Cubs

New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

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New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

Every minicamp presents excitement for players, coaches and organizations as a whole. Its the first opportunity to see how new puzzle pieces fit to build your football team. Coaches have ideas through pre-draft film study and internal scouting reports as to how players will be utilized, but first impressions when unwrapping your draft day gifts always are important.

Coaches setting the tempo
Lovie Smith and his coaching staff want to introduce newly acquired players to their mission statement -- everything from explaining what it means to be a Chicago Bear to how new players need to practice properly. Everything introduced is going to be the Chicago Bear way. The reprogramming of free agent signings started April 16 in the classroom, but the brainwashing of fresh meat out of college starts this weekend.

Everything from the introduction of daily itineraries, workout schedules, playbook material, new surroundings, new co-workers and expectation from employees are covered thoroughly. Ive stated before in previous blogs that nothing can be assumed from organizations or coaches. Thus, from a coaching perspective, every nuance the coaches deem necessary for both long-term and a weekend rookie minicamp will be introduced. Learning doesnt happen through osmosis, it must be taught. How everyone learns is a different question, but that will be discerned this weekend by coaches in practice evaluations.
Wide-eyed newbies

I remember my first rookie minicamp for the Steelers back in 1994. I was just anxious to get started by showing up a day early because a college buddy lived in Pittsburgh. I crashed at his house then walked in the Steelers office at Three Rivers Stadium the very next day. Who just happened to be strolling through the lobby when I walked through the Steelers' front door like I was the next Joe Montana? None other than my new head coach Bill Cowher. Bill basically freaked out telling me it was against the rules, but admired my eagerness. A good first impression was made, but there was much I didnt know with plenty more to learn.

Its funny when I think about it. I was crushed, but getting started on your dream is really what all rookies are thinking about. They want to impress on the practice field, in the weight room, impress everyone organizationally but most importantly new teammates. Rookies fight the overall anxious nervousness just to fit in and be accepted. The constant learning is important if you want to be the difference-making player the organization thinks you can be.

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

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USA TODAY

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

The Washington Nationals must have been sitting at home, watching the National League Championship Series and wondering: How did we lose to this team?

The Cubs poured so much physical effort, mental focus and emotional energy into those five playoff games against the Nationals that they didn’t have much left in the tank for the bigger, better Los Angeles Dodgers team that dominated the defending World Series champs in every phase and captured the NL pennant on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

By midday Friday, the Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker will not return for the 2018 season, while the contracts for the big-league coaching staff have also expired, leaving a franchise with chain-of-command issues in damage-control mode.

This is a bitter disappointment for Baker, who needs a World Series ring as a manager to put the final bullet point on a Hall of Fame resume and still grumbles about how things ended in 2006 after four up-and-down years managing the Cubs.

Baker, 68, a former Marine, All-Star player and all-around Renaissance man with a great feel for dealing with people and managing the clubhouse, apparently couldn’t overcome last week’s elimination-game meltdown at Nationals Park, where the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory and forced Washington into its fourth first-round playoff exit since 2012.

Baker’s in-game decision-making was already under the microscope and his teams have now lost 10 straight postseason close-out games, a major-league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Nationals also needlessly subjected Stephen Strasburg to withering criticism when Baker said the $175 million pitcher was feeling under the weather — maybe because of Chicago mold and hotel air-conditioning units — and being saved for Game 5. Only to flip-flop and watch Strasburg throw seven scoreless innings in a dominant Game 4 performance at Wrigley Field.

That unforced error and yet another manager search is not a good look for the Nationals, who made the announcement through the Lerner family ownership group after general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly signaled that he expected to reach a new agreement with Baker after winning 192 games combined in two years and back-to-back division titles.

Since the franchise relocated from Montreal and abandoned the Expos logo in 2005, the Nationals have employed seven different managers and will be starting all over again in 2018, when Bryce Harper will be in his last season before becoming a free agent and probably wondering if Washington can finally get its act together.

What now for the Cubs?

What now for the Cubs?

OK, time to turn the page.

Nah, it doesn't have to be that sudden.

The 2017 Cubs season may not have resulted in a World Series, but it was absolutely a smashing success. There was a time not long ago that playing — and even losing — in the fifth game of the NLCS was a huge step.

But the Cubs now have a World-Series-or-bust mentality now and the 2017 season did not live up to those expectations.

"We're capable of more than we showed in the postseason," Ben Zobrist said.

So what now? What's next for these Cubs?

Well, quite literally: Rest. Rest is next.

"For those guys that are playing every day, they need to take the time that they need to take," Zobrist said. "Take the three weeks, month to let your body relax and heal up.

"I think from there, it's listening to your body for them. For me, I'm in a different place. I didn't play as many games as I normally play. I feel like my stamina, I have to work on my endurance and stamina to get back up to where it needs to get to where I'm capable of playing more games and not getting injuries and things like that like I had this year.

"...[Kris Bryant] and [Anthony] Rizzo, they were our horses and so they need to take more time than somebody like me does going into the offseason. They deserve to get some rest and relaxation. I think we're all very motivated going into the offseason to get back to where we're capable of playing as a team."

Other players have a different attitude as they approach the winter.

Albert Almora Jr., after his first full season in the big leagues, is anxious to get better. Immediately.

The young outfielder is planning on spending a lot of time hanging out with his wife and one-year-old son, but he isn't interested in all that much rest right now.

"[I plan] to get back to work," Almora said. "I think we have a big chip on our shoulder coming into next year."

Rizzo and Bryant, meanwhile, played 167 and 161 games, respectively, including the postseason. They combined for over 1,500 plate appearances from April 2 through Oct. 19.

Neither player has much interest in watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the World Series.

So what will they do?

"It's always tough," Rizzo said after the Cubs were officially eliminated. "You start a journey with all these guys and at the end of the day, these last couple days, you don't take anything for granted at all.

"The stretch, the cage work. Yesterday could've been our last day. Today's obviously our last day. We gotta enjoy these moments because you don't know how long they last.

"But you make a lot of friendships along the way. This next week will be tough and kinda scratching your head on what to do."