Say that again my friends, say it out loud (preferably in a room without anyone, we don’t want to jinx anything).

The real test for these Cubs is how they’re going to be lovable winners?

“There’s no more history we have to worry about, no more goats, none of that stuff,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said. “It’s all looking forward. With continued success, we’ll make that ‘C’ into a symbol of winning and not a symbol of not winning, like it was.”

That’s so true. It used to be that people would come up to me and almost feel sorry for me but I tell ya that during that World Series run, I had so many phone calls. Everyone watched it and it felt different. Usually people jump on the band wagons to cheer for a team when their own team didn’t make. That’s normal, but when people cheered for the Cubs, you could tell that deep down there were a lot of Cubs fans. People could like the Red Sox but a part of them likes the Cubs. That’s why the 2016 World Series felt different.

Besides, guys like Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Kris Bryant captured the imagination of fans everywhere. In a way, they brought baseball back to where it should be. Last fall, it wasn’t about contracts, free agency or other monetary deals; it was about the game.

From David Ross’s home run in game 7 to Bryant to Rizzo’s final out, the look on Bryant’s face said it all.

Elation.

Anthony Rizzo tucked that ball in his pocket to secure the memory.

“You kind of think you know what it would mean to people, but you really can’t know how much it means to so many people until you get there. It’s really been overwhelming. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s something that meant so much to so many people. I’m glad we could be here for it and be a little part of it.” Ricketts said.

Oh yeah, it’ll come again. They could be the first to repeat since the Yankees in the 90’s.

Baseball is unlike any other professional sport. It begins in spring. Hope springs eternal. New life, new dreams and new beginnings. It’s a game played with the utmost simplicity.

“You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball” Crash Davis Bull Durham

One of my greatest memories was from last year’s series against the Pirates before the All Star Break. We were at the game and watching Carl Edwards Jr throwing rockets during the warm up, my son turns to me and says, “Daddy, I want to be a pitcher.”

That’s baseball.

Believe it.

Cubs Hold Future in Their Hands

Chicago Cubs

So now that the dust has settled in their historic World Series championship, the accolades have started to roll in for the Chicago Cubs.

Both Anthony Rizzo (Who also won a Gold Glove) and Jake Arrieta won their first Silver Slugger award for the top offensive player at their position. The team captain also won the Defensive player of the year award for catches like these:

Kyle Hendricks was chosen as National League pitcher of the year by his peers. An honour well deserved and we’ll wait and see about the Cy Young.

“That was the most insane game I’ve ever been a part of,” Hendricks said. “There were a little nerves, a little anxiety before the game, but once you get on the field … it’s the same game. The way that ended, there’s no other way to end the Cubs’ curse.”

We’ll find out more winners in the coming week but right now I want to talk about dynasties. We know some players like Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman probably won’t be returning and Jason Hammel penned this Thank You letter to Chicago fans.

“Thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for all the love and support you have given us over the past three years,” Hammel said in the ad. “I can’t adequately describe what it was like to step on the mound at Wrigley every fifth day and pitch in the greatest park, in the greatest city, in front of the greatest fans on the planet!”

 

“Our time in Chicago was so much more than that,” Hammel said. “It wasn’t just the baseball connection to the city that we’ve cherished; Chicago became our home and you became our neighbors.

“While the Cubs’ chapter of our lives is now closed, the memories and friendships we have made will last forever.”

Can the Cubs repeat? I think they can and baseball needs that vilified team. The one team that everyone needs to beat. Imagine, going from “Lovable Losers” to the best in the game. The Cubs have a young core so there’s no telling what the future will bring.

“If you win with a bunch of older players with expiring contracts and things, maybe you need to replenish a little bit and make some trades before the guys walk away for nothing,” Epstein said. “If you’re lucky enough to win and have some continuity and a nucleus that’s going to be around for awhile, you absolutely need to continue prioritizing winning.”

So, one week the Cubs win the World Series and in the next week Donald Trump wins the presidency. What’s next week?

Believe it

 

 

Cubs Celebrate World Series With 5 Million Strong Parade

Wrigley Field

Every champion needs a championship parade. Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs proudly displayed the Commissioner’s Trophy to an estimated crowd of 5 million. From Anthony Rizzo’s heartfelt tribute to teammate David Ross to Joe Maddon’s updated T-Shirt “We Do Not Suck”, the river was dyed blue and a chorus of “Go Cubs Go” echoed throughout the crowd.

“I’ve been around baseball for a bit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Never, never have I experienced anything like Wrigley Field on a nightly basis, never have I experienced anything like the conversations that I have with all of you when I run into you on the street. It’s different, it’s spectacular, it’s comfortable, it’s warm and it’s the way it should be. I want to congratulate the fans and thank you for being so patient.”

The amazing run the Cubs had during October 2016 will go down in history as one of the most thrilling and exciting playoffs ever played. It was truly a showcase for the game of baseball. The accolades and World Series fever will continue with an appearance tonight on Saturday Night Live. No word on which players will appear but rumours are that Will Ferrell will appear as Harry Carey.

Infamous fan Steve Bartman was a no show but that didn’t matter. In fact, I’m glad he wasn’t there. Not because his presence wouldn’t be welcomed, he probably would have been met with hugs, pats on the backs and maybe even shared the stage with the players. His absence represented a good bye of sorts to the not so great memories of Cub-dom. We now know there was never a curse on the North Siders. It was baseball rearing its ugly head sometimes in October.

“They say, ‘Mr. Ricketts, I’m 71 years old,”’ Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “‘Please win the World Series before I die.’ Now, I normally say something like, ‘OK, do you eat right? Do you take care of yourself? Do you exercise? How much time do I have?’ Well, for the thousands of people who have said that to me, and are still with us, there you go.”

As the victory sinks in( yes, I’m still numb from the win) I keep thinking of how important this championship means to a lot of people. I’m a relatively new fan compared to the die hards like Al Yellon from Bleed Cubbie Blue and all those folks born in Chicago who grew up skipping an odd day of school to watch them on WGN or go to Wrigley Field, that’s what’s so awesome about this victory. The look of relief on these folks’ faces is what it’s all about.

“The one thing that’s been proven true over time, in baseball and in life, is that human beings can accomplish more for others and for the group than they can for themselves,” Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein told the Grant Park crowd.

Cubs

As for the players, the last player introduced on the stage was David Ross. The grizzled veteran who is retiring this year was honoured by a tearful Anthony Rizzo. The respect given to the 39 year old “Grampa Ross” as he acknowledged the millions.

“He taught myself personally how to become a real winner,” said Rizzo, who then got choked up. “He’s like a brother to me. He’s taught me a lot in life on the field, off the field, how to be a better person. I’m forever grateful for him. He’s going out a champion forever. For the rest of his life, he can say, the last game he played in, he’s a world champion.”

1907, 1908, 2016

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