Cubs

Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

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Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011
8:32 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Maybe next week, while running baseball clinics in Italy, Mike Quade can escape all the questions.

Quade will likely view this through the prism he sees everything else, whether its a racing form or the thick binder of statistics on his desk. He will weigh the possibilities, play the percentages and realize: It is worth it. This is part of the job.

Even if Quade isnt entirely comfortable with some of the public aspects of being a major-league manager in 2011, he will still be front and center this weekend at the Cubs Convention.

Cubs executives wont be hanging a Mission Accomplished banner across the lobby of the Hilton Chicago. This offseason at Wrigley Field has seen an Undercover Boss cleaning toilets, two college football teams running at the same end zone, ownership asking local government for help and strangers weeping at Ron Santos memorial.

But the baseball operations department has achieved its three primary objectives, all with only about 10 million to spend this winter on a first baseman, a veteran reliever and a No. 2 starter.

If you are a Cubs fan, you will be impressed by how polished and intelligent Carlos Pena comes across (while wondering if hell hit .196 again).

You will appreciate that Kerry Wood values family and loyalty over greed (and hope that he doesnt get injured again).

You will be intrigued by Matt Garzas talent (as well as the potential of the five players it took to get him).

That wont erase the memories of an underachieving team, or automatically fill all those empty seats you saw in the bleachers. The 13-game plan that went on sale Thursday is a new way of doing business, part of the makeover.

A team official said that by Friday, when the convention opens, the Cubs will have sold roughly the same amount of tickets to the event as recent years, but acknowledged that hotel bookings have been soft.

In terms of a Q rating, the Cubs will be running behind the Bears and LeBron James at the United Center. And a source indicated that Santos replacement will not be announced this weekend, so they wont make headlines that way.

Still, the question-and-answer sessions with baseball management and business operations should feature some entertainingly awkward moments. The Ricketts family will have to defend their record after their first full year of ownership.

Fans will want to know: why Ryne Sandberg wasnt hired (relative lack of experience); who will bat leadoff (Blake DeWittJeff Bakerdepends on the matchups); and who will start Opening Day (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Garza).

The second-guessing isnt why Quade will be leaving the country. But soon decisions will have to be made, the names on the big board in Jim Hendrys office coming to life.

It will be difficult to not bump into one of Sandbergs former teammates at the hotel. Time will tell if the general manager made the right call, which team chairman Tom Ricketts has said was all Hendrys.

If some are skeptical, the man who managed 2,378 games in the minors has already convinced the people that matter.

We feel like Q is one of us, catcher Koyie Hill said. There are a lot of different temperaments and personalities in a clubhouse. To get a guy in charge and feel like hes a part of what youre trying to do hes not just showing up and putting the lineup up but hes literally a part of the groupthat goes a long ways.

We really appreciate the honesty and the effort that he gives every day. I think youll see us give that back.

For someone with such a blue-collar approach, Quade is a bit of a foodie. On Wednesday he visited his old high school in Mount Prospect, a place filled with memories. One night next week, somewhere near Bologna, he might enjoy an Italian meal, sip a fine glass of wine and reflect on how far he has come and how much work he still has to do.

I will not change, Quade said on the final day of last season. Whether thats good or bad for the marketing department, youll have to talk to them.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

While most of the Cubs were focusing on rest and relaxtion this winter, Albert Almora Jr. sees no need for chillin'.

Kris Bryant admitted he was worn down by the end of the Cubs' playoff run last October and most other regulars would say the same thing.

But some Cubs saw the winter not as an "offseason" but as the first opportunity to prove something.

Kyle Schwarber has shed weight and looks to be in great shape, but Almora is in the same boat.

The 23-year-old outfielder is chomping at the bit, anxious for the season to start. So anxious, in fact, that he spent just a couple weeks at home in Florida before heading to Arizona to start training for 2018. 

Yes, that's right. He's been in Arizona since November — training, eating right, mentally preparing himself for the grind ahead, taking swings. 

That's nothing new for the first draft pick under Theo Epstein's front office who's constantly trying to validate the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

"I'm always going out there trying to prove them right, trying to make them happy," Almora said.

This is a kid who earned a World Series ring before his 23rd birthday and has five gold medals from playing for Team USA as a teenager. 

Almora's no stranger to the big stage and he's already accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's never experienced anything quite like the 2017 season.

He's always been a starter and everyday player. From age 8, when he was playing up with 14-year-olds, Almora has been among the youngest guys on any team he's been on. 

That was the case with the 2017 Cubs once again, but this time, he wasn't a key contributor. He played nearly every day — notching 132 games — but only started 65 times throughout the course of the year. He had to learn a lot about waiting for his moment and making the most of his one at-bat or one inning in the field.

"[Playing time is] not in my control and I'm gonna do whatever I can when my name is called to help the team win games and have a lot of fun with it," Almora said. "That's the only way to stay sane and not worry too much.

"At the end of the day, all I can control is what I do on the ballfield and that's it."

Almora admitted he's let that external stuff creep into his mind in the past, though that was mostly in the minor leagues when he was wondering when he'd get called up to the next level.

In the majors, it's all about winning and Almora believes he can help the big-league team get back to the Promised Land.

Even Epstein admitted Almora is primed for a larger role in 2018, as the young outfielder proved down the stretch last year he could contribute against right-handed pitching as well as southpaws.

What does he make of his progression the last couple years?

"I can answer that by just saying I'm confident," Almora said. "The more opportunity I get, the more experienced under my belt. You're not intimidated, you're having a lot of fun out there and your confident in your game.

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon knows a thing or two about taking a storied Chicago franchise from a rebuilding team to a World Champ.

Bears head coach Matt Nagy hopes to have that in common with the Cubs skipper one day, and it helps that the two share a similar background: Nagy, like Maddon, grew up in Pennsylvania in a town called Manheim, about 80 miles from Maddon's hometown of Hazelton.

It took Maddon only two years to lead the Cubs to the top for the first time in 108 years, but expectations should be tempered for Nagy's Bears. It's more about the process than the results early on. 

And the only way Nagy can help eventually lead the Bears back to another Super Bowl is by doing what Maddon did.

"Just be yourself," Maddon said when asked what his advice is to Nagy. "The one thing that I found when I came to Chicago that I thought my hometown of Hazelton was a microcosm of this city and the people here. Very inviting, open folks, passionate about their sports and Bears football, so I wish you nothing but the best. But all I can say, typically, Pennsylvania: Just be yourself."

Check out Maddon's full comments in the video above.