Cubs hope chemistry counts for something

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Cubs hope chemistry counts for something

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 8:04 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Ryan Dempster and James Russell were sitting on the couch. They had just finished playing a few games of hockey on Xbox. The entire afternoon was in front of them.

Dempster is almost 34 years old and will make 13.5 million this season. He turned to Russell on Monday with an idea: Lets go watch the boys play.

So they left the condo Russell and Andrew Cashner are renting in Scottsdale and drove over to Tempe Diablo Stadium. They got there in time to catch the first few innings before driving rains caused the Cubs and Angels to seek shelter and cancel another meaningless game in a month filled with them.

We had no clue where we were going. (We) asked every usher we saw where the visitors locker room was nobody had a clue, Russell said. So we just started walking around, made our way down to the front row and just hopped a fence. (We) walked on the field and into the dugout in jeans and tennis shoes.

Cash was kind of surprised to see me. He goes, Hey, what are you doing here? Nothing, man, just came to (watch you pitch).

That two players who were completely off the clock would show up at a road Cactus League is remarkable. It speaks to the team chemistry the Cubs think they are building.

Reed Johnson was part of that 97-win team that turned every home game into a Wrigleyville block party in 2008. He remembers Dempster and Kerry Wood organizing team dinners where 90 percent of the guys would show up and theyd need a full charter bus to get to the restaurant.

To have those two guys back together, Johnson said, is going to be huge this year and for the future.

General manager Jim Hendry brought in several veterans on minor-league deals to bring a sense of professionalism to camp. Johnson has made the team as the fifth outfielder, and he is what Hendry likes to call a character guy.

The Cubs felt their chemistry was an issue isolated to the one-man island of Milton Bradley in 2009. The media just dragged the story into the next season. Hendry says the Cubs always emphasize a players makeup and personality, whether its in the amateur draft or Latin America.

We didnt lose early last year because we had a bad clubhouse, Hendry said. Its always a premium.

Its hard to ignore the intangibles that Wood, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza bring to the room. The teams three major offseason acquisitions have already performed at an All-Star level and been tested in the playoffs. They instantly earned the respect of their teammates.

The Cubs try to keep it light in spring training. There is a sheet of paper posted on the bulletin board inside the HoHoKam Park clubhouse. It features the smiling face of Charlie Sheen above the word WINNING and this quote: I have decided just to win inside of every momentand the score is like a bazillion to zero.

There were times last year when a lead like that might not have felt safe with the Cubs bullpen. But its not just the young Texans like Cashner and Russell who are almost in awe of Wood.

John Grabow is about 17 months younger than Wood. And Grabow will make more than three times the amount Wood will this season. Even Grabow cant wait to listen to Wood talk down in the bullpen.
Kerry Wood talks with teammates in the dugout during a spring training game. Many Cubs veterans and youngsters are happy to have Wood back citing his ability to help build team chemistry. (US PRESSWIRE)
Im looking forward to picking his brain (and) just watching him get after it, Grabow said.

Pena, who is bilingual, connects with everyone and does not hesitate to speak up when he sees a different way to do things. Hes quick to walk over to the mound when a pitchers in a jam. The Gold Glove first baseman has been eager to help Tyler Colvin as he learns a new position.

Great guy, Colvin said of Pena. He has a wonderful personality. He goes out here and you can tell he has fun.

The day after Pena tried to settle Cashner down during his rain-shortened start, the pitcher pulls a chair next to Penas locker and the two have a long conversation.

At a table in the middle of the clubhouse, Colvin and Darwin Barney who once talked about what it would be like when they made it to the big leagues together are playing cards.

Dempster is trying to prepare for his start against the Dodgers that afternoon in Glendale.

We try to pick each other up, Dempster said. We try to push each other. When I went down to the cage to go hit (Tuesday) morning I got kicked out because there was like 20 hitters down there. Thats a really cool thing.

Has that happened in the past?

Not that I can remember, Dempster said. Its becoming a really tight group.

Thats easy to say now, when theres no pressure and no ones really keeping score. It may not matter all that much. But you can see Carlos Zambrano joking with manager Mike Quade and his teammates. You notice that Aramis Ramirez has a smile on his face. You wonder where Garza went, because he always seems to be on the move.

How long will it last? Dempster knows that winning is the only way to keep it fun for everyone.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs trip to White House for World Series celebration Monday on CSN, stream

Cubs trip to White House for World Series celebration Monday on CSN, stream

The Cubs make their visit to the White House on Monday for their World Series celebration, and CSN will have you covered the entire way.

CSN will air and live stream the celebration, the official White House ceremony, featuring President Barack Obama, honoring the team’s first World Series title in 108 years.

CSN will deliver complete team on-air/online coverage of the event and up-to-the-second Twitter reports from Cubs beat reporter Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) and CSNChicago.com’s Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney), which will include complete highlights from the day’s big D.C. celebration on SportsTalk Live at 5:30 p.m. and on In the Loop Prime at 10:00 p.m.

CSN will also provide viewers with a special, 30-minute "Cubs Visit the White House" recap special Monday night at 7:00 p.m., which will feature ceremony highlights, interviews with Cubs players/coaches/front office execs, and much more.

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

Three days before Election Day, Alec Baldwin walked into a dressing room on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to meet the Cubs in New York. Dressed in a full Donald Trump costume – but still talking in his normal voice – Baldwin chatted with Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler and David Ross while they rehearsed with Bill Murray before "Saturday Night Live."     

That scene sums up the surreal nature of two seismic events colliding, the joyous victory tour that saw Kris Bryant appear on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" set with a goat and a bitter presidential election that pitted sides of the Ricketts family against each other.

President Barack Obama called Cubs manager Joe Maddon from Air Force One after the team ended the 108-year drought in early November, winning the franchise's first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Obama amplified the message he posted on Twitter: "Want to come to the White House before I leave?"

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will happen on Monday after about two months of scheduling and discussions, with chairman Tom Ricketts downplaying the idea that the Cubs might have stalled for his brothers Todd (Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary) and Pete (Nebraska's Republican governor). 

This is part of the family business. Laura – their sister and another Cubs board member – has clout in Democratic circles as a superdelegate/fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. The patriarch is Joe, the billionaire TD Ameritrade founder who's heavily involved in right-wing politics. 

"There's no big conspiracy here," said team president Theo Epstein, who attended Obama's farewell address at McCormick Place last week. "Tom is a very reasonable guy. And in the end, the president invited us, and then they followed up with a real invitation. Once there was a real invitation, we figured out if we could make it work. We could, and we were happy to go."

Cubs Convention – where last year Todd made headlines by describing New York Mets fans as "really, really obnoxious" and dismissing All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey as a wannabe "tough guy" – would be the only logical offseason staging ground.

Todd did not participate in this weekend's ownership Q&A session with fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. The Cubs will also be in Washington this summer for a four-game series at Nationals Park, not far from Todd's nominated Cabinet position. 

Epstein paused four seconds after hearing the question: Would you have gone to the White House in June?

"Uh…" Epstein said. "Yeah, if the whole team was going, I probably would have gone.

"I'm not going to tell you what I would have been wearing. But I would have gone." 

Epstein campaigned for John Kerry in New Hampshire after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and then shook hands with George W. Bush during that White House visit. Epstein missed the ceremonial trip with Boston's 2007 World Series team because his young son had been hospitalized and recovering from an illness at the time: "People took it as a protest, but it wasn't."

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Jake Arrieta doesn't want to be misinterpreted, either. The Cy Young Award winner explained his anticipated absence on Monday has nothing to do with his post-election "#beatit" tweet.  

Arrieta – who is dealing with family medical issues back home in Texas – said his "#illhelpyoupack" message wasn't an explicit endorsement of Trump's agenda. Arrieta said he didn't vote and aimed the tweet at Hollywood celebrities who talked about leaving the country if Trump won. 

"People view us as athletes as being Republican and only caring about lower taxes, which isn't the case," Arrieta said. "If paying higher taxes is going to benefit the majority of society, I'm fine with that. 

"It's tough when people start talking politics. But I'll be open and honest: I just want somebody to lead our country and do a good job. Whether it's Obama – whether it's Trump or Hillary – I just want to see somebody do a good job for the benefit of everybody."

Fowler will be there on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to meet the nation's first African-American president and reconnect with his old teammates after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The Cubs had waited so long for this – winning their last National League pennant two years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 – that Fowler became the franchise's first African-American player in the World Series.

"I'm most happy for our players," Epstein said. "It's just a really special part of winning the World Series. You feel like you've finally made it. You're in the most precious building in the country, really, and you get to strut around as world champs and meet the president. 

"It doesn't get any better than that. It's very fitting that we're seeing a Chicagoan, and in his last week in office makes it even more special."

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Maddon met Obama while managing the 2009 American League All-Star team at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the president wore a White Sox jacket while throwing out the first pitch. 

Maddon already went to the White House for a ceremony honoring the 2002 Anaheim Angels. Maddon and his wife, Jaye, also attended a small group dinner Bush's staff organized during the final days of his presidency in January 2009.  

"No matter your politics, you get invited to the White House, you go," said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. "I'm like giddy to be able to get invited on the trip." 

The Cubs are also expected to tour the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Rizzo hopes to present the nation's 44th president with his No. 44 jersey. It will be a day in the life of the 2016 Cubs. 

"It's going to be amazing," Rizzo said. "I think everyone except the true diehard White Sox fans have a little spot for the North Side in their hearts, just because of how long it's taken to get to where we've been."