How Joe Maddon and the Cubs inspired Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

How Joe Maddon and the Cubs inspired Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

Joe Maddon and the Cubs may have a hand in another championship.

As Clemson gets set for a rematch with Alabama in the college football national championship game Monday night, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney reflected on a day he spent at Wrigley Field that changed the course of his season.

[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Swinney and Clemson assistant coaches Brent Venables and Marion Hobby were in Chicago for the NFL Draft in April and decided to check out a Cubs game.

Swinny explains the rest:


This is a true story. Joe Maddon would kill me for saying this because we've kind of become buddies and we text a little bit.

But I called my agent and I said, 'Hey, man, we're going up to the Draft' and I said, 'Would you happen to know anybody that could maybe get me and Venables and Hobby some tickets to the Cubs game?' He goes, 'Well, I know Joe Maddon.' And I go, 'Who's Joe Maddon?' He went, 'He's the manager.' I go, 'That's a pretty good guy to know.' 

So Joe Maddon hooked us up with [Cubs traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani] and so we ended up going in. So there was this rain delay. Next thing I know, Vijay gave us a tour, and then he takes us into the locker room and I really didn't know many of these guys, but as it turns out, man, these guys are huge football fans.

Jon Lester comes right up to me and they're all like, 'Hey coach, how are you doing?' And Jon Lester's wife is a Clemson grad and he's from Georgia. Just kind of sat around and talked to all those guys. It was really neat to meet him. That shortstop [Addison Russell], he looked like my son. He was like this young kid and watching those guys get ready for the game. What's that pitcher's name? Arrieta? Arrieta was on the mound but he was off doing Zen somewhere getting ready.

So there's this rain delay, not sure if they're going to play, so I'm walking around, I've got a chance to kind of see the culture there and I was like, "Man, this is really cool. These guys are loose, they know they've got a good team.' And so I ended up going around and they take me to meet Joe. So I go meet Joe and I walk in his office and he's got his baseball pants on and he's got this shirt on that says 'Try Not to Suck' and I'm like, he's big. I'm like, this is Joe Maddon.

So we talked for a minute and he's like, 'Hey man, I watched your team and watched you guys last year' and we kind of have an instant connection. It was really neat. I told him, 'You need to know this' because I had met his players and been around, 'You guys have a great culture. I'm telling you, you've got a winning culture here. You've got a good - just feel - in this building. You can smell it.'

They knew they had the best team and I think they embraced that. They embraced that. Don't run from that. It kind of resonated with me and when I came back and I kind of got off this summer and had a little time, that was one of the things I came back and I told the guys Day 1: 'Listen, everybody has been telling us we're this target. Well, we are the target, but let's embrace that. For us at Clemson, best is the standard. So if Clemson is the target, best is the standard. So let's focus on being the best we can be. Let's be committed to that and let's embrace that. Let's run right to it.'

Our guys bought into that and then I've always told the guys, my message has already been, 'Hey, don't lose to Clemson. If we don't lose to Clemson, we've got a chance here.'

(h/t Chicago Sun-Times for the photo)

That is some story, and crazy how connected the sports world is.

Also, Swinney's story is rife with awesome little nuggets, like how he didn't know who Joe Maddon was and how Arrieta was "off doing Zen somewhere" before his start.

Just more proof the 2016 Cubs will be remembered forever.

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Wrigley Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against eachother for the chance to win a killer shirt.