Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

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Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 9:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

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.

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."

Javy Baez flaunts epic World Series tattoo

Javy Baez flaunts epic World Series tattoo

Javy Baez should win a gold glove in tattoos.

The kid with the MLB logo inked on the back of his neck now has an absolutely epic 2016 World Series Champions tattoo on his left deltoid:

That. Is. Awesome.

Javy apparently has had the tattoo for a little while, though it wasn't quite as eye-popping as it is now (or what we could see of it back in January):

😎 Find The #W #JB9 #ElMago

A post shared by Javier Báez ⚾ (@javy23baez) on

That's some good ink work, Javy.

Now just make sure you don't spend too much time in the gym working on those delts. That tattoo would look awfully weird stretched out: