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Dale Sveum returns to Wrigley Field: 'This is a special place'

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Dale Sveum returns to Wrigley Field: 'This is a special place'

A group of people in Royals apparel emerged from underneath the left-field bleachers to a round of cheers from fans donned in royal blue Friday afternoon.

The cheers were probably more for the Royals players from the large contingent of Kansas City fans, but it still signified Dale Sveum's return to Wrigley Field.

Sveum — now the hitting coach for the Royals — is back at the "Friendly Confines" for the first time since being let go after the 2013 season. He lost 197 games across two seasons as Cubs manager, the hand-picked choice when Theo Epstein's front office took over the franchise.

In typical Sveum fashion, he shrugged off his return to Wrigley like it was no big deal.

[MORE: Maddon, Cubs getting a 'fresh look' at Junior Lake]

"I've been on this [visting] side way more than [the home] side in my career, so it's the same," Sveum said before Friday's game. "I don't know if it's weird or not. It's good to see some of the guys and some of the players that I haven't seen since I left. I dunno; it's been a while now."

Sveum is a baseball lifer who played in the big leagues for 12 years before transitioning into a coach. He was part of the staff in Boston when the Red Sox reversed the curse and won the World Series in 2004.

Sveum spent six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2006-11, making several trips a season to Wrigley Field. This is the first time he's been here since the renovations started and the new video boards went up in left and right field — "I don't know if they needed two of 'em," he laughed.

Sveum stood outside the visiting dugout on the first-base side, squinting through the sun and sweating a bit in the muggy weather. He admitted the ballpark could use some upgrades.

"The facilities are what they are, but I tell you what, when you step on this field, it's kinda like Fenway or old Yankee Stadium," Sveum said. "There's just a different feeling. 

[RELATED: Cubs see Addison Russell taking a big step forward]

"If you can't get up and play in this place, no matter what the facilities are, you might not have a heartbeat. This is a special place. Especially days like this, as a hitter, when the wind's blowing out. It doesn't matter how little that clubhouse is."

It didn't take Sveum long to find a job after he was let go in Chicago, hooking up with the Royals before their classic run to the World Series last season.

Known as one of the top hitting minds in the game, Sveum talked a lot about how the game has changed, how pitching is at a premium and offense is way down across the board.

Epstein's front office saw this coming, stockpiling young power hitters throughout the system. Sveum saw some of these sluggers — the Kris Bryants and Jorge Solers — during his time with the Cubs and helped break down their swings on tape. 

"You're dealing with guys over there that slug and obviously strike out a lot and can hit the ball a long way," Sveum said of the Cubs. "When they get 1,000 or 1,500 major-league at-bats under their belt, you're gonna have to deal with some serious power every day when you come to Wrigley or play the Cubs."

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Sveum didn't have any managerial jobs available to him when he left Chicago, but the 51-year-old coach admitted he would like to be back on the top step of the dugout someday, calling the shots again.

"Oh of course," he said. "That's not something you put on the backburner. It's obviously something that I enjoy doing. But I'm obviously not holding my breath.

"I see where things are going in the game and how people are getting hired. It's a little different than it was 10, 15 years ago. I'm happy doing what I'm doing. 

"I still got a uniform on, so that's all I care about."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: