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.

Believe it.

 

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.