Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 9:06 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
GLENDALE, Ariz. Marlon Byrd started boxing this winter as a way to stay in shape and reduce the stress on his legs. His career shows that he knows how to take a punch.
This used to be the time of year where Byrd had to prove himself all over again, to fight for a roster spot or at-bats as the fourth outfielder. He was once the gym rat who needed odd jobs in the offseason to make money working at a golf resort, as a bouncer at a bar, delivering cabinets up and down Floridas Gulf coast.
You name it, I probably did it, Byrd said, other than (pumping) gas.
Byrd can flash a big smile, but he also brings a hard edge to the clubhouse, and maybe thats something the Cubs need. Finally, at the age of 33, he doesnt have to worry about the depth chart or introduce himself to a new city and a different group of teammates.
As Byrd said, This is the first year knowing, Hey, youre our center fielder and youre going to play every day.
Maybe thats why Byrd doesnt take much for granted. He vows to go hard for all nine innings. He trains as if hes going to play in all 162 games and into October.
It has to be reassuring for a player who spent parts of seven consecutive seasons on the Triple-A level before having a breakout year with the Texas Rangers in 2009. That earned him a three-year, 15 million contract and the platform he used to become an All-Star in 2010.
Thats not what drives me, Byrd said. What drives me is trying to get better every year. You pick apart (the) season that you had. Everybody knows my second half I wasnt happy with it.
Byrds batting average dropped 56 points to .261 and he generated only three homers and 26 RBI after the first half. He also points to his homeroad splits (.271.315) and says he needs to play better at Wrigley Field and be more prepared for all the day games.
Byrd has dropped around 15 pounds and plans to play at 225. Hes hitting .478 this spring and understands that will come with suspicions because of his association with Victor Conte. He already addressed it with the media and Major League Baseball in 2009. He hasnt ducked the topic ever since.
In a recent group interview, Byrd called out a beat writer by name, jokingpredicting that the reporter will bring it up if he has 20 homers by the All-Star break.
You guys are going to ask me questions about it all the time, Byrd said. Its always going to be scrutinized. Victors the black cloud over baseball, so everybody knows about the BALCO issues. Everybody knows that I work with him.
We try to move forward. Again, when I put up good numbers some people are going to say certain things. But that happens with any guy that comes out of the woodwork.
Byrd is obsessed with his routine and ways to improve. Young players often seek him out for advice on how to prepare.
He is someone who didnt truly enjoy success until relatively late in his career. He wants to play until the age of 38, which would take him through the 2015 season, or three years beyond his current contract.
Byrd never wants to sit on the bench. If that caused any friction with manager Mike Quade late last season, he didnt let it show too much. They came to an understanding.
He knows I was one of those guys that he didnt have to worry about, Byrd said. There were certain days Id walk in, hed look at me and hed shake his head.
I shook my head (back) at him and I wouldnt be in the lineup, but Q knows the type of player I am. Im his type of guy.
Byrd still has friends in the Rangers clubhouse and he keeps a home near Philadelphia, where he first broke into the big leagues. He went to playoff games at Citizens Bank Park last year, and watched the Rangers on television, right up to the point they started celebrating.
It was a little sad seeing what he missed out on, but also time to get back to work.
Every year Im going to try to keep finding out whats going to make me better as I get older, Byrd said. You dont know what it takes at 23. You know what it takes at 33 to get ready for a season.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.