Chicago Cubs

Serenity now: Cubs will let Marlins do damage control

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Serenity now: Cubs will let Marlins do damage control

The Cubs spent Mondays off-day in Miami. The sun and the sand might as well be a postcard for the teams serenity now state of mind.

One team will be in crisis mode on Tuesday in Little Havana, and it wont be the Cubs. Ozzie Guillen returns from his five-game suspension and the Marlins will have to spin the story to their citys strong Cuban community.

Protestors may gather outside Marlins Park after Guillen made sympathetic comments about Fidel Castro in an interview with TIME magazine. The Cubs will just show up for work. Theyve already had front-row seats to the media circus.

One player compared the past few years to a runaway train. The team was up for sale, and the fans blamed everything on general manager Jim Hendry, even if it wasnt all his fault. Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano created fireworks in the clubhouse.

Inside the managers office, Lou Piniella burned out. Mike Quade won over the players during a 37-game audition, but lost them over the course of the 2011 season.

To be clear, the Cubs dont have it all figured out yet. Theyre 3-7 and the national experts seem to think theyll wind up around 90 losses.

But now that Theo Epstein has been given the keys to the kingdom, there is a sense of stability and confidence in the long-range plan. People have noticed how quiet it is around this team.

Everybody just focuses on what we do playing baseball, outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. Everybodys relaxed and enjoys what we do.

This is different now, a lot of young guys, a lot of talent, new manager, new GM. Those guys they know what theyre doing. Theyre very smart.

Dale Sveum has zero tolerance for nonsense. The manager wont have to answer for Zambranos next explosion.

Its gonna happen, an ex-teammate predicted. Its in his DNA.

The Cubs transferred more than 15 million to the Marlins in the Zambrano trade, a deal that almost certainly doesnt happen if Guillen isnt managing in Miami.

Epsteins front office consciously tried to tape a distraction-free zone around the team. Near the end of spring training Ryan Dempster who will get the start on Tuesday night was asked about the new atmosphere.

I think its too early to say, Dempster said then. DeJesus is a real problem child. This kids crazy.

Yes, the Cubs imported low-key, low-maintenance veterans like David DeJesus, Ian Stewart and Paul Maholm. Sveum created a serious environment where hitters are in the cage early and studying video on computers late.

There are so many outside distractions in baseball, (even without) the situation in Miami, outfielder Reed Johnson said. They just kind of stressed to really focus on doing the little things weve done in spring training to help us win games.

If we can do those little things, thats really going to give us our best chance to keep putting some Ws in the win column.

Sveum believes a team takes on the managers personality, and this is where the Cubs broke off from the Red Sox model.

Boston woke up on Monday trying to interpret Bobby Valentine going on television and saying that Kevin Youkilis wasnt as physically or emotionally into the game.

Sveum doesnt need to see his face on billboards, and didnt come into the season with any plans for endorsements. He shrugs and sort of chuckles in the middle of his answers, and his grammar isnt perfect.

All that masks a very sophisticated view of the game, heavy on quantitative analysis, with an understanding of its emotional rhythms.

One thing you try and do as a manager is keep everybody on the same playing field every single day and communicate, Sveum said. As a manager, you have to be the same guy every day. Its just one of those things: Keep going, its a long season.

As an organization, the Cubs dont want any surprises. The video and the numbers will tell them where to position fielders. The background reports on potential draft picks will run four- or five-pages long. Decisions wont be made from the gut. Its all about risk management.

Chris Volstad the pitcher acquired in the Zambrano trade grew up in South Florida and spent almost seven years in the Marlins organization.

When Volstad was asked what to expect for Ozzie Night at Marlins Park, he said the two words the Cubs never want to hear: Well see.

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”