Cubs make minor leagues a family affair

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Cubs make minor leagues a family affair

The Cubs poured almost 12 million into the 2011 amateur draft, tossing lofty signing bonuses at their top picks.

They won't be able to do that anymore with the new CBA rules, but the organization already has something very rare.

In rounds 10 and 11 of the recent draft, the Cubs selected two legacies in Shawon Dunston, Jr. -- son of longtime Cub Shawon Dunston, Sr. -- and Daniel Lockhart -- son of Cubs scout and former Major Leaguer Keith Lockhart.

Add to that the Brenly connection -- father Bob is the popular TV analyst while son Michael is a Single-A catcher -- and the Cubs truly have something unique.

The 2012 Convention came to a close at the Hilton in Chicago with an hour-long session on the father-son connection within the organization.

"A father and son playing catch together is a longstanding tradition in baseball," host Wayne Messmer said. "It doesn't always turn out where either play pro ball. In this case, we have three cases where both played pro ball."

Bob is the more traveled of the fathers, having played nine seasons in the MLB with the Giants and Blue Jays before retiring and becoming a coach. His first year as a manager came in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who topped the New York Yankees for the World Series title.

Michael was 15 at the time and served as the team's bat boy during that postseason.

"Obviously, being in the game of baseball, your ultimate goal is to win the World Series, either as a player or a coach, a scout, a manager," the elder Brenly said. "It was great for Michael to be able to be a part of that."

Bob used the opportunity as a teaching lesson for his teenage son.

"Michael was around for all seven games of the 2001 World Series," he said. "We went to his teachers a week before to get his homework assignments and he had to complete them all before the World Series started or he didn't get to be the bat boy.

"There's a price to pay to be around the Major League clubhouse. I've always felt it's a real privilege to put on a Major League uniform and walk into that clubhouse. If I didn't think that he had the proper respect and knew his place around the team, I probably wouldn't have let him."

Michael, who was drafted by the Cubs in the 36th round of the '08 draft, decided to follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a catcher, but the 25-year-old is not living in his dad's shadow.

"Anybody who has a 'famous' father or mother, there's certain expectations. For some people, that's a tall mountain to climb, even when the father is a .249 career hitter like me," Bob deadpanned.

"Michael has done very well for himself. I think he would be where he is if his name was Jones or Smith or whatever."

Keith didn't spend his playing career in Chicago, either, but he did play alongside a Cubs icon for several years. Just before the start of the 1997 season, Lockhart was traded from the Royals to Atlanta, where he joined the likes of Greg Maddux in the midst of the Braves' dynasty.

While the other two fathers had a hand in helping advance their son's careers, Keith was directly responsible for actually getting Daniel's professional career started. The Cubs scout was asked to write a report on his own son and the organization wound up selecting the young infielder in the 10th round. It was Keith's first-ever draft pick.

"It was really different," Keith said. "I was on both sides of the fence as a dad and a scout."

Shawon, Sr. is the only one of the three fathers to have been on the Cubs during their playing days and he was a fan favorite during his 11 years on the North Side.

The Cubs made the high-energy shortstop their first overall pick in the 1982 draft. It was because of that opportunity that his son signed with the organization almost three decades later.

The Dunstons had a choice after Shawon, Jr. was drafted -- either send him to college at Vanderbilt or release him into the world of professional baseball. A 1.275 million signing bonus helped sway the family.

Shawon, Sr. admitted the only two teams his son would have skipped college for were the Cubs and Giants, where the elder Dunston currently works as a special assistant.

"I'm very hard on my son," Shawon, Sr. said. "In high school, he had to maintain a 3.5 GPA. If he had a 3.4, he didn't play. He doesn't understand right now, but I tell him 'you'll hate me now, but you'll love me later.'"

If Shawon, Jr. makes good on his potential, that fatherly advice could go a long way.

Forget the analytics, Joe Maddon sends will-to-win message to Cubs: ‘Don’t forget the heartbeat’

Forget the analytics, Joe Maddon sends will-to-win message to Cubs: ‘Don’t forget the heartbeat’

MESA, Ariz. – To set the tone for 2017, the Cubs gathered in a theater on Saturday morning and watched highlights from their unforgettable playoff run last year. The clips showed that Giant comeback in San Francisco, the nearly perfect game at Wrigley Field that beat the Dodgers to capture the National League pennant and a World Series Game 7 for the ages in Cleveland.

“I would say that a high percentage of teams would have lost that game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But we were able to regroup and come back, just based on the heartbeat. And I really wanted them to understand the heartbeat.”

That became Maddon’s primary message inside the Under Armour Performance Center as steady rain fell in Mesa, washing out the first full-squad workout and postponing the first wacky team-bonding exercise for this camp.

Maddon would never completely channel Hawk Harrelson’s will-to-win spirit and stand up and tell the room: Save it, nerds.

But in an industry where practically every team is fluent in analytics and searching for that next cutting edge, a data-savvy, open-minded manager wanted to recapture what led Jason Heyward to call a players-only meeting during the rain delay at Progressive Field, emphasizing what allowed the Cubs to survive 10 high-stress innings against the Indians.

“I think in our game today, the way it’s run on a lot of levels, it’s more about math than people sometimes,” Maddon said. “I want our guys to understand that we understand the heartbeat around here, so don’t forget the heartbeat.

“We won that game purely because of competitive natures and the fact that we wanted to win and the heartbeat was so good. It has nothing to do with statistical information, mechanics physically. It had everything to do with people.

“And I really want our guys to understand that, because we’re going to do all the other necessary work. We’re going to do all the math work. We’re going to do all the physical work. We’re going to do all the work. But at the end of the day, man, (when it’s) a different uniform than you, you compete. You try to beat that guy in the other uniform. Don’t forget that.”

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known as one of the greatest sports franchises on the planet, a first-class brand synonymous with winning.

With that ideal in mind – and setting specific policy ideas or agendas aside – has the first month of the Donald Trump administration matched up with the organization’s values? 

“I don’t really know what that question was,” Ricketts said Saturday during his annual state-of-the-team news conference in Mesa.

It’s worth asking, because at this time last year, Trump cryptically threatened the Ricketts family on Twitter, and then later in spring training told The Washington Post editorial board that the family has done a “rotten job” running the team. Ultimately, the family’s right-wing influence shifted from a stop-Trump movement to helping bankroll the Republican nominee’s presidential campaign.      

Beyond ending the 108-year drought and finally winning the World Series, the Ricketts family laid out the planks of the franchise’s platform and has in many ways lived up to it: investing in high-character people; creating a vibrant corporate culture; being a good neighbor in Wrigleyville; and growing Cubs Charities.

Do those community concepts line up with the rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House?

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” Ricketts said. “I think the fact is that we do have a good culture at the Cubs. And I don’t think anything that the White House has done – or hasn’t done – has any impact on that at all.”   

Ricketts is a patient, big-picture executive who showed how to think beyond the next day’s headlines, giving the green light to modernizing the entire operation, upgrading the infrastructure in Chicago, Arizona and the Dominican Republic and allowing team president Theo Epstein to oversee a complete teardown and rebuild.

The Cubs are no longer defined by that history of losing, but on some level their brand is now also tangentially associated with an early-stage administration of alternative facts, Chicago-to-Afghanistan comparisons, the Muslim ban, the border wall, murky Russian connections and a Holocaust memorial statement that didn’t mention the Jewish people.

Ricketts posed for a photo with his two brothers and Trump at a black-tie inauguration event. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska’s Republican governor, posted it on his official Twitter account.

“Obviously, my brother Todd is a nominee for undersecretary of commerce, so he’s waiting for that process to play out,” Ricketts said. “My sister (Laura) was a bundler for Hillary Clinton. The family has different political views. Away from that, I don’t think anything that’s going on in D.C. has any impact on us right now at all.”

• Ricketts wasn’t certain if Todd would have to step down from the team’s board of directors to accept that Cabinet position: “I know there are the conflict of interest kind of things and ethics rules. He may have to. I’m not really sure. But he’s got to go through the nomination process first.”

• Ricketts addressed the team inside the theater in the Under Armour Performance Center, thanking the players for all their contributions on a rainy day that washed out the first full-squad workout.  

“I also said I think we have a unique opportunity to not only be considered one of the great sports teams in the U.S.,” said Ricketts, who recently returned from the Laureus Sports Awards in Monaco. “But I just got back from Europe and I think that our long-term goal should be (having us) considered one of the great sports organizations in the world.” 

• Up and down the chain of command, the Cubs believe they can be in that conversation, given their talent base, financial muscle and a stable ownership group that plans to control the team for generations (an arrangement that currently includes an equity stake in CSN Chicago).

“What separates a really good team from a truly great team is the consistency of results,” Ricketts said. “We’ve won one World Series. Hopefully, we’ll be in the mix again for many years to come.

“If you look at the Yankees of 15 years ago, the Patriots of today, they’re just always right in the mix. On the global side, you look at teams like Man U or Real Madrid or the All Blacks and they just set the standard for how people perform. And their team means something all over the world.

“I’d like to think that one day – if we’re consistent enough and if we win – that Cubs logo will mean something to people around the world. Not just a team that didn’t win for a long time.”   

• Amid the afterglow three months ago, Ricketts told USA Today that the Cubs would reach out to Steve Bartman at some point and try to come to an understanding after a foul ball during the 2003 National League Championship Series forced the fan into hiding.

“I personally haven’t,” Ricketts said. “The team was thinking about it. I’m not sure what they did or what they didn’t do, to be honest.”

• Ricketts will defer to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer when it comes to Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency and how to negotiate with the Cy Young Award winner after this season.

“That’s a Theo and Jed decision,” Ricketts said. “They have the right perspective on (how) they have to put a great team on the field this year. But they also have a longer-term perspective in realizing that decisions that effect this year might hurt us in a few years.

“But I’ll leave it up to them. I imagine that they’ve got a strategy around that and they know what they want to do.”

• The competitive-balance-tax threshold – which the new collective bargaining agreement sets at $195 million this year – appears to be a kind of soft payroll ceiling for the Cubs moving forward.

“The way it’s structured, it can be very punitive if you just ignore it and just blow through it,” Ricketts said. “So we’ll be thoughtful and strategic about when we go over the tax and when we don’t. But I’ll leave that mostly up to Theo.”

• The Cubs are lobbying Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball officials to host the 2020 All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Ricketts said. “I think that it would be great for the league, great for the game and it would be great for Chicago to have it at Wrigley Field. But nothing’s inevitable on that. There’s a process that we have to go through and hopefully at some point soon the commissioner will give us the nod.”