Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field

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Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field

Chipper Jones still remembers his first time walking down the tunnel, into the dugout and seeing the wall-to-wall ivy.

Jones loves visiting Chicago and seeing the city. He felt the adrenaline at Wrigley Field during playoffs series in 1998 and 2003. He respects the history, but wont particularly miss this place.

Wherever the Atlanta Braves go this season, Jones will be asked for memories. He doesnt need the attention, but doesnt really mind the questions either. He noticed how his old manager, Bobby Cox, opened up to everyone during his farewell season in 2010.

Jones is 40 years old and hasnt been programmed by handlers to speak in clichs. Last month, during one of those retirement tour interviews, he told Yahoo! Sports that Wrigley Field was the worst hitters park in the game, and promised to be there when they blow it up.

Ive always said Id be in the front row whenever they drop the plunger, Jones said Wednesday with a smile, inside the cramped visiting clubhouse. But I said that in jest, (because) Im a .220 lifetime hitter here.

When Jones retires at seasons end, the seven-time All-Star can look back on a career that might put him in Cooperstown. A career .304 hitter didnt pad his numbers at Clark and Addison.

Ten of his 459 home runs were hit here. Jones remembered that two came in one game one off Carlos Zambrano, another off Kerry Wood on Aug. 22, 2005.

Its been tough sledding here for me, Jones said. But I think when its all said and done with, Wrigley Field is good for baseball, because its a throwback. Its the second-oldest stadium still standing. Having that tradition and that feel when you walk down the halls is something that I think players still enjoy experiencing.

As much as the Boston Red Sox influence will be felt throughout Theo Epsteins organization, The Braves Way also became a model for scouting and player development.

The Braves made Jones the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 draft, and watched it all come together, winning 11 consecutive division titles and a World Series between 1995 and 2005.

You got to have staples, Jones said. We had (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz forever. We had guys that were just as good as those three at certain times.

We had good, young core position players, (whether) it was guys like me and Andruw (Jones), or guys like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman now. You got to have cornerstones.

I like where the Cubs are headed. I like the two young kids up the middle (Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney). Theyre starting to get some power arms at the top of the rotation in (Matt) Garza and (Jeff) Samardzija. Thats a really good start.

I know theyre probably not where they want to be in the standings at this point. But I think theyre headed in the right direction.

Identifying and developing elite pitching and keeping those arms healthy will be a huge challenge on the North Side.

The bottom line is the Braves had unbelievable starting pitching for a long, long time, manager Dale Sveum said. The way they put the pieces together over the years the bottom line is starting pitching. When you have the consistency of starting pitching like they have (had across) the last 20 years, youre going to win a lot of games.

The Cubs hope to time their next wave of talent with a renovated Wrigley Field. Better facilities should help the players prepare each day, and there would be more revenues to pour into the on-field product.

The field itself has gotten a lot better, Jones said. The playing surface when I first came up was pretty brutal. (But) youd just like to see them expand the dugout, expand the clubhouse, expand the seats.

If you can put more people in here, why not? Obviously, Wrigley Field can sell out any time it wants. (But) it would greatly benefit from a facelift.

Maybe Jones appreciation for baseball history will lead him back here one day as a fan. It may not be his hitters park, but its not a bad place to grab a beer and watch a game.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”