Mike Quade never stops hustling

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Mike Quade never stops hustling

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted 10:15 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Over the phone the old college coach could sense the frustration in Mike Quades voice: Im not going anywhere with this.

Quade had already become one of Ron Maestris favorite players at the University of New Orleans. They stayed in touch throughout Quades long and winding career. Maestri long ago recognized Quades inquisitive mind and absolutely loved the way he played the game.

Quade excelled in hit-and-run situations and as a converted center fielder always took charge and chased after everything. Quade obsessed over details and thought his teams should do the same.

Quade always had supreme confidence in his leadership abilities. Growing up in Chicagos northwest suburbs, he was the natural three-sport athlete option quarterback, point guard, shortstop that teammates took cues from at Prospect High School.

But on the other end of the line it sounded like Quade had doubts about the business, his ability to play politics and promote himself.

The Oakland As had won 91, 102 and 103 games and made the playoffs each time during Quades three years as first-base coach (2000-02). Quade wasnt asked back for a fourth season and, well, it wasnt the first time his career seemed to stall and hit a dead end.

Maestri now the chief operating officer for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins knew Quade had pounded the pavement for so long in places like Rockford, Macon, Ga., and Scranton, Pa. He had already managed all across Canada Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Why give it up? Youre so close. Dont quit now.

At the age of 54, a baseball lifer finally has his dream job. Camp Quade ended Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz. By the time the United Airlines charter lands at OHare International Airport, the Cubs will have less than 48 hours until Opening Day.

And then the hard work really begins.

Q tells it like it is, Maestri said. Theres no B.S.-ing. Hes a grinder.
You cant fool players

Bumped back to the minors, Quade latched on with the Cubs organization in 2003. You ask three different people who worked with Quade at Triple-A Iowa and in three separate interviews they say the exact same thing: He hasnt changed a bit.

On a recent morning Quade took off his windbreaker, hat and sunglasses and stood on the mound at HoHoKam Park. Aramis Ramirez smoked a line drive right off the screen and Quade pulled his bald head back.

One player joked that eventually Quade will get tired of throwing batting practice when its 100 degrees in August. But its not an act. You see Quade with a bat in his hands, bunting off a machine during a defensive drill.

Before the Cubs played a single exhibition game, Quade had mapped out virtually the entire Cactus League schedule. He drafted all the lineups to ensure that each player would reach a certain number of at-bats this spring.

Lou Piniella should be in the Hall of Fame one day, but the Cubs hated how late hed post the lineup each day, and it was impossible to ignore the difference.

There was a big white board on one wall in Quades office at HoHoKam Park. The grid featured player names, dateopponent and the number of plate appearances he got each game, plus a running total. The ink reveals an organization man.

Love it, first baseman Carlos Pena said. Hes very communicative. Hes always talking to us players. Hes making sure all of us know exactly where were going to be days in advance, so we can prepare, and that goes a long way.

He gives us a lot of responsibility. He trusts us that were going to take care of business and keep ourselves healthy.
The monster

While managing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Quade was asked how well he understood Spanish. It was a good thing he couldnt read the newspapers there, because he was getting ripped every day.

The new guy got off to a slow start in a place where fans like to put money on the games. That 1996-97 Aguilas Cibaenas team eventually turned it around and won a Caribbean World Series.

As Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said: Thats an experience you cant read in a book.

Quade seems to get along well with Latin players. Maybe its because he remembers buying them so many fast-food meals in places like West Michigan as they struggled to adapt to a strange, new country.

Perhaps its because he also comes from nothing in terms of a baseball pedigree and was never handed anything either. The reasons could be even simpler than all that psychoanalysis.

Quade gets along with every single player in here, Ramirez said. It doesnt matter where theyre from, or what color they are. Hes that type of guy.

If you cant play for him, you got to check yourself.

During his speech before the teams first full-squad workout, Quade stressed that players should look reporters in the eye and be accountable with the monster that is modern media.

Of course, Carlos Silva soon turned a dugout argument into a three-day fight story by refusing to speak to the media. But through it all Quade projected a sense of calm.

In listening to Quade, you get the sense that he genuinely enjoys some of the give-and-take with reporters. He knows that he is very good at this part of the job. Deep down he understands that he doesnt have enough clout yet to say whatever the hell he wants.

With all these demands on his time, he may have to learn how to say no.

You want to please everybody and make everybody happy. Sooner or later youre going to have to start making yourself happy, pitcher Randy Wells said. Managing the game is probably still the same. You got to deal with all the other (expletive) on the side (the media), egos, players that are not happy about their roles.

Sorry, Ryno

As a college kid, Quade earned extra cash by working as a security guard at the Louisiana Superdome, mostly during Saints games. When Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks came to New Orleans in 1978, Quade and his buddies decided to put on their rent-a-cop uniforms and sneak in to watch the heavyweight prize fight.

Thats the image Quade carried through 17 seasons and 2,378 games as a minor-league manager the blue-collar guy whos always working the angles, and never stops hustling.

That wealth of experience combined with a 24-13 finish last season in Piniellas absence forced the Cubs to pass on Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer had spent four years managing in the minor-league system.

Its awkward, said Fleita, the Cubs farm director. But at the same time Quade worked for me for four years before he went up with Lou. It was hard not to be honest and say: Look at the job Mike Quade did.'

Were pretty blunt (here). Guys are going to tell you just what they think. And I dont think wed be the people we think we are had (we) not rewarded the guy who earned it.

That might not have gone over so well in the marketing department, but it sent the right message to the entire organization.

A working-class hero who rides the El may not sell tickets at first. But anyone whos ever paid a price for standing up to their boss, or lost a game of office politics, or wondered why someone else got the promotion can identify with Quades story.

On Friday morning Quade will walk into his Wrigley Field office several hours before first pitch. Tickets for friends and family will already be taken care of and he will likely take a moment to reflect during the national anthem.

Thats when Quade likes to scan the rooftops and soak in the scene. And then he will find relative peace in those nine innings, because he knows hes done everything he possibly could to prepare.

Im smart enough to realize that if were going to win today, Quade said, 95 percent of the time its going to be because of those guys that are out there (on the field and) sitting here with me. (But) its not about me.

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

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

SAN DIEGO – The Los Angeles Dodgers made an honorable no-tolerance statement on domestic violence, or their high-powered front office didn’t do enough homework on Aroldis Chapman, or a Hollywood franchise couldn’t deal with the bad optics.

Maybe all those factors swirled together as a deal with the Cincinnati Reds collapsed during the winter meetings, the police report surfacing weeks after an ugly incident at Chapman’s South Florida home. 

The New York Yankees scavenged and acquired the superstar closer at a steep discount in late December, before the Broward County State Attorney’s Office decided to not file criminal charges, and before Major League Baseball imposed a 30-game suspension to start this season. 

The Cubs handled Chapman’s transition in a clumsy, awkward manner after that blockbuster trade with the Yankees one month ago, looking unprepared for his welcome-to-Chicago press conference with coach Henry Blanco sitting there as the translator, and sounding insensitive when the Wrigley Field sound system played a 1997 Prodigy song called: “Smack My B---- Up.”

The Cubs hired a new translator – and fired a DJ – and now have Chapman’s 100-mph velocity waiting for a potential playoff preview that begins Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“The talent is even more impressive when you’re actually there watching it on your side,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That life at home plate is purely different. It’s just different what the baseball does.

“It’s obvious to me that you have to get in there and talk to him and develop that relationship. He’s smiling more easily already and the conversation’s actually coming back to me in English a little bit, which is fun to hear, so I’ve been really happy about that.”

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Whether or not Dodger fans stay until the end to watch a first-place team that has weathered Clayton Kershaw’s back injury – and the 26 other players who have spent time on the disabled list this season, tying a major-league record – watching Chapman is a unique experience even for an MVP candidate or a Cy Young Award winner. 

“It’s fun hearing the crowd do their oohs and aahs on every pitch,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, “how engaged they are, and how excited they are when he comes in to pitch.”

“A lot of the players are almost in the same amount of awe that the fans are,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “When you see a guy like Chapman go out there and compete and perform, there’s a lot of appreciation and respect for what he’s capable of, because, frankly, the game’s never really seen anything like it, especially from the left side. 

“We’ve seen a lot of hard throwers. But when you see a scouting report that’s 100-to-105 (mph), he’s a one-of-one type of guy. You definitely stop and watch when he’s out there.”

Chapman – who can cash in as a free agent after this season – has so far answered the legitimate questions about how he would fit into a laid-back clubhouse and effect best-team-in-baseball chemistry.

“He’s an absolute professional,” Arrieta said. “I’m very attentive to details. (I’m) watching the way he goes about his routine and (how) it starts for a 7 o’clock game. He’s starting right around 2:30, 3 o’clock, getting ready for that ninth inning.

“He’s getting his body ready. He’s getting his mind ready. You can see his focus. A guy like that, he obviously has his routine down extremely well, so it’s really nice to kind of watch him throughout the day. What’s he doing at 3:30? What’s he doing at 4:30? What’s he doing at 6 o’clock? He’s constantly doing things to prepare himself for those three outs.

“That’s why he’s so successful. Obviously, he’s very gifted. His velocity, his presence and his size alone are extremely tough to defeat. But when you see the amount of hours that he puts into those three outs, it makes you realize why he’s able to go out there and be as successful as he is.”

[RELATED: How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?]   

Chapman hasn’t quite been the add-on to a dominant bullpen the Cubs envisioned, because top setup guy Pedro Strop (knee) and former closer Hector Rondon (triceps) are on the disabled list. Maddon also had to curb his enthusiasm for four-out saves and realize Chapman – who’s allowed four of eight inherited runners to score – prefers to work one inning at a time.  

But Chapman has been as good as advertised, going 9-for-11 in save chances, allowing two earned runs in 15 appearances and striking out 21 of the 48 batters he’s faced while giving up only three walks.   

“It’s probably a demoralizing feeling for the other team to see him warming up,” pitcher Jason Hammel said. “Big-league hitters will hit a fastball after a while if they see it enough. But he makes guys take some pretty silly hacks.”

“You can literally hear the ball out of his hand,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He can make the seams sing a little bit with the power he’s getting.”

Dodger Stadium draws celebrities to an iconic site, creates a sense of energy and gets louder and louder. But after a series of decisions that could echo into October, Wrigley Field is where Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasts from the speakers as Chapman warms up and the fans look up at the video board after each pitch.   

“The guys on the bench are like mimicking what the crowd is doing,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful. How many pitchers elicit that kind of reaction? There’s a couple, but you’re anticipating that big number and we’ve never seen that here. 

“But most any place you’ve not seen it. (It’s) the reputation, where he’s come from – and his presence and how big he is – he’s so formidable and imposing. And now he’s our toy.”

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

SAN DIEGO – Within 24 hours at Petco Park, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras handled the wild movement of Jake Arrieta’s pitches and framed the edges of the strike zone for Kyle Hendricks, showing the dexterity to handle a playoff rotation.

Contreras looked ready for prime time on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, helping shut down the San Diego Padres and complete a three-game sweep where two National League Cy Young Award candidates found a rhythm while throwing to a rookie catcher.

“Everything’s a lot easier,” Contreras said after a 6-3 victory. “I’m way more comfortable right now, because my first week everything was speeding up on me. But now I’m able to slow down the game and do my job.” 

The day after Arrieta fell one inning short of a two-hit, complete-game shutout, Hendricks credited Contreras for calling more curveballs and getting him through a stretch where the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings. 

“From the get-go, I wasn’t shaking him off,” Hendricks said. “We’ve been rolling for the last five, six starts, at least. It’s been easy.” 

Contreras has now caught Arrieta twice, and got one-start exposure to Jon Lester, while developing chemistry with Hendricks, John Lackey and Jason Hammel, which means veteran catcher Miguel Montero might not have a spot on the postseason roster if this continues.

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Contreras is a dynamic presence, launching his eighth home run on Wednesday afternoon and keeping the Padres stationary after Tuesday night’s laser throw to pick off a runner at third base. 

“I was waiting for somebody to run,” Contreras said. “But they didn’t run, so I’ll have to save it for another game.”

The Cubs are nearing the point where a 24-year-old player who didn’t make his big-league debut until June 17 could be behind the plate for the biggest games in franchise history.

“In this clubhouse, we are like a family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable the first day. You don’t even know that you are a rookie who just came up.”

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

SAN DIEGO – Kyle Hendricks reported to spring training as a fifth starter, leads the majors in ERA in late August and could pitch Game 1 in a playoff series. That gradual evolution from possible question mark at the back of the rotation into a National League Cy Young Award candidate highlights how the Cubs have transformed from a team that won the offseason to one that owns the summer and maybe this fall. 

In his own understated way, Hendricks smashed any perceptions of that ceiling, performing at a level and with a consistency that matches the franchise’s young hitting stars, mirroring their baseball IQ and grounded nature, without the billboards and flair for social media. 

Hendricks kept rolling on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park, knocking the San Diego Padres off-balance and finishing the three-game sweep with a 6-3 victory. That pushed the Cubs to 36 games over .500 for the first time since finishing their 1945 pennant-winning season at 98-56. The best team in baseball could play a little over .500 (19-17) down the stretch and still reach 100 wins.

A Dartmouth College graduate with an Ivy League degree in economics helped create all this momentum – and certainly knows what he wants to do on the mound – but Hendricks as an ace still seems beyond the wildest internal preseason projection.

“I thought he ended really well last year and that there was a lot to look forward to,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s just taken it to another level right now. He’s in that 26-27-year-old range where a young pitcher who’s had some major-league experience can really find his next level. And I think that’s what’s going on. He’s such a wonderful student. The difference between last year and this year is the confidence thing: ‘I belong here. I can do this. I’m one of the best.’ 

“A lot of our guys are going through that moment right now. And I think that’s what you’re seeing out of Kyle. I’ve talked about the couple tweaks he’s made regarding the four-seam fastball and curveball usage. That makes him a little bit different. But more than anything, I think he believes he’s among the best right now.”

The Padres (53-74) looked a little checked out and didn’t really put much pressure on a Cubs team that should get an adrenaline boost this weekend at Dodger Stadium. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant opened the game with back-to-back doubles before Ben Zobrist lined a two-run triple into the right-center field gap. Within six minutes of Paul Clemens’ first pitch, Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.

Hendricks hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start since May 17, a run of 17 straight outings that has sliced his ERA from 3.51 to 2.19 while pushing his record to 12-7.

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Hendricks hides his emotions and didn’t get flustered when the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings, working around the traffic to limit San Diego to two runs and finish with eight strikeouts. 

Hendricks made it through six innings – he’s now gone at least five in each of his 24 starts this year – after beginning the day with a FanGraphs soft-hit rate (26 percent of batted balls) that led the majors and would be the highest mark in the last five seasons.

Hendricks has to pitch a different game than Jake Arrieta, but with an 8-1 record and a 1.38 ERA in his last 13 starts, he might be this year’s breakthrough performer who helps carry the Cubs into October.

“I’m just trying to stay where I’m at and keep the consistency,” Hendricks said. “Keep my pitches feeling good, keep my command. It’s just staying in my routine and really not doing too much – not doing less – just kind of riding it out until I feel something change.”