Alfonso Soriano has heard Cubs fans loud and clear, the cheers and the boos, and always shows up the next day with a smile on his face.
When asked if they will be patient enough for a long-term rebuild, the 136 million man sort of shrugged his shoulders and gave a look that said: Eh.
I dont say long-term, man, because in baseball, you never know, Soriano said. We have very good young talent. If everybody stays healthy, were going to compete every game. The group that we got is hungry to win. Who knows? Well see what happens.
That pretty much sums up the team that will stare down Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Thursday at Wrigley Field. They are on one side of the parallel tracks baseball czar Theo Epstein likes to talk about.
So much of this season figures to be about identifying core players for the future, pushing Starlin Castro to the next level, figuring out what to do with Matt Garza and integrating Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.
But after Opening Day, the Cubs think they can give the ball to a credible starting pitcher 161 more times this season. They are banking on bounce-backs from Ian Stewart and David DeJesus and breakthroughs by Bryan LaHair and Jeff Samardzija. They think Dale Sveums no-nonsense DNA will transform the clubhouse.
Were going to have to have a lot of things go our way, Epstein acknowledged. Were going to have to earn a lot of victories in close games in order to put us in a position where we look up in the middle of the year and were in this thing. So nothing will be given to us.
If you listen to the prognosticators, if you look at it on paper, its probably an uphill battle. But that doesnt mean were giving anything away. The goal here is to get in the playoffs and win the World Series and we start out on equal footing. Well make our own way this season.
Over the winter, the Cubs didnt import any new stars. The front office clipped coupons during the industrys wild spending spree on impulse buys. Garza has Carlos Zambranos old locker, while Carlos Marmol moved into the space once occupied by Aramis Ramirez.
The Cubs say they are going to improve incrementally, that it will all add up across the course of a six-month marathon. Kerry Wood couldnt remember doing this much work on the back fields during spring training.
Its something that they wanted to address and something they wanted to clean up, Wood said. It wont be because of lack of effort and lack of work in spring, Ill tell you that. Weve gone out and at least addressed it the way we should have, which is working at it (and) trying to get better.
Sveums Straight Talk Express rolled through Arizona, pounding away at fundamental play, and maybe this time it really will carryover into the season. His body language doesnt say first-year manager.
Its a little more purpose-driven now, utility man Jeff Baker said. Its one of those things where (when Sveum) actually says were going to focus on this stuff during the year, I think were actually going to do it. In times past, (with) some of the things that are emphasized, its like as soon as you leave spring training, theyre kind of gone.
Unfortunately, thats kind of the way it goes, but I dont think its going to happen with him.
He already has that instant credibility from his baseball card, what hes done. Hes coached on some winning teams and hes been around winning players and winning organizations and I think guys are excited here to be a part of the next winning thing.
How soon will that happen? A front office driven by data will cling to the outliers. General manager Jed Hoyer thought back to 2010, his first season as general manager of the San Diego Padres.
We had no expectations, Hoyer recalled. Las Vegas thought we were going to be under 70 wins and I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August and we ended up winning 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie. The most important thing you can do is be prepared every game, have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen.
Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise people, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong. If that doesnt happen, if that isnt our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year we continue to add talent to our organization and build for a great day in the future. But I would never give away any one season.
So a Cubs organization that has grown colder and more corporate will wake up on Opening Day, quiet the talk about processes and information-management systems and think: Why not us?