So Far, Quade’s a Hit…But Too Much of a Good Thing?

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Sometimes when people try too hard or try to be too cool, they fail miserably. That’s why Quade has to be careful not to be too much like Kraegen in the above video.

I like that Mike Quade is making this team his own by doing things a little differently, however, he needs to remember to keep the tough love leader as part of his game plan as well considering how well it was received by the team at the end of last season.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the Cubs hiring Quade. I like that he’s enthusiastic to see his guys start putting on display what they can bring to the team. I like that he is looking to further evaluate guys he’s familiar with within the Cubs’ system. I even appreciate the fact that he listed lineups three games in advance. I believe it will help players prepare and learn their roles. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t have a successful team without everyone knowing and embracing their role.

I think Quade has kicked off Spring Training the right way. Let the veterans know what is expected of them and let the youngsters know they are getting a fair look. That’s all any of them can ask for. But are the Cubs in danger of having too much of a good thing the way Quade has started off camp? Is he in trouble of setting a tone where there is too much of a good thing going here (loss to Oakland aside, that is)? Will the players get too used to feeling like they know what to expect and not ready to easily adapt when need be during the season? Like anything, I suppose it’s simply a matter of opinion. Many of you are still upset that Sandberg isn’t running the show. However, in answering the last question, I believe everything is going to be just fine and anyone who is freaking out over Quade’s system of three days heads-up being too soft needs to relax and enjoy having Cubs baseball back on the air. 

I understand that people like to pick at the bone for things to complain about, especially when we’re only one game in to Spring Training. Not a whole lot to get worried about but we’re sports fans and when nothing is there, sometimes we create things. I’m feeling pretty good about Quade’s leadership so far and don’t think you should be expecting or worried about any crazy flying basket locker room meetings out of Quade. He may have his own way of running the show that wasn’t done by Piniella or guys before him, but so far I think he’s taking this team in the right direction and has not discarded the Quade that got him the job late last season.  

It speaks volumes about Quade’s interest in respecting veterans and leaving windows open to surprises coming out of camp. He referenced Colvin the other day as a recent pleasant Spring Training surprise/success story. I’m glad that he is looking to fill in the roster spots around the guarantees with guys who earn the spot and want to play hard. Of course we’re going to see the guys you can wear. If you can buy a jersey with a player’s last name on it, it’s basically a guarantee you will see them play a major role, at least in the first month or so of the season. It’s the bench players that make a team great though. Stars make you ‘really good’. Depth makes you great.

When I was in Vegas for my honeymoon, I bet on the Cubs three times and won two out of three bets. It would be wild to log into a baseball spread site and predict which players made it out of camp. They very well may, I’m not sure. I know the regular season matters so as a fan of course those games are already fascinating. However, I wonder how many people buy the season previews or the annuals or the minor league prospect reports and try to bet on who will come out of camp. If they are then I’m sure these Spring games are taking on a whole new significance and importance to those particular fans. Imagine watching a Spring game and truly caring how long a player stays in the game. I love the fact that Quade left Garza in the game to hit instead of replacing him with a pinch-hitter. Quade’s right, he has to learn to hit sometime. Now is the time to do so.

I wonder what Zambrano had to say about it privately to Garza afterwards. I know it was reported that he didn’t see it but Z is one of the best hitting Cubs pitchers on the team. While Garza is working with Jaramillo to feel comfortable hitting after hardly doing so for the Rays, he must also be talking to the other guys on the staff and who better to ask than Zambrano? Of course, Garza did get shelled in his first appearance as a Cub in spring training including a grand slam to Coco Crisp. But (cue Fred Armisen’s Joy Behar) who cares, so what? It’s Spring Training. I’m sure the guy was nervous and worried about making a good impression. I’m sure it was just one pitch that got away that led to four runs. Do I want to see it during the regular season? No. Does Quade leave him in the game in a situation where he should replace him with a pinch-hitter when the game counts? No. So far Garza has a hit and the ball to place on his mantle. So far, Quade has been a hit with the Cubs and fans alike.

Is posting game lineups three games in advance too coddling? Is giving veterans reasonable expectations and laying all of your cards on the table too much? Is giving young players the feeling like they could possibly leave the minors behind and join the club for Opening Day or very soon into the season the wrong way to handle your business when it comes to prospects? No. No to all three.

I like what I’ve heard from Quade so far this Spring and I don’t think any of these things are a bad thing. This is Quade’s team now. It’s his time to put his stamp on it and run the show the way he thinks it should be run. At the end of last year he essentially had all of his players’ support that he should be hired as manager as well as mine.

I believe while it’s still early, Quade still has that support 100% and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the Spring plays out leading up to Opening Day. Go Cubs Go!

Question: Would You Be a Cubs Fan If You Knew?

I have a question for you, Cubs fans.

First, watch this video:
That is an Ebay commercial I did roughly eight or nine years ago. When you see me there, what you see is a guy who decided to leave everything he knew to blindly head out and pursue a goal. To try and achieve something that isn’t guaranteed. Something that is obtained by very few. A guy that knew what he wanted but had no idea how to get there, mainly because whether he made it there or not was completely out of his control. 
 
Essentially, a perfect example of absolute blind faith. A gutsy move to leave everything and everyone with the hope that perhaps, one day, all the time invested would pay off and the ultimate goal would be realized.
 
This was my very first commercial gig, ever. It was before I was a member of SAG (that wouldn’t happen until a few years later). It was one of the first auditions the agent I had at the time sent me on. He called me up and asked me if I could do a Sean Connery impression. I either said ‘no, but I can develop one’ or flat out lied and said ‘yes, ABSOLUTELY’. Either way, I hung up the phone with an audition set for the next day and absolutely no idea how I was going to pull off a Sean Connery in 24 hours.
 
I rented a couple of Sean Connery films that night at the local Blockbuster and watched them beginning to end. I don’t even recall which films they were. I practically walked into the place asking ‘Do you have any copies of Sean Connery’s accent in stock?’. 
 
After a couple of viewings, I was pretty sure I had it down. Make your throat sound froggy, hit the hard consonants on the end of your words and slur your S’s. That’s what I was going with. I had no idea if it was going to work but that was the plan. 
 
Again, blind faith locked in, ready to go.
 
The role was that of ‘Son’. The family was obsessed with collecting Sean Connery memorabilia and the son was an awkward geek. I’d be up against a bunch of other people for the role…and those were the only details I had. I went to the studio for the audition and there were a number of other white guys waiting to go in. I tend to audition for a certain type and for some reason there always seems to be a lot of white guys waiting in the waiting room with me. Go figure.
A guy sitting next to me had these great, geeky looking glasses. They were thickly framed, complete with tape on the bridge. Perfect. I asked him if I could use them for my audition after he went in for his. He said no, without hesitation. I thought that was pretty uncool. But, ok, you brought glasses. I didn’t. Fair enough. 
 
May the best Connery win.
 
I went in and read for the part and killed it. I nailed the script the way they wanted and they enjoyed my improv to them as Connery (thankfully the director of photography’s name was Seamus). I found out soon after that I would be doing the commercial. Sweet.
 
Since doing that commercial I must have gone on hundreds of auditions. I’ve booked a number of them as well as some short films, a couple of pilots and one feature. It seems like each time I think no small amount of success is to come my way again in my career, a little morsel of goodness comes about and it keeps me going, pursuing the goal. 
 
Chasing the carrot, running on nothing but blind faith.
 
This is pretty much the same exact way I feel about rooting for the Cubs. It makes me wonder if you, as a Cubs fan, would have become a Cubs fan if you knew that you still would not have seen your team win it all at this point in your life. If when your family persuaded you to jump aboard the fan base, or when you looked around the majors and decided the Cubs were the team for you…if you were told flat out that from that point up until February 9, 2011 the Cubs still would not have won the World Series, would you still have chosen the Cubs as your team? 
 
Would you still have gone on the long, disappointing, frustrating, although at times thrilling journey?
 
I have no idea what I would have done although I’d like to think that if the person couldn’t tell me what would happen beyond today regarding whether the Cubs would win it all or not then I would still decide to go with blind faith, thinking that it would still happen sometime after today. 
 
I mean, really, how can anyone expect something so awesome to come quickly and so easily? (pipe down Yankees fans)
 
Hanging in there with my career as a writer and performer has been very similar to hanging in there with the Cubs. It is often a dark, frustrating, mind-boggling journey. While my career doesn’t have a definitive X-marks-the-spot-end-goal necessarily (no matter what I achieve, I’d probably always want to achieve more), the Cubs do have the ‘X’ target to shoot for. 
 
A World Championship. 
 
Once that is achieved, of course fans who get to witness their team win it all, want that feeling over and over again as many times as they can possibly experience it. However, for the Cubs to reach that goal ONCE in our life times is all any of us are really hoping for. And really nothing is driving it besides absolute blind faith. 
 
Every now and then a little morsel comes along making me continue hanging in there, either chasing the carrot myself, or as is the case in rooting for the Cubs, to nab it for me/themselves/all Cubs fans alike.
 
Morsels. An NL East championshp here. An NL Central division title there. An amazing come from behind win, a triumph over a rival, a key free-agent signing. The organization going the extra mile for my family and I, making me proud to be a fan. All of these moments keep me going as a fan and it’s so funny how amazing the moments’ timing are. Just when I’m feeling like there’s no hope, somebody pitches an absolute gem or a season comes along where we make the playoffs or a winter signing occurs and I think there it is. The missing link. Next year is definitely going to be the year
 
I’ve felt good about auditions before and those are generally the ones I never hear back from for a callback. I’ve felt like I’ve bombed others and it turns out I booked it. I’ve seen games on the Cubs schedule that I ‘know’ we’re going to win and it turns out we lose miserably. I’ve seen road stretches that seem like the absolute demons of the schedule and we come out smelling like roses, returning to Wrigley victorious.
 
It’s about the journey. I never know which pitch of an idea or audition could result in some great, exciting news. The next moment that keeps me going. I never know which year is going to be the year for the Cubs to win it all and all my time surviving the ups and downs take on a new meaning. The hardest part of going after something completely out of your control is the fact that you can only have faith that it will happen. Some day, some how..all the while knowing that nothing is guaranteed. 
 
I can’t wait for the day the Cubs hit the X. I can’t wait for them to hit their mark. For one of these Cubs teams, one of these Cubs managers to leave their mark. 
I was thinking today about some of the road gigs I’ve done over the years performing stand up and meeting cool people in small towns or big cities over the years. I was thinking about shows I auditioned for and didn’t get and the breaks I have received and how I appreciate them so much considering what I’ve gone through to achieve them. It got me thinking about the journey and whether if when I started back in 1997, if I could go back in time and tell myself what I will have achieved by this point in time, if I would have gone through with it anyway not knowing what else might be possible from this point forward.
Like rooting for the Cubs, I believe I would have said yes. It would have been a shame if I had that opportunity and decided not to. I feel the same way about the Cubs. Ryne Sandberg is the key reason I root for the Cubs and if he had come to me one day years and years ago and said, look…(like Piniella, I guess)…by Feb 9, 2011 the Cubs will have only won a handful of division titles and had no real success in the post-season. We certainly will not have won the Series by that point in time, so it’s up to you if you still want to root for the Cubs…your choice”, I believe I would have said “well, what happens in 2011?”
 
And if he didn’t know and neither did I, I believe I’d still power on ahead and hope for the best that it would some how, some day happen after this point in time.
 
What about you? Would you have still chosen to be a Cubs fan all these years if you knew ahead of time that up to this point in time they still would be World Series trophy free? Completely World Series titleless in your life time?  If you don’t mind, leave me your thoughts in the comment section, I’d love to hear your response.
 
Pitchers and catchers coming up in about a week. Sounds like another morsel of hope to me. Can’t wait to see if all this blind faith culminates in experiencing the Cubs winning it all. (Notice how I didn’t say ‘I can’t wait to see if this all proves to be worthwhile’. It’s absolutely about the journey and I already believe it has been).  Go Cubs Go!
 

http://twitter.com/Sheldor8/status/78653594198487040

Thank You to MLBlogs and ‘The Chicago Cubs’

I’d like to say thank you to MLBlogs for featuring Prose and Ivy on the MLBlogs home page today.  After participating in the I-70 Baseball Blog Talk Radio podcast, discussing the outlook for the NL Central in 2011 last night, I thought perhaps the increase in traffic that I noticed on my site this morning was based solely on my appearing on that show.

Then, I clicked on the MLBlogs home page and I was pleasantly surprised by this:

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The photo they used is a photo that I included in a post on here called ‘New Beginnings’ back in October or November of last year. If you click on the October and November links for 2010 in the sidebar you’ll be able to find it. The last thing I expected to see when I went to MLBlogs.com today was to see a picture of my son, Rhys and I with Prose and Ivy showcased as their featured site. It’s very cool of Mark and everyone at MLBlogs to take the time to promote the blogs that we all put so much time and effort into as bloggers. I appreciate them bringing my blog to the forefront today and introducing me to new readers, as they do any time they showcase any of our MLBlogs. And honestly, could I ask for a better description? “Vying for the title of King of All Media…keeps readers engaged with consistently strong writing and a dose of humor”. All I can say is I’m glad they enjoy it and I appreciate the encouraging words and support very much!

I really think MLB.com gets it right and does fan relations better than any other league (yes, even if they hadn’t showcased my blog). From the MLBlogs community as a whole, to the blogger features, the recent activity list, the monthly top 50s, the annual top 100, asking bloggers to contribute content to various articles for a byline on MLB.com and the interaction you get from the social media team on sites like Twitter.  The NFL, NBA, NHL and any other sports league trailing behind these guys in fan turnout or even lacking in audience as a whole could learn a lot from Major League Baseball. Thank you to Mark Newman and everyone at MLBlogs.com for helping bring my blog to a wider audience and making my son’s day as well.

Here is a picture of Rhys checking out himself and his Daddy featured on MLBlogs.com today:

rhys looking at mlblog home page.JPG

Now, something I’ve wanted to share with you for a couple weeks is how I feel that the Cubs organization exemplifies the level of class a team should have in relating to their fan base. I was going to dedicate an entire post to it, but this seemed like a great opportunity.A little while back, about a month or so ago, my son Rhys ended up admitted to the pediatric surgical wing at a hospital in New York City. He had a minor surgery but because he was only seven weeks old and they had to put him under to perform it, it was semi-serious considering that’s always a scary thing to have to do to someone so young. He is fine now and I’m happy to report all is well.

While I post often on this blog about the Cubs and their progression or regression (whichever is appropriate) during the off-season and throughout Spring Training/regular and post-season, I also am very active on Twitter.  Some of you probably follow me and if not, you can at @proseandivy. The Cubs fan community on Twitter is a group of people that I have come to admire and truly enjoy communicating with. It can be about the Cubs, baseball in general, or even the most mundane detail in life or pop-culture as we know it. My tweets are generally full of sarcasm and humor and I find the one-upmanship challenge with other people on there to be entertaining and inspiring. Once you feel you have something that’s funnier than anything else that can be said about something…boom…someone else posts something even funnier. And you try to top them and on and on we go.  Occasionally though, things happen like deaths in the family, scary surgeries or exciting moments like the birth of child. That is when the Twitter community really steps up their game and let’s you know they’re there for you.

When I mentioned that Rhys was having surgery and that I felt no seven week old kid should have to go through this, it was overwhelming the response I received from people on Twitter. The well-wishes and prayers that flooded my timeline meant a lot to me, there the Cubs community on Twitter was again, stepping up when it mattered the most. During this exchange, the Cubs social media team heard about Rhys’ surgery and after sending their best wishes that all turns out well, they took it a step further.

They direct messaged me and said, “Hi. A few of our mutual followers told me about your son’s surgery. Is he a Cubs fan? Perhaps we could send him some stuff to cheer him up.” Well, of course Rhys is a Cubs fan (or as the photo on the home page today put it ‘Cubs fan in training’). That’s all Kevin from the Chicago Cubs’ team needed to hear. He said he’d try to get something out soon.

Once we arrived home from holiday travel, the coolest thing was waiting for us. A box. Addressed to Rhys. Well, Rhys only knows so many people, so who could have sent Rhys mail?  A relative perhaps, sending a gift we didn’t get to exchange in person?

Nope.

Addressed to Rhys…..from…1060 W. Addison Street, Chicago, IL.  Oh my God.  Rhys just got a package from….THE CHICAGO CUBS!!!!

We couldn’t wait to open it. We rushed upstairs to our apartment and immediately opened the box. I’ve included photos below of what they sent to Rhys, items that will forever decorate his room and keep our family talking about for years to come.
Inside the box was: a Zambrano bobblehead doll, a Wrigley Field marquee frame, a light switch plate with the Cubs logo on it and two cool Cubs hats!  So, cool. Once Rhys’ head is big enough, he’ll wear the hats proudly I’m sure and we’ve already been playing with the Zambrano bobblehead.  The switch plate is now on the wall and the frame is waiting for a picture of us at Rhys’ first game.  Here is a photo showing the items included in the package:
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The coolest part however, was the card that was included.
Hand-written, with a picture of the W Flag over Colvin, Cashner and Castro, inside it read:
Happy Holidays, from your Cubs.  Rhys, We heard about your surgery and thought a few Cubs items would help cheer you up during your recovery. Happy Holidays and feel better! Best, The Chicago Cubs
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The thought that went into the package and the sentiment in going the extra mile for a Cubs fan truly made me respect the organization even more than I already had. I’m already a Cubs fan and of course, Rhys is as well.  But how many kids are lucky enough to have someone with enough class reach out and go the extra mile for them when that person doesn’t even know them?

And how many of those kids have that person reach out to them from their favorite baseball team?

Think about that. Think about the days before social media. What were the odds you’d get to communicate with your favorite ball club, or have the open-door type relationship we have with our favorite teams today. It probably never would have happened in our days as kids and even while it can today, how many teams would take the time to do something so thoughtful? I can’t speak for the other teams, but when it came to the Chicago Cubs…they stepped up and showed nothing but class.

One day, Rhys will truly understand and appreciate what it meant for someone from the Cubs to take the time and try to cheer him up after what was a scary situation for all of us.The Cubs aren’t perfect, nor are their fans and neither groups ever will be.  They will always make decisions that we won’t always agree with and we will always take the good with the bad because that’s part of being a fan. On their side, all they have to do is have enough players on the roster to fill out the jerseys that they sell to their fans and put enough butts in the seats to keep the organization thriving with enough hope in their fans’ hearts to keep them coming back to Wrigley and supporting them on the road for years to come.  What they don’t have to do, is go the extra mile for any of us. They really don’t have to. However, in this case, the Cubs did just that and I really appreciate it.

It says a lot about the team and the league as a whole.I realize the section of the MLBlogs home page where Prose and Ivy was featured is always a segment of the site that features a random MLBlog. However, while they take the time to showcase us bloggers, it’s right to take time and acknowledge that in this aspect of the league/fan relationship, MLB does it right. They do a great job keeping their fans interested, interacting and into their team year in and year out. There will always be something to complain about in life, but sometimes it pays to stop and be grateful for the cool things people do for you when they take the time to do so.

So, thanks again to the MLBlogs team for the plug today and to the Cubs. Once again…total class and thank you.  Go Cubs Go!

http://twitter.com/trmb1d/status/86525186161131520

2011 Season Preview – WE’RE GOING TO SHOCK THE WORLD

We shocked the world“.

Those words are uttered in only two cases.  Absolute disasters, or sports miracles.  It’s kind of bizarre, but in no other situation do you ever hear of anyone saying that the world was shocked. Ever.  Even with Obama’s election, perhaps some of the world was surprised but no one stated that he had shocked the world, or that our country had shocked the world given our election’s result…and that was a historical Presidential election.

Many would consider the Cubs winning the World Series to be an absolute sports miracle. If the Cubs were to in fact win the World Series, become the champions of the world in the world of baseball…you can bet a LOT of money that someone will use that phrase.  Someone will flat out state that the Cubs’ victory over the Boston Red Sox (yeah, that’s right, the Boston Red Sox) surprised the entire world, our entire planet, so much that it is in shock. Chicago?  Certainly.  Boston?  Yes.  Canada?  Um, ok.  Bangladesh?  Paris?  Sydney? Helsinki???  Intrigued?  Perhaps?  Shocked?  No.

If the Cubs were to win the World Series then yes, someone will say they shocked the world. In reality?  They would have made millions of Cubs fans VERY happy and many baseball fans or people who have a heart would happily give them a pleasant smile, perhaps a teary eye and a ‘that’s cool’ sentiment considering the over a century long drought the team has suffered through and well, to not feel something towards a group of people who suffered for so long…yes, you’d have to be heartless to not.  However, I feel shocked is a bit of a stretch.

The streak itself lends itself as the only evidence you truly need to NOT be shocked by the Cubs winning the World Series.  Over ONE HUNDRED years without a championship.  Others have done it much more quickly.  The Mets.  The Marlins.  In fact, every single team that has won a championship has done it within a shorter waiting period of time than the Cubs would have with the current streak at 102 years and counting.  Give me a break ‘shocked’. The Cubs are DUE.

You know what I think would be shocking?  If the Royals win the World Series in 2011.  If the Pirates win the World Series in 2011.  If the Orioles win the World Series in 2011.  And yes, even if the Phillies win the World Series in 2011 I’d be shocked because how often do you actually meet expectations and nothing goes wrong for your team to stop you from what should have been an easily accomplished, obvious to predict feat?  In each of those scenarios, I would be SHOCKED.

If the Cubs win it?  Not so much.  Surprised?  Elated?  Thrilled?  Speechless?  Relieved? Absolutely.  But after 102 years and with the roster that we have (that’s right, the roster that we have) I believe in one of the other age-old sayings in sports when it comes to predicting how a season will turn out.  And that is: Why not us?

And really, why not us?

As far as I’m concerned, great teams need five key things to win it all and I believe the Cubs have the potential to meet every single criteria.  Pitching, youth, veteran leadership, wise management, luck.  Some are MUCH harder to come by, but I see no reason why the Cubs can’t land the money ball in every single category.

PITCHING: Our starters were great when it came to quality starts in 2010.  Dempster is about as reliable as it gets and a great guy to have in the clubhouse.  He’s the rock of the rotation for 2011 now that Lilly is gone and there is no reason to think he can’t be the leader in the starting five.  Zambrano is equal parts talent and equal parts imbalance. That’s what many believe, I don’t buy it.  Zambrano is extremely talented and capable of doing great things, proven in his overall Cub record, leading the team in the past five Opening Day starts, throwing a no-hitter, being a dominant figure on the mound and the way he finished the second half of last season.  If he can start the way he did last year and finish the way he did last year, then Zambrano might just be capable of handling just about anything.  And what are the odds that he will go from Opening Day starter, to bullpen, back to rotation with head issues in between mixed with being the center of a lot of team drama? Chances are that’s not going to happen again.  I like Z’s chances of having a real quality 2011.  Wells is working on showing people that his first year is the real Wells, not the sophomore slump guy we watched in 2010.  I like that he can admit that he grew too big for his britches last year. Talent is great but mixed with maturity, it can go a long way.

Silva/Russell/Cashner are practically interchangeable.  No matter who ends up staying with the club, they will be the Cubs’ fifth starter and usually .500 seasons out of your number five guy is about all anyone hopes for.  I know they are all capable of giving us that if not greater ALTHOUGH, if it’s not Russell, all we’re looking at are righties in the starting rotation.  (That can’t be good).

And of course, the Cubs’ new toy for 2011…the new piece on the showroom floor: Matt Garza.  I was disappointed when I heard we were bringing in another guy this off-season but his name wasn’t Carlos.  I really want to lead the league in Carloses (Carlosi?  Carli?). I’m kidding….Matt Garza is possibly the missing link the Cubs have been looking for.  15 wins last season, an ALCS MVP and an all-around solid pitcher.  Coming from an environment and culture similar to the Cubs where no one expected much, he knows what it is to help get a team from the basement to the penthouse of an incredibly competitive division.  I like the Garza signing.  I don’t think we gave up too much for him and I’m excited to have him as a key part of the Cubs starting rotation in 2011.

Marshall/Wood/Marmol. Is there a better bullpen trio in the league?  Maybe only the Yankees and that’s only because they landed Soriano to match with Rivera.  Rivera is a legend, but he’s also another year older.  Even if they make the Cubs #2 in the league, I’d take it because in the grand scheme of things, being number two in the league regarding your top three bullpen guys is pretty damn good and nothing to complain about.  I love the talent and potential we have to close games out now, starting with a lead going into the seventh and holding it throughout the rest of the game. 2010 was horrible for the Cubs when it came to one-run decisions.  This next season? Not so much.

The Cards are strong with their 1-2 punch in Wainwright and Carpenter.  The Reds are impressive with their young staff coming off a division title.  The Brewers always seem to compete and will do so with Greinke in 2011.  It’s not going to be easy, but pitching wins championships and I feel comfortable putting the Cubs staff up against any one else in the Central.

THE ROSTER:  Our starting line-up, while somewhat premature considering it’s only January 14th and pitchers and catchers don’t even report until a month from now, is pretty much figured out for the most part.  Not in any particular batting order, just a simple run-down of Cubs starters by position:

C – Geovany Soto – Talented young catcher, one of the best in the National League. Coming off an off-year last year but recently signed an extension with additional money/increased salary.  He’ll be looking to show the Ricketts and the fans that the Cubs didn’t make a mistake in signing him and avoiding arbitration, or for counting on him even after shoulder surgery (probably the key reason he was only signed to a one-year deal…again, man, this is the year of the one-year deal, isn’t it?). Also, all we have behind him is Koyie Hill really, so Soto, you have no choice.  You need to be awesome…no relying on Koyie. Thanks.

1B – Carlos Pena – Our latest Carlos addition to the Cubs.  Pena batted under .200 for the season in 2010.  He was one of many one-year contracts that were doled out in the off-season (do that many people think they have a shot at Pujols?) and he is expected to bring the power bat necessary to replace Lee’s spot in the order.  His glove is supposed to be reliable and his power numbers shouldn’t suffer at Wrigley.  I like the signing, I think it has a lot of potential to work out and I believe his BA will rebound.  God, help us if it doesn’t.  I’m tired of anyone thinking Colvin is a good option at first and Lee’s already been exiled to Baltimore.  This has a lot of potential to work and if he stays healthy, I believe it will.

2B – Blake Dewitt – I don’t expect much out of DeWitt and I believe Baker may even replace him come June or July. However, with the other guys in this line up, second base is a place that we really just need the flash and reliability of the glove on defense, not necessarily a whole lot of RBI.  Just get on base and set the table for the guys we’re paying to knock in the runs Dewitt and we’ll all be happy.

SS – Starlin Castro – The club already has ads sporting Castro against Jeter, so yeah, the organization is high on Castro.  All of the Cubs Con materials feature the youthful stars of the team and Castro, after finishing in the top 10 for the NL in hitting his rookie campaign is among the top of them.  No sophomore on the team is expected to do more than Castro is, I believe the expectations on him are even higher than Soto’s were.  Hopefully he lives up to them and continues to learn under Quade’s leadership.

3B – Aramis Ramirez – If Ramirez stays healthy (and I understand it’s a big IF) then he will be fine.  He is playing at the end of his current contract and if he truly wants to stay in Chicago as a Cub, then 2011 is the time to prove the Cubs should pick up the 2012 option. He picked up his own option for 2011.  The team has the call in 2012.  Rami can put up big numbers healthy.  I’ll be rooting for the trainers once again this year to see that it happens.

OF – Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome – No, I don’t think we’re playing softball.  I simply believe left to right we’ll start Sori, Byrd and Colvin and Fuke will sub in where needed.  I believe we’ll be seeing Reed Johnson at Wrigley a bunch this year as well.  Chances that five outfielders stay healthy and produce are very slim, however, I like our chances with the guys we’ve got.  They all bring something different to the table and they are a talented bunch at that.  Hopefully Byrd can repeat his All-Star caliber performance of 2010 in 2011 (it wouldn’t hurt for Sori to make a return to the All-Star stage as well.  Just saying).

New manager: Mike Quade – Quade took a team playing for absolutely nothing and had them playing basically .600 ball. He proved to be a great leader in teaching the young stars on the team and the vets respect his long journey and knowledge he’s gathered throughout his life in the game.  As of Opening Day, the entire team will be behind the idea of having him as their manager.  Some more than others as some of them even went as far as publicly backing his selection before it was announced. Quade is going to get a chance to do something he’s always wanted to do and the players believe he can get them what they’ve always wanted to get.  The same thing the city has always wanted to see.  A title.  A championship.  A ring.

Given all the unknowns that happen to every single team throughout a baseball season, luck becomes a great factor, indeed. However, luck is out of our control as it is every other team in baseball so as for things we can control, I think the ingredients and potential are there. Let’s hope the execution and results show up as well.

Respect to the rest of the Central, the National League and the Red Sox (that’s right, the Red Sox…I don’t even think the Yankees are making the playoffs in 2011).  I think it’s going to be a tough road to get there, but after 102 years…come on…we don’t expect it to be easy…and we’re due.  Why not us?  A Cubs fan predicting the Cubs will win the NL Central and then go on to win the World Series.

I know.  Shocking.

Projected order of finish in the NL Central (rest of the league to follow in a post much closer to Opening Day):

1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Ok, now seriously, calendar…get moving!  Looking forward to hearing from any one that might have any news or pics from Cubs Con and of course, pitchers and catchers in a month!

Go Cubs Go!  

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Sometimes The Photo Inspires The Entry

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This post was 100% inspired by the above photo.  Quite possibly my all-time favorite movie character and Chicago fan, Clark W. Griswold, Jr.

In “Christmas Vacation”, Clark is seen wearing a Bears hat and a Blackhawks jersey.  I have to believe the man is a Cubs fan.  I just don’t see White Sox in him.  Ever the optimist, Clark looks above and beyond the challenges ahead and often times doesn’t even know they exist.  Completely oblivious or completely blinded by his optimism, this is what many would believe to be a great way to go through life.

You know the man must have had season tickets to the Cubs for him and his entire family.  He may have won them on another game show with Ellen and the kids dressed as pigs or some other farm animal.  Or maybe one year, instead of putting in a swimming pool, he got everyone seats along the first base line.  Cousin Eddie: “But I don’t like baseball, Clark”.  Clark: “I know that Eddie”.

Clark has to be a Cubs fan because he just has that excited look in his eyes even when his strained smile tells you things aren’t going his way.  He won’t take no for an answer when it comes to having a good time and providing those around him with one as well.  Sounds like Cubs fan to me!  102 years and counting?  I’d say that’s not taking no for answer if nothing else is!  And you know Clark would be THRILLED the Cubs pulled off the Matt Garza trade.  Clark: “Surprised, Eddie?  If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”  You know he’d go out and buy the new Garza jersey to wear to next season’s opener if he didn’t already have an old one with the last name GRISWOLD already sewn across the back ready to go.

Clark W. Griswold, Jr. would be the type of fan with season tickets who wins the drawing for a season ticket holder to sing the seventh inning stretch. Only when they decided that they’d have to cancel his opportunity to do so when Jeremy Piven showed up, he’d pretend to have a gun and force them to let him sing.  Is there a fan jail cell at Wrigley?  Probably, would Clark end up in it?  Of course not!  He’d talk his way out of trouble with the Ricketts by introducing his family and getting them to admit that they never should’ve done those crappy Way of Life radio ads to save a buck.  He’d then pack up the family and travel across the country to catch the Cubs play a road game on the kids’ holiday break.  (It would have to be a road game of course…the song ‘Holiday Home’ doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Spring Training Vacation is a movie I would love to see.  Clark and the family drive from their modest home on a ***-de-sac in Illinois, across the plains to Arizona.  Kick off the trip with a round of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in which Rusty refuses to sing along.  Have them check into the motel and send Clark out for a night swim where he runs into Cubs fan Marisa Miller at the motel pool.  Marisa Miller: “I am a big fan of Fukudome.  Do you like Fukudome?”. Clark: “This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy”. 

Of course things don’t go well when they arrive at HoHoKam Park and hilarity ensues. Cousin Eddie’s boy has been signed by the Cubs as a Spring Training invite and Rusty ends up going off and getting into trouble with the local radicals.  It all ends with Clark as the hero giving his family a great family vacation at Cubs Spring Training and of course this film features all new kids playing the Griswold children once again!

Anyway, kind of got away from me at the end, but you get the point.  Love the photo and yes, I believe Clark W. Griswold, Jr. HAD to be a Cubs fan.  He’s just too likable to be a White Sox fan.  Go Cubs Go!  Let’s win one for the Grizzer!

Happy Holidays!

If you haven’t already seen the Cubs’ holiday e-card, you can view it here.  On behalf of myself, my wife Sasha and our son, Rhys, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  (Maybe we’ll find Brandon Webb tied to the train tracks under the tree this year?  Ok, that wouldn’t bode well for keeping him healthy in 2011.  How about NEXT to the holiday train tracks?)  Happy Holidays!

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(Funny story before we go to the holiday break….we were in the waiting room for one of Rhys’ doctor’s appointments.  It’s a pediatric surgeon so of course other kids were there. This one couple and their 2 year-old were sitting next to us.  The 2 year-old sees Rhys and says, “Mommy look!  It’s baby Jesus!”)
Good times.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a great 2011 Cubs season! Go Cubs Go!

Welcoming Back Kerry Wood: Set-Up for Success

There have been some rather large events this off-season, signings that really jump off the screen at you, no?

Look familiar?

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Cliff Lee’s signing with the Phillies has significantly changed the landscape of the National League.  I don’t care how many heavy hitters you have in your line-up.  If they can’t drive through the ball on the sweet spot of the bat, or at least make contact and muscle one out of the stadium or deep to the wall for extra base hits, it doesn’t really matter.  Pitching wins championships and now with that rotation in place, Philadelphia has positioned themselves as the team to beat.  In not only the NL East, but in the National League as a whole.
In the year of the one-year contract, the Cubs managed to land Carlos Pena to man first base.  He’ll be expected to perform significantly better in the average department (.196 in 2010) and at the very least find a way to also stay on par in the power numbers department (28 HR, 84 RBI in 2010). In his time with the Cubs, Derrek Lee not only led by example in the clubhouse and delivered game changing presence at the plate, but his glove saved many errors from occurring over the years and in effect cancelled out a lot of would be runs.  The Cubs are going to need Pena to step up and play that same role.  A match of his .196 AVG in 2011 isn’t going to cut it.  The fans will have patience with the newest Cub but I can’t imagine the leeway lasting more than the first few weeks of the season.  If Pena follows ‘The Lee Way’ however, he will get off to a very slow start.  If we were able to give Lee time to get his season in gear year in and year out, we should at least afford Pena the month of April to do the same.
Think about how many one-run ballgames we lost last year.  Give us enough of those games back and we would have been playing meaningful games in a role other than spoiler, well past the middle of August.  Injuries and our record in one-run games in 2010 were two keys to the Cubs not living up to hopes/expectations.  Hopefully a new line-up featuring more Colvin in right with Fukudome as the fourth outfielder, a repeat All-Star performance by Byrd, a return to form by Soriano, sophomore success by Castro, a healthy Ramirez, another year full of quality starts by the rotation and an overall positive effect by inserting Pena into the lineup to help generate another run or two per game and we may be back, looking at the top of the standings in 2011.  I don’t expect Cincinnati go away, the Cards are always tough and Milwaukee is shoring up it’s pitching staff so it might take every single one of those things listed above happening in order for the Cubs to land on top next season in the Central.
Of course, this post was kicked off by talking about pitching making the difference.  We can add another couple runs per game (which would be great since we scored more than 80 runs less than our opponents did last year) however, if we can’t hold onto that lead late in the game, it won’t even matter.
And that…is where Kerry Wood comes in…by coming back.
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The return of Wood is the biggest headline of the Cubs off-season dealings and he’s going to be welcome with open arms, expected to carry the load late in the game.  Wood may just be the bridge we need to fill the gap from Marshall to Marmol.  Wood absolutely helps the Cubs form a powerful 7-8-9 inning tandem in Marshall, Wood and Marmol.  It will make the Cubs a scarier opponent going beyond the fifth inning with a lead.  Definitely, a lot scarier than the team was last year when we pitched so many youngsters in late inning, hold situations.
Wood’s return showcases the portion of heart that was lost on the team when Wood went to the Yankees.  He represents what could have been and now what could still possibly be. Kerry Wood isn’t the answer to all the Cubs’ problems.  I mean, just look at the list I put together three paragraphs back.  However, with two disappointing seasons behind them, the loss of their voice in Santo (whose funeral provided the opportunity for Wood and his wife to meet up with Hendry and kick off the dominoes it took to make this deal happen – and wouldn’t that be cool if while Santo can’t see the Cubs win the Series during his lifetime, his passing may be the thing that helps make the deal happen that pushes the Cubs over the hump to victory in 2011? – What a story that would be) and the great unknown ahead in what Quade can accomplish with a whole season, it will be nice to have a familiar face on the team again.  The face of a guy that never should have left in the first place, in my opinion.
The thing about Wood’s return is I can’t think of another pitcher that once served as a full-time starter, set-up man and closer for the same organization.  Can you?  Wood won Rookie of the Year and nearly led the Cubs to the World Series as a starter and tallied 34 saves in his one year as the Cubs’ closer, the same number he’ll wear back with the team as a set-up man.
Philadelphia may have landed Lee.  The second best pitcher dealt out there, Grienke, may have landed with the division rival Brewers.  However, when it comes to the Cubs making a difference with a pitching signing, it wasn’t about the big name or the big bucks.  The Cubs have a competitive, quality start-churning out five in Z, Demp, Wells, Gorzy and Silva if in fact those are the guys we go with come April.  So, it’s more so about a great pitcher with a lot left in the tank in short relieft, coming back to his home team, his home field, his home organization to carry the load, this time as the set-up man.
Hopefully this stint with the team will result in him setting up the team for ultimate success instead of let down.  Either way, it will be good to have him back and Chicago will be thrilled to once again be rooting for one of their own.  Go Cubs Go!