Marlon Byrd steps back into the arena


Marlon Byrd steps back into the arena

MESA, Ariz. It took two sittings, nine hours total, for Marlon Byrd to get the tattoo on his right arm. The words are from Theodore Roosevelts The Man in the Arena, a 1910 speech Byrd reads every year before the season starts.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood

Byrd wanted a reminder, which he paired with an image of a coliseum. It was part of an offseason makeover in which the Cubs outfielder lost around 20 pounds after seeing a specialist in New York.

Byrd who has long been obsessive about his preparation and routine discovered food allergies and symptoms of celiac disease.

The transformation really happened all around the Cubs organization. Theo Epstein is in charge of the front office, Dale Sveum is the third manager in the past three years and Byrd is one of a few established veterans still remaining.

I have to go play the game, thats it, Byrd said. Ive trained all offseason, so I dont have to think about (anything else except going) all out. For this organization, a sense of urgency? No, we have everything in place.

(Chairman) Tom Ricketts made the moves right after the season ended and brought the new regime in. Youve seen what (Theos) done, everything hes put in place. Those guys are workers. Were going to have a staff where you come in (and) go play, thats it.

Its a different feeling around here, and its a good feeling.

This is a team that waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, who combined for 57 homers and 173 RBIs last season. Sveum plans to bat David DeJesus leadoff, and probably Bryan LaHair cleanup, but its wide open after that.

An All-Star in 2010, Byrd never really got on track last season, which was interrupted for six weeks after a fastball fractured his face at Fenway Park. He finished at .276 with nine homers and 35 RBIs. Hes another potential bounce-back player on a roster filled with them.

Put me in the lineup, thats it, Byrd said. Im going to dictate where I am by the way Im hitting.

Byrd is entering the final season of a three-year, 15 million contract, and he will be pushed by outfield prospect Brett Jackson. Its time to enter the arena again.

I dont want to go anywhere, Byrd said. I came to Chicago for a reason and that was to help them win. I havent done that yet. I have a lot to accomplish here and I just have to go out there and do what I can to help this team win. And if they want me here, Im definitely going to be here.

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

The Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and you can catch all the cation on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks vs. Robert Stephenson

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World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”