"I wanted to have approval that it was OK to quit."
Dillon Maples almost wasn't here.
The newest weapon out of the Cubs bullpen features a 100 mph fastball and a wicked slider, striking out 102 batters in 64.2 innings this season between three minor-league stops and the big leagues.
But a year ago, he almost gave it all up.
Maples' journey from A-ball to the majors has been one of the most interesting stories in Chicago when the Cubs called him up as rosters expanded in September. After all, it's not every day a guy makes the jump from the lower levels of the minors (Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach) to pitching at Wrigley Field.
"It's been a surreal year," Maples said on the CubsTalk Podcast this week. "Out of spring training, I just wanted to be on a team and break camp, and I did that."
Maples turned 25 shortly after Opening Day, but he was glad to be starting the year with Myrtle Beach given his familiarity with the area after spending part of 2016 there but also because his hometown is only about two-and-a-half hours away.
But Maples understood he was entering his sixth season of professional baseball and still hadn't advanced beyond A-ball. He knew it was time for a change.
So he got out of his own way.
Maples was demoted from Myrtle Beach to Class-A South Bend in the middle of last season and after one particularly poor outing, he called his dad, Tim, a former professional pitcher who spent five years in the Baltimore Orioles organization from 1979-1983.
"I had been pitching fairly well since I got sent down. I just had a terrible outing," Maples said. "Just walking guys. It's one thing to walk guys and have your stuff and you're just missing. Like, you're going after them with aggressive intent. But it was just passive.
"I was up there in my own way. I wasn't free, I wasn't loose, I wasn't dominating guys. I didn't have that dominating mindset. I can deal with bad results if I'm going out there and mentally wanting to crush whoever I'm facing. I lose sleep over the fact that I'm timid, I'm scared, I'm passive. That's what I can't handle.
"But yeah, I called him and told him I lost passion. I'm 24, in low-A. To me, it didn't get any worse. He told me to just not get so emotionally involved or invested in that one outing. So I heeded to his advice. We had an off-day the next day. I deflated and came back to the ballpark, stuck with it and came into the next year with this attitude that I wasn't going to hinder myself anymore."
How close was he to actually quitting?
"I just wanted somebody to tell me it was OK to quit," Maples said. "That's basically what I wanted. I wanted to have approval that it was OK to quit. If my dad would've said, 'You know what, it's OK. You've been playing a long time.' I wanted an excuse out of the game.
"I was calling, kinda seeking his approval for an exit. I knew that I wouldn't've been strong enough to walk [into the manager's office to quit] by myself. And also, it might've just been my subconscious telling me this guy knows a lot more than you. He's played, he knows all about the grind.
"Plus, he's looking at it from a different perspective, a detached are where he's at the house looking at it — 'Oh, he walked three guys. That's not that big of a deal. He's been pitching well.' To me, that was the end of the world.
"It's always good to have those people you can call that believe in you."
Maples said it took him seven years to figure out how to get out of his own way. Everybody who ever told him to slow the game down or let it come to you or take a breath didn't resonate until it clicked for himself in his own situation.
Let's see if Maples can channel his newfound mentality in the big leagues. After striking out and walking a batter in a shutout inning his debut over the weekend, he got lit up Monday in Pittsburgh, allowing five earned runs on three hits and a pair of walks.
If Maples does rebound from a tough outing, it will be by leaning on what got him here — a change in process and routine, helped by the likes of Cubs mental skills coach Darnell McDonald.
"In my career, I've always been in front of myself," Maples said. "I've always been my biggest enemy. Anytime. That's where I've struggled the most.
"So this year, I just have freed up, trusted in my routine and what got me results. OK, that got me results, so I'm not gonna do anything different. From the time I got results, but yeah the mental side is - gah - [huge].
"I don't have to worry about strength training - I love to lift, I love to get after it. But yeah, the mental side, I just gotta stay on top of that."