Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

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Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

In 2011, Cubs closer Carlos Marmol struggled through his worst season since assuming the full time closer's role in 2009. He saw his weight go up, his conditioning was less than stellar, and his performance was far below average. He blew 10 save opportunities which tied for the major league lead and his ERA in the 2nd half of the season was 5.91.

After the firing of Jim Hendry and the hiring of Theo Epsteins management team, Marmol had a heart to heart talk with the new Cubs front office. They were direct in their criticisms and their desire to see him return to form as one of the most dominating pitchers in all of baseball. Marmol set a major-league record in 2010 when he averaged an astounding 15.99 strikeouts per 9 innings and after an off season of hard work he has come to camp with something to prove.

I lost about 15 pounds this winter through my workouts and I really didnt have to change my diet much because I eat healthy, lots of chicken and vegetables, he said.

In addition to a conditioning regimen that involved a lot of cardio work and weight training Marmol spent considerable time riding horses on his farm in the Dominican Republic. I love to ride horses and it is a good way to stay in shape and get some extra work in during the off season. My horses keep me very busy as my brother and I take care of our farms, he said.

Marmol owns an extensive farming operation that includes 40 horses and 700 head of cattle and while he is very involved in the off-season the operation is run full time by his brother. We have a great set up with our milk cows and our beef cows. We also have some chickens as well as all of our horses. It takes a lot of my time in the off season but it is a great way to get away from baseball for a bit when the season ends, he said.

Marmols farm produces milk that is sold in the Dominican Republic and is one of three farms that he owns in his home country. I have been around farms my entire life but a few years ago my brother and I decided to get into the business together. We have the milk cows that produce what we sell as well as some beef cows and some chickens, he said.

After a rough 2011 season, Marmol knows that some doubt his effectiveness as a closer but he is ready to put those doubters minds at ease. I am ready to have a good season and I feel I am in much better shape than I was a year ago. My pitch selection will be a little bit different but I want to get back to where I was in 2010 which is where I should be, he told me.

New Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio loves Marmols ability and is confident the former All-Star can regain the form that made him one of baseballs most un-hittable pitchers.

We have tweaked his approach and his pitch selection some by having him use his fastball and curveball more and setting up that great slider. Carlos has all of the tools to be a great pitcher and we have to all work together to get him back to where he was. Not many teams have a bullpen that feature a Carlos Marmol and a Kerry Wood and we are very fortunate to have them in ours. Carlos has looked great so far in camp and I am looking for him to have a big year for us, Bosio said.

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester didn't make any sort of statement by missing Monday's White House trip with his Cubs teammates. But at a polarizing moment in a divided country, a high-profile player on a World Series team felt the need to respond on social media and explain his absence from the championship ceremony. 

President Barack Obama name-checked Lester during his East Room speech – both for his spectacular pitching performance and beat-cancer charitable initiatives – as the Cubs continued their victory tour off the franchise's first World Series title since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.

Lester stood behind Obama when the 2013 Boston Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn. During that 2014 ceremony, Lester stood next to John Lackey, another Cub who missed this Washington trip. Lester also toured George W. Bush's White House with Boston's 2007 championship team.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day – and with the specter of Donald Trump's inauguration looming – Obama used his administration's final official White House event to draw a direct line between him and Jackie Robinson and highlight the connective power of sports.

"The best part was the president talking about how sports brings people together," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "how no matter what's going on in this country and the world, three or four hours of any one particular game can just rally so many people together." 

This team couldn't have created so much joy for generations of fans without Lester, who signed a $155 million contract with the last-place Cubs after the 2014 season, a transformational moment during the long rebuild that led to the White House trip that Obama never thought would happen.

"It was a thrill and an honor for all of us," team president Theo Epstein said. "It means so much more with his roots in Chicago and his final days in office. It couldn't have worked out any better. It's something we'll all remember for our whole lives."

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief's work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. "There's probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama's) one of them," Russell said. 

One of those three spots is "open," Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. "I couldn't text back," Russell said. "It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say."

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell's been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. "Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile," Russell said. "It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that's the goal this year, is getting better."