Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

No current player understands what it means to be a Cub more than Matt Szczur.

The 2010 fifth-round pick has been here longer than Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon, just to name a few. 

And entering his eighth year with the organization, Szczur is already in Cubs history forever as one of thd guys who helped end the 108-year championship drought.

So how did the Cubs finally shed that "Lovable Losers" label and win it all? The key may be in Szczur's perspective.

"Winning the World Series is a dream come true, obviously," Szczur said. "If you ask a lot of these guys, it wouldn't matter what team. But being the Cubs, it's really special, just because of the drought for 108 years. As far as wrapping [my head] around it, I don't think we think like that. We just go out there and we're just trying to win every day. It's just hard to explain how I feel as a baseball player.

"It's awesome to win the World Series and to win with the Cubs, but as far as putting it in perspective, just winning the World Series is awesome. But that's what we're here to do. We're here to win; we're here to accomplish those feats.

"It's like the first time you get called up to the big leagues. People are like, 'Wow, what is it like?' But you've been playing [baseball] for so long, it's just another day. So winning the World Series with the Cubs — it's awesome, but that's what we're here to do.

"For me, that's the best way I can describe it. To put it in perspective as far as the Cubs not winning in 108 years, we don't think like that. As baseball players, we're here to win, every day."

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Szczur said he doesn't think the 2016 Cubs had any issues with "Cubbie Occurrences" or curses or anything even remotely in that category mainly because they didn't feel any added pressure. They didn't let any outside noise seep into the clubhouse and disrupt the mojo that was formed from the most talented roster in Major League Baseball and the confidence that came with the league's best regular season record.

As a two-sport star at Villanova, the former wide receiver has been in his fair share of locker rooms and called the Cubs World Series-winning clubhouse one of the best he's ever been a part of.

Szczur played only a small role in the Cubs' championship in terms of on-field stats, but his impact loomed large behind the scenes.

The 27-year-old outfielder was one of the top pinch hitters in baseball in the 2016 regular season and was not on the active roster in any of the three postseason series, replaced by Albert Almora Jr.

But as Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell broke out of their prolonged slumps at the turn of the tide in the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, there was Szczur in a supporting role: lending Rizzo his bat and Russell his leggings.

"He's such a good teammate," manager Joe Maddon said. "You saw that last year; you saw how the guys gravitated toward him. He's not on the playoff rosters but he's with us and he's on the top step constantly.

"It's just who he is. It is the football mentality, but it's also him. This is a pretty good human being."

As the roster crunch starts to heat up with spring training coming to a close, will Szczur have a spot on these Cubs? He's out of options so he cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without passing through waivers and as a proven bench/role player, his value at the big-legaue level is apparent. 

But Szczur didn't come to Cubs camp with any sort of chip on his shoulder.

"I don't think like that," he said. "I just want to win. I feel like guys that want to win takes care of itself.

"I'll do anything to win. I won't cheat, but as far as on the field and what they ask me to do, that's just how I play."

Maddon sees that, too.

"Totally. He's been that guy his whole life," Maddon said. "Wherever he's played — I would imagine you talk to the Villanova football coaches and they'd tell you the same thing. You could go back to his high school days.

"He's just a different cat. The way he approaches life in general; he's just so sincere about everything and everybody he comes in contact with. No doubt.

"Here's a guy that's still trying to establish himself as an everyday player in the big leagues, but he's there for everybody else all the time. Just a different animal, man."

Today on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Today on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

The Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds today, and you can catch all the cation on CSN. Coverage begins at 3 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.’”