After nearly quitting baseball, Dillon Maples is now the feel-good story of September

Iowa Cubs

After nearly quitting baseball, Dillon Maples is now the feel-good story of September

A year ago, things were awfully bleak for Dillon Maples. 

The right-handed pitcher was putting the finishing touches on a 2016 campaign that saw him post a 4.22 ERA, including a 7.71 mark in nine games at Advanced Class-A ball, the highest level he had advanced to in the Cubs system.

It had been more than five years since the Cubs selected him in the 14th round of the MLB Draft out of Pinecrest High School in North Carolina and he was still unable to even reach Double-A, let alone the majors.

That's why he was thinking about quitting, wanting to hang up his spikes and be done with baseball.

But he stuck with it and Friday, the 25-year-old became the ultimate feel-good story in baseball with rosters expanding for September call-ups.

Maples was one of the Cubs' choices for reinforcements, joining Justin Grimm, Victor Caratini and infielder Mike Freeman as the extra four guys on the roster. Maples has now gone from the lower levels of the minor leagues to the majors in the span of just a few months. 

"It's been a crazy year, but I'm ready for this. ... It's a pretty crazy 180, but the way this year's progressed, I kinda expected to be here," Maples said before walking it back a bit. "I wouldn't say I expected to be here, but I was ready to be here if I was called on."

Maples has earned it; this isn't some charity call-up. He found his command and his confidence in 2017, sporting a 2.27 ERA while striking out 100 batters in 63.1 innings. He also attributes a lot of his success to working with Cubs mental skills coach Darnell McDonald and learning how to prepare mentally and physically for each day at the ballpark.

"First of all, the person always deserves the most credit," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "But I do think our player development staff really hanging in there with him [made a big difference]. He had his ups and downs, but his confidence was great this year and he really started trusting his breaking ball. He has a special ability to spin the ball — both curveball and slider — and just really trusting those pitches I think is the biggest difference.

"It's a really fun moment for us to see a guy like that — a high-profile guy that went through ups and downs and may have even hung 'em up. For him to be here today, those are the special moments you try to enjoy.

"I mean, we are competing every day, but you try to take a step back and realize that for someone like him to realize that dream after that much hard work, it's a great thing about our game. I don't like the September call-up stuff, but this is one aspect that I do think is really nice when a guy can make his debut and get his parents here and kinda realize a dream."

Maples' parents won't actually be in attendance this weekend at Wrigley Field, as they're out visiting his younger brother at the Air Force Academy. 

But they were able to revel in the joy of Maples' first trip to "The Show."

"[When I got the call,] I remember going up to the hotel room, calling my dad," Maples said. "That's the guy I called last year when I wanted to hang it up. I had lost passion, lost drive.

"I just remember calling him last year, so it was only appropriate that he'd be the first one I'd call. My mom was in the car, so she found out right away. Heard her scream. It's definitely been a crazy ride for all of us."

Joe Maddon met with the young right-hander before Friday's game and said he plans to bring Maples along slowly in low-leverage situations. 

But he also wanted Maples to understand he's actually ahead of the curve for some relievers, who typically don't make it to the big leagues until age 26 or 27. 

"I wanted him to understand not to change anything," Maddon said. "You've gotten here, you've done a lot of good stuff to get here, don't think you have to do anything differently by being here. 

"That's always the danger. Sometimes, guys want to do something different to get out major-league hitters. I don't want him to feel that way. Give him his opportunities when they present themselves."

2018 Cubs Trivia… in Reverse

2018 Cubs Trivia… in Reverse

Normally baseball trivia is consumed by the average fan in a question-answer format.  Today, we are going to try something different.  I’ll name a player from Cubs history, present a little background of that player, then finally reveal why the player is relevant in terms of 2018 Cubs trivia.  Let’s get started.

Ted Savage
Savage was the 1961 International League MVP for the Buffalo Bisons. After a promising rookie season with the Phillies, he was traded to the Pirates and ended up bouncing around the league for several seasons. In all, the outfielder played nine Major League seasons with eight different teams. His finest season was 1970 when he played for the Brewers in their first season in Milwaukee (they had been the Seattle Pilots in 1969), hitting .279/.402/.482 with 12 HR & 10 SB. 

In 1967 Savage was purchased by the Cubs from the Cardinals. He appeared in 96 games for Chicago, and he stole seven bases.  Three times he stole second.  Twice he stole third.  Twice he stole home.  And no Cub would again steal home twice in a season… until Javier Báez in 2018. 

Fred Pfeffer
Fred Pfeffer hit one home run in 85 games in 1882 as a rookie for the Troy Trojans.  He hit one home run the following season in 96 games for the Chicago White Stockings (the team we know today as the Cubs).  He hit 25 home runs in 1884.  This wasn’t really an incredible power surge, since the fences at Chicago’s Lake Front Park were about 180 feet away and prior to that season anything over the fence was a ground rule double.  Three of his teammates also hit at least 20 homers.  They ended up moving to a new park the next season.  But still, Pfeffer was the second baseman of the dominant Chicago teams of the 1880s. 

Back to that 1884 season.  Pfeffer not only hit 25 home runs that season, he also knocked in 101.  And he even made an appearance on the mound.  Does that sound familiar?  It should.  Because Anthony Rizzo also hit 25 home runs with 101 RBI and a pitching appearances this past season. Rizzo and Pfeffer are the only players in franchise history to do that.  Of course Rizzo had a higher degree of difficulty.

Ellis Burton
A switch-hitting outfielder, Burton played for the Cardinals for eight games in 1958 and 29 games in 1960.  After some more time in the minors, he resurfaced with the Indians in 1963 and was purchased that May by the Cubs. August 1963 was easily the most eventful month of his Major League career.  On the first of that month, he homered from each side of the plate – the second Cub ever to do that; the other was Augie Galan on June 25, 1937.  On the final day of August he had perhaps his finest moment.  The Cubs trailed Houston 5-1 entering the bottom of the 9th inning.  It was 5-2 with two outs after a pair of flyouts, three singles and a walk.  Burton stepped to the plate to face Hal Woodeshick (who replaced Hal Brown – unlikely we’ll ever see a two-Hal inning again), and hit an ultimate grand slam – a walkoff grand slam with the team down three runs.  

It was a feat which wouldn’t be duplicated by a Cubs batter until David Bote turned a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 win with one swing of the bat on August 12 against the Nationals. 

Glanville Offseason Journal: Winter Ball


Glanville Offseason Journal: Winter Ball

The offseason is a time for a player to enjoy a break from the grind of a professional season. Although players love the game, they also know that being so focused is taxing. You are away from family, you miss major events in their lives and you barely have time for everyday life. It is a sacrifice worth making for that goal of building a major league legacy but it comes at a price.

Yet each off-season represents a different moment in time for a player. As they age, this time changes purpose and so do the stages of their career.

In this journal, I want to walk you through the many offseasons of my career to help share what it is like for these Cubs players, or any player, when they step away from the game, expecting to return. Each entry will be a different time stamp, mostly in chronological order of my career. You will read about these events during different off-seasons.

Winter Ball
Free Agency
Loss - My father passed away one off-season
Being Traded
Should I Retire?
Should I Un-Retire?
The Multi-Year Deal
Getting Cut
New Workout

And more....

I hope you will find that these stories capture the emotions of a player's career at a time when they are farthest from it. And maybe, this will help with the waiting until the spring comes around and baseball is here once again!


According to, the 2018 Cubs organization currently features 19 players who are playing winter ball, from the Arizona Fall league to players heading home in Latin America to play in their home countries. This is a standard offseason practice, with varying goals as to what each player is trying to accomplish. In my case, the Arizona Fall League after a season in Double-A became a marker.

I knew that if I could hold my own with the top prospects in minor league baseball, I believed it meant that development from that point would lead to a big-league promotion one day. But I had to put up the numbers. The Fall league would prove to be a watershed moment for me, with a .299 batting average and a player of the week award. Our team lost in the finals, but I had gained a needed boost of confidence that I could play with the best.

Cubs’ top draft pick Nico Hoerner is proving just that, not just to the brass that selected him, but to himself. A .338 batting average against the best of the best is a great start to his career. It may be under the radar to the world, but the Cubs front office is taking notes, as are all the scouts attending these games.

My winter ball experience only began in the Arizona Fall League. It continued in a last-minute roster move by the Cubs director of instruction, Tom Gamboa, while I was training in the Cubs Instructional league one off-season. Gamboa saw that my Triple-A stat line did not match the ability he heard about and now was seeing, so in a leap of faith, he jump-started my flatlining career with an opportunity to play in Puerto Rico for his team in Mayaguez.

But he reminded me that this was not just fun and games. “This is not just development, we are playing to win,” he told me. Although I was working on taking more pitches and being a better base stealer, we also needed to win. It may have been winter ball for me, but in Puerto Rico, it was their main season. Money was paid, stadiums were filling, and fans expected good baseball, not just someone working on his curveball.

I also knew that this was the fork in the road for my career. I was 25. I was a Triple-A player, working out in instructional league with some 18-to-20-year olds (including Kerry Wood, who was newly drafted). I was running out of chances and I needed this winter ball to go well, exceptionally well. Despite my tension with my manager in Iowa, there would be no cover for how I performed in Puerto Rico.

It would turn out that Puerto Rico was where I broke through. I felt completely at home with the culture and the people. My father was of Caribbean descent and it felt like I belonged and the people treated me like family.

Before I even played one game there, I knew I had gained a support system that would only aid my development. It made me understand how difficult it must be for players who are from the Dominican or Venezuela, venturing out for the first time in the United States with language barriers and cultural adjustments to make before they pick up a ball. It is stressful to perform, let alone to do so in a foreign place.

Puerto Rico was not so foreign to me, being a commonwealth of the US, but it was a change. Cold showers, an apartment with little hot water, no AC, no phone or TV. To some degree I chose that, in the spirit of Kris Bryant, who celebrates being uncomfortable as a way to gain focus. To inspire and motivate through scarcity, given the incentive to work your way out of a tough space.

In the end, the simplicity of how I chose to live in Puerto Rico (and I had an option to live in a resort that I rejected) was the best choice I made. Baseball was the focal point and it paid off.

Two years in Puerto Rico yielded the best I could have hoped for in that time. I walked away with an MVP trophy that first year (beating out Roberto Alomar in the vote), led the league in hits, two All-Star appearances and the top team prize, winning the championship in year two. One year we knocked off the San Juan team that had many members of the Puerto Rican Dream Team, which had included Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez, Bernie Williams, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Baerga, and Hector Villanueva, to name a few.

There are experiences in baseball that are non-linear in nature. On paper, professional baseball is just a progression. You go from the draft to A-ball to AA-ball, to AAA-ball to the show. We think that is it. Straightforward. Yet it is full of unpredictability.

You need a sponsor, you need a shot of confidence no matter how high a pick you were, you need to stay healthy, you need to step outside your comfort zone to deal with adversity in a game that, figuratively and literally, throws you curveballs all the time.

I would return to the mainland United States, feeling a mix of accomplishment, hope, vindication and drive. I calculated that since the beginning of spring training two years prior to the completion of my Puerto Rico run, I had been involved in nearly 500 games (spring training, regular season, winter ball, playoffs, repeat). I finally felt like I was delivering on my first-round pick pedigree after some tough years.

On my return, I would be greeted by Ed Lynch, the GM of the Cubs. In one meeting, he planted a small reminder of the work still to be done. Although my success in Puerto Rico was an accomplishment, he challenged, “now, let’s see if you can do it in championship season here.” A sobering reminder of how baseball is a game of todays. Good work, nice trophy, now do it again.

Winter ball, for me, was transformational. Not only did it change my game, but it changed me. All of the things that do not appear in the stat column mattered. I made lifelong friends (my manager in Puerto Rico, Tom Gamboa, spoke at my wedding), I have a goddaughter in Puerto Rico, I had a broken heart from the hurricanes that devastated the island, knowing nearly every inch of it from driving every other day to games for two full off-seasons.

Many years after our championship season, I returned with a friend to a game in my team’s stadium. It was like I never left. The warmth, the welcome. And even more powerful was the time after that, 20 years after my last game there, when I ran into a security guard at the mall that used to drive with me and my teammate to games when he was 18. Time stopped, and we recognized each other, instantly. I have so much love for my time there.

While we review the top news of the major league team, Addison Russell, Theo Epstein, Cole Hamels, luxury taxes, and hitting coaches, let’s remember that there are a handful of players perfecting their craft, many far away from home. They are just trying to get better, so they are the best they can be, when and if the opportunity knocks on their door.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.