Cubs believe they can prove doubters wrong

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Cubs believe they can prove doubters wrong

Walk around the locker rooms here at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., and to a man, the Chicago Cubs will tell you that they love the position that they are in. Absolutely no one unconnected with the team believes they have a snowballs chance on a hot Chicago summer day of having a successful season.

However, this new edition of the Cubs really and truly believes that they have a team that can stun the baseball pundits because they are playing for each other. Gone are the distractions of the past few years from Carlos Zambrano to some of the bloated contracts that belonged to underperforming players who have now moved on to other teams.

Players who were "me-first" guys like Aramis Ramirez are no longer on the roster and while he takes with him a productive bat, he also takes with him an attitude of lazy play that would never be tolerated by the new administration.

We have a great group of guys in here that are all pulling on the same end of the rope," Reed Johnson told me this morning before workouts began. "We dont have a team that can wait on three-run home runs to happen so that means that we have to do the little things correctly to win baseball games."

Starter Ryan Dempster is looking to help lead a starting rotation that has greatly improved depth from a year ago despite a lack of impact, arms except for Matt Garza.

We know that we have those that doubt what we can accomplish but everyone is really trying hard to impress the new bosses and I really like the makeup of the team we have here in camp, said Dempster.

Camp is full of interesting stories about guys who are looking to bounce back from subpar performances such as third baseman Ian Stewart, who comes over from Colorado after a brutal 2011 campaign.

David DeJesus had an injury-plagued season in Oakland but is now 100 percent and is going to open the season as the leadoff hitter and right fielder. He, too, senses something special in the air in Cubs camp.

I love the attitude I am seeing from everybody here. We are taking everything in that manager Dale Sveum is saying and it is all business with him. Guys are playing hard and I am going to do all I can in the leadoff spot to set the table for our run producers, DeJesus said.

Everyone in here came to win a championship, said second baseman Jeff Baker. "We really believe in each other in here and the attention to detail and the emphasis on playing the game the right way has been stressed by Dale and his staff since Day 1. It is up to us to execute and to get the job done."

While the question marks on this rebuilding team are many, there are some bright spots early in camp. The starting pitching depth being one and the play of some guys with a lot to prove -- such as Bryan LaHair -- being another.

Add in the newly bulked up Darwin Barney -- who gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle to help him handle the rigors of a long season -- and the improvement expected from star shortstop Starlin Castro and the optimism is somewhat understandable for an improved season over 2011 when the Cubs lost 91 games.

However, while improvement is one thing, making a run to the postseason is quite another. Johnson, though, believes the impossible is within the Cubs reach.

We are working very hard here in spring training," he said. "If we play up to our abilities, we know what we can accomplish. The attitude in here is great. That is what makes it so exciting to be a part of this team."

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”