Kawasaki Karaoke: Joe Maddon 'abhors' monotony in Cubs camp


Kawasaki Karaoke: Joe Maddon 'abhors' monotony in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. - Walking near the Cubs complex a little before 10 a.m. Arizona time, nobody would blame you if you thought you were at a Karaoke bar.

Japanese sensation Munenori Kawasaki warmed the Cubs up before Friday's workout with a stirring rendition of Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing."

Joe Maddon said the Cubs have been planning this for a while and it helps that Kawasaki was all about it.

"I tried my best," said Kawasaki, who admitted he was nervous. He said "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" is his favorite song and he's seen Armageddon 33 times.

Kawasaki said that if everybody was happy, he was happy, but also said he wouldn't do it again. He did offer maybe Cubs catcher Taylor Davis could sing an Eric Church song and Kawasaki would play guitar to back up Davis.

"You see the funny side," Kris Bryant said. "He's definitely one of my favorites so far. He's hilarious. Today, stretch was dedicated to him.

"That was one of my favorite skits that I've ever seen here. ... I don't know if you can top that."

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Of course, then the Cubs warmed up listening to songs like "Kung Foo Fighting" and "Turning Japanese" while wearing Japanese headbands that said "Must win," "No. 1" or "Fighting spirit."

This comes just a couple days after Maddon's 1970s-themed pre-workout celebration on Leap Day (that included Kawasaki dressed up as a "Chicago Cowboy") and joins the ranks of the Dexter Fowler arrival and pre-warmup dance party.

Spring training can be very monotonous - wake up the same time, early workouts, two full weeks of practices before the first Cactus League game.

But Maddon loves to go against the grain.

"I hope there's no monotony here," Maddon said. "That's the thing. I really abhor monotony. Why would you ever want to just come out on a daily basis and grind it out in the Arizona heat - a relentless sun - doing the same things every day and hope to get the best out of your group?

"I don't get that. I don't understand that whatsoever. ... I know how I've done my best work - throughout my life, not just my career - and it's always when I was having a good time. You have to be able to separate the fun moments from business moments.

"I like what we're doing right now. I think it's appropriate and I think it's gonna help us get off to a good start. Also, it's part of the group, part of the culture right now and I like that.

"I don't want us to take things too seriously. Just serious enough."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon didn't even conduct his media session in a normal fashion, letting Fowler step in for him briefly before stepping to the group huddle still wearing his Japanese headband and petitioning for a new headband that says "Process is fearless."

But is there a limit to the "Madd Scientist" process? Is there anything Maddon wouldn't do?

"Of course," he said. "I think so. I think there's things I wouldn't do - let's put it that way. I don't know what that is yet.

"Here's the thing, man: We're just having a good time right now. Political correctness has been at an all-time high over the last couple decades. We're not trying to hurt anybody.

"It was all in fun. Kawasaki got it started. It was a blast and I think everybody can appreciate the humor."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”