Cubs return to work after celebrating NLDS victory


Cubs return to work after celebrating NLDS victory

Perhaps a little groggy and gruff after a 42-hour celebration complete with rock star sing-alongs, the discovery and retrieval of Kyle Schwarber’s legendary homerun ball and a baseball watch party, the Cubs returned to work on Thursday.

As he stepped to the podium before an afternoon workout at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon bore the spoils of Tuesday’s victory to advance to the National League Championship Series in the form of a cold and an extra gravely voice.

Much like his players, Maddon relished the rare chance to enjoy a few days off in a city famished for a winner after the Cubs punched their ticket to the NLCS early with a Game 4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. With Game 1 of the NLCS not until Saturday night, the veteran manager thinks celebrating success is a perfect way for Cubs players to maintain a loose attitude that already has helped them advance through two postseason rounds.

“I’m hanging in there,” Maddon said. “It’s not easy having a good time.”

“I like the idea that they’re able to blow it off a little bit and then come back and refocus. I don’t want them grinding it too hard because that’s definitely going to get in the way.”

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“I don’t want it misconstrued either -- it’s not like everybody’s a big party animal. “It’s just a matter of we have celebrated success.”

Have they ever.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Theo Epstein, the club’s president of baseball operations, took his scouting staff out to celebrate Tuesday’s win alongside ex-pitcher Kerry Wood, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and actor Joel Murray.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Dexter Fowler and catcher David Ross reportedly were seen clubbing on Tuesday. Footage of Vedder playing his Cubs tribute song “All The Way” at Jon Lester’s house early Wednesday morning also surfaced on the Internet.

Those events preceded Wednesday’s baseball watch party, where players convened to watch both American League playoff games and play video games.

“It’s nice to be able to celebrate without any consequences the next day,” Ross said. “(It’s) exhausting. Is that a good word? I’m tired of smiling if that can get ever old. It’s just been fun, the emotion and the celebrating with these guys that have never done it.”

[MORE: Cubs will rely on Javy Baez for NLCS with Addison Russell out]

Part of the fun adding to the fervor was the discovery of Schwarber’s homerun ball atop the right field scoreboard, a no-doubter lists as having traveled 438 feet at a velocity of 112.3 miles per hour.

After the ball was sighted, the Cubs had it authenticated, returned it to where it was found and determined it would remain encased there for the rest of the postseason.

“Pure genius,” Maddon said of the idea.

Starlin Castro has been here six seasons and he can’t quite wrap his head around what he has seen.

Whether it was the thousands of fans who stayed inside Wrigley Field and clogged the streets afterward or the many well-wishers who have congratulated him since,

Castro hasn’t experienced anything like this and hopes for more.

[ALSO: Cubs lining up Lester-Arrieta for first two games of NLCS]

“It’s been unbelievable,” Castro said. “I just walked in the streets yesterday and it’s unbelievable. Everybody recognizes you even more now and everybody’s crazy, everybody’s happy.

“In all the years I have been here I’ve never seen the city like that and I think it’s going to be more fun if we keep playing like that.”

Outfielder Quintin Berry experienced Boston during a Red Sox World Series-title run in 2013. Berry gives the edge to Chicago when he compared the two.

The scene Tuesday -- with fans closing down Clark Street and helicopters hovering overhead after the Cubs clinched a postseason series at home for the first time in franchise history -- is one Berry won’t soon forget.

“This city might be a little hungrier,” Berry said. “Boston had won a couple of championships and they were still alive -- it’s one of the livest cities I’ve ever been in. But I think the fact it’s been 107 years since they’ve won a World Series and they feel like this the team, it definitely seems like this is a special team that’s capable of doing that, I think they’re feeding off of that and it’s getting really wild out here.

“It was amazing.

“The streets are packed and everybody’s live. It’s fun to be a part of something like that.”

While Maddon’s voice wasn’t as scratchy as Steven Tyler’s on ‘Sweet Emotion,’ the song that greeted the Cubs back to work on Thursday, it had the sound of a man who enjoyed the moment. Maddon said his normal routine had been disrupted and he felt it. He sounded ready for a quiet evening Thursday before his team boards a plane for Los Angeles or New York on Friday morning.

While he reportedly celebrated on Tuesday, Maddon didn’t make his way to Lester’s house for Vedder Jam -- “Not having the manager around is cool -- it’s cooler than if dad’s there,” he said.

He isn’t concerned that his players and coaching staff are having too much fun. This is a team that has enjoyed many victories this season with a smoke machine and disco lights. He knows they’ll be prepared when the time comes, citing he likes the way his team separates the two.

Maddon had no plans to attend a watch party Thursday and said he looked forward to some much-needed relaxation and a return to normalcy.

“I’ve got so little, few brain cells left,” Maddon said. “They’re on the endangered species list right now.

“I gotta catch up on some rest, man. I’m serious. I haven’t had a chance to ride my bike and do the whole routine, which is just kicking my butt a little bit right now. Any way I can get back into that routine I’m going to try to do that.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.