Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp


Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum has been inside the interview roomdungeon where the Cubs manager will have to face the media. He checked it out trying to find space for pinch-hitters to get ready during games. The pillars were in a bad spot.

We searched a lot of little places, Sveum said. There was just nothing where you could get a full swing anywhere, unless you went out on the concourse.

Sveum doesnt want to hear excuses about day baseball or Wrigley Fields facilities. The first-year manager is looking for answers.

So as the clubhouse guys loaded bags onto the orange moving truck parked outside HoHoKam Stadium on Saturday Sveum was supposed to get his chopper on there it seemed like a good time to look at the imprint hes put on this team.

Hes got more tattoos than most managers, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I cant see Lou (Piniella) riding into the field on a Harley.

Sveum has been the hot prospect who had to make it as a utility guy. He recovered from a freak leg injury and lasted 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was willing to become a bullpen catcher to stick around with the 1998 New York Yankees and get to the World Series.

This is someone the Cubs want to ride with.

Hes been through it all in his career, utility man Jeff Baker said. When you see guys that have a lot of experience and a lot of perspective on that stuff, they are even keel. Its 162 games. Youre going to have your ups. Youre going to have your downs. The worst thing as a player is when you have a manager that rides that rollercoaster.

When youre doing well, everythings great. (And) if the team goes into a slump and youre not playing well, its disappointing when you see the manager get off you or get bummed.

You really dont get that feeling with Skip this year. Hes going to ride with you. He knows theres going to be good times. He knows theres going to be bad times. He understands how hard this game is.

Sveums normal routine in Arizona began by waking up around 4 a.m. and working out at the teams complex before the players walked into the clubhouse. It had all been scripted out long before then.

Theres no: What are we doing today? pitcher Randy Wells said. Theres no guessing.

Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm who had spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates felt a sense of urgency in Camp Sveum.

Guys on a consistent basis were here early, every morning, getting extra work in, Maholm said. When games start, guys are busting it. You dont see a lot of guys that are just kind of taking it like, Oh, its spring training.

Thats (Sveums) personality: You work hard. You play hard. Have fun later.

You just respect a guy for coming in and kind of laying it down and saying this is how were going to play and this is what I expect.

That sense of structure and purpose began with individual player meetings run by Sveum, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at the beginning of camp.

One of the things he focused on in the interview is spring training (as) a tone-setter, Hoyer said. Thats where you build the makeup of your team about having that attention to detail and creating some camaraderie, too. Its not only about being a drill sergeant.

Sveum, whose late father was a Marine, believes its a sign of weakness to show emotion in the dugout. When things do go wrong, he will be able to lean on people he trusts, because he had a voice in choosing his coaching staff.

Everybody stresses fundamentals in spring training. But maybe its hammered home harder this time because Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

Dales done a great job of setting the tone for detail, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. He teaches the game really well in every phase. We got some great coaches with a lot of experience. Thats real vital. Theyve been on championship teams, in the World Series.

Sveum views himself as a teacher, and still plans to be hands-on around the cage and in the video room, even as the demands on his time multiply. At least he wont have to be out there spinning negative stories about Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.

This has been a distraction-free zone, and welcoming toward the players of the future.

Dale is a pretty straightforward guy, top prospect Brett Jackson said. Hes so knowledgeable about the game. He wants you want to come out every day and bust your butt.

Some people ask: Why do you act so comfortable? You havent even been on the team yet. Well, I wouldnt want to act like I was uncomfortable. But the real answer is: Its an easy coaching staff to be comfortable with. Its an easy team to be comfortable with.

Sveum doesnt particularly enjoy talking about himself, but its not like he dreads talking to the media. Once the Cubs get back to Wrigley Field for Wednesdays workout, he will almost certainly be asked about changing the culture, as if no one had thought to ask that question the past six weeks.

That statement is kind of oblivious to me, Sveum said, because I wasnt here, so I dont know what the culture was. We all know that its been a long time since the Cubs have won a World Series. But in the meantime, I dont know whats gone on here.

I just wanted to bring in my two cents and get people to do things the way I expect them to do and how I expect them to play the game. Everybodys had a great spring that way. Guys have played hard and worked hard. So I cant ask for anything else.

There is approximately two-and-a-half days left in camp before the Cubs board their charter flight back to Chicago. Well see if there will be a carryover effect. There will be more heat from the fans and the media. Cracks in the foundation will begin to show. That interview room will feel a lot smaller.

Youre going to get more frustrating questions and youre going to get questions that are second-guessing you on a daily basis, Sveum said. Thats the nature of the business. I can sit here and say anything I want about it. But I havent been in that hot seat yet.

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

Matt Dorey and Lukas McKnight had just scouted a California Baptist University pitching prospect as they rode toward the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and pulled into the parking lot.

Dorey watched the Cubs game on his phone as the valet guys approached the car: “Holy s---!” Kyle Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler as the two outfielders converged in the left-center field gap, both of them tumbling to the ground as Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff guy Jean Segura sprinted for an inside-the-park home run at Chase Field. 

Dorey, the team’s amateur scouting director, and McKnight, the assistant director, walked into the hotel’s sports bar with this sort of thought in mind: Make it a double. On the night of April 7, the Cubs really didn’t know what damage this might do to Schwarber’s career, or if a severe injury could shred the franchise’s World Series plans.

“The pit in my stomach at that moment,” Dorey remembered. “Everybody starts texting me: ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good.’” 

It looked like an awful high-speed collision that might derail the 2016 Cubs. It didn’t matter that Schwarber had only turned 23 a month earlier and only had one full season of professional baseball on his resume. 

The Cubs had witnessed his quick, compact left-handed swing at Indiana University and understood what his magnetic personality meant in building the Hoosier program, using the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft on Schwarber with the belief that those qualities would strengthen the Wrigley Field clubhouse. 

An MRI at a hospital in the Phoenix area revealed a torn ACL and LCL in Schwarber’s left knee, as well as a severely sprained ankle, what was supposed to be season-ending trauma. Except Schwarber has already notched three hits and two walks in the World Series, including a double off the Progressive Field wall against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 1. 

A stunning performance that left teammate Kris Bryant predicting “they’re going to make a movie about him” couldn’t get Schwarber medically cleared to play defense on Friday night as Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game since 1945. But in what’s now a best-of-five battle, the Cleveland Indians will have to worry about Schwarber walking up to the plate for what could be a season-defining pinch-hit at-bat.

“I’m a baseball rat,” Schwarber said. “I want to be involved in it as much as I can. A lot of (credit) goes to this team and this organization for allowing me to be around. They were a big rock in my rehab.

“I could have easily just gone to Arizona, gone through the motions in rehab. But these guys really made me kick it up a notch. I’m sitting here today mostly because of those guys.”

Beyond the grueling physical exercises, Schwarber studied video, helped prepare scouting reports, brainstormed with catchers and attended meetings with pitchers. In no uncertain terms, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made Schwarber untouchable in trade talks, allowing the Indians to acquire All-Star reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees.

Cubs officials also invited Schwarber to observe their draft process in June, allowing him to sit in as they gathered in an unfinished section of the new underground clubhouse in Wrigleyville.

“We got him a computer,” Dorey said. “He had access to all of our analytics. We had the video up. I asked him questions about catching. We asked questions about guys he played against. 

“A lot of the pitchers that we were considering – in the Big Ten especially – we’re like: ‘Kyle, what do you think?’ He’d be like: ‘This guy sucks, man.’

“He was just so invested in it. He was so into it. Even for the better part of four or five days – and during the actual draft – he sat in there and he (found) a couple guys that he really liked. He was like: ‘Man, I’m just trying to get my guy.’ 

“There was a hitter (he really liked). I’m like: ‘Kyle, dude, we’re not taking many hitters.’”

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Even without Schwarber getting a hit during the regular season, the Cubs are so loaded on offense that they scored 808 runs. In the fourth round, the Cubs drafted Tyson Miller, the Cal Baptist right-hander Dorey and McKnight scouted the day Schwarber wrecked his knee. 

“It was just so fun,” Dorey said. “I was so appreciative of his willingness to try to see the organization from a different lens.

“Most guys – not that they don’t care about it – they just don’t take the time to understand what happens on a day-to-day basis to see how we bring new guys into the organization.

“It was great for our scouts to see – and great for all of us to hear a different perspective (with Kyle) talking about players that he’s seen. And he’s seen what it takes to play at this level.”

Out of that gruesome injury came another chapter in the legend of Schwarber, a baseball gym rat who’s supposed to lead the Cubs back into October for years to come.

“It was really tough to see,” Dorey said. “But I also look at it now like Kyle just went through the biggest obstacle or adversity in his career. He worked so hard to get back to this point. It’s just pretty inspiring to see that he’s even taking BP – let alone hitting 5-hole in Game 1 of the World Series.”

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Four Cubs have been recognized for their defense in 2016 on Thursday.

Jake Arrieta, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell were all named finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their respective positions. Winners will be announced Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Arrieta was tied for second among National League pitchers with five Defensive Runs Saved. Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon led with eight.

Heyward, who's a three-time NL Gold Glove Award winner, had the most DRS for right fielders with 14 and also led Defensive Wins Above Replacement with 1.3.

Rizzo's 5.7 Ultimate Zone Rating ranked second among first basemen in the NL, according to fangraphs.com, and his .996 field percentage ranked fifth.

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Russell was tied for most DRS among NL shortstops with 19 (the second-best had nine).

The two most notable Cubs left off the list were Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist due to their versatility throughout the regular season.