Cubs

How the stars aligned for Cubs: Rizzo, Bryant, Arrieta, Maddon

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How the stars aligned for Cubs: Rizzo, Bryant, Arrieta, Maddon

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Cubs took over Disneyland territory and made a Los Angeles Angels cast headlined by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols feel like The Other Team.

The Arizona Diamondbacks might not be an afterthought on Thursday night at Chase Field, but the Cubs have no other choice except to “Embrace The Target” for the next 160 games. Sweeping the Angels by a 15-1 aggregate score and hearing fans sing “Go Cubs Go” on their way out to the parking lots showed what could be ahead this season.

Before the Cubs became Revenants on a Sports Illustrated cover, the last time they played at Angel Stadium of Anaheim was June 4-5, 2013. That’s a jumping-off point for how the stars aligned for what had been a star-crossed franchise.

• Anthony Rizzo: During the first offseason for the Theo Epstein administration in Chicago, the Cubs looked at Pujols and Prince Fielder and pictured the first basemen on a stock chart. The front-office projections had Rizzo’s performance eventually rising to the point where he would pass Pujols and Fielder as they inevitably declined in their later years.

The Cubs still don’t have the kind of TV contract that led the Angels to splurge on a 10-year, $254 million megadeal for Pujols at the 2011 winter meetings. One month later, Cubs executives who knew Rizzo from their time together with the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres looked beyond his struggles at Petco Park, giving up hard-throwing/injury-prone pitcher Andrew Cashner.

Rizzo may never come close to matching what Pujols did for the St. Louis Cardinals (two World Series rings, three MVP awards) or finding the level of consistency that allowed the future Hall of Famer to earn 10 All-Star selections and hit 40 homers in his age-35 season last year.

But Rizzo is clearly the player to build around now — at a fraction of the cost — while Pujols tries to stay healthy and transition into being a part-time designated hitter. Rizzo is a Gold Glove-level defender coming off a 31-homer, 101-RBI season, and the team has taken on his personality, striking the right balance between goofy and serious.

“We’re really hungry,” Rizzo said. “If anyone in this clubhouse is thinking about the World Series right now, we’re in the wrong spot. We need to think about tomorrow, winning the game (and) dominating April.”

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• Kris Bryant: Before Darwin Barney batted leadoff on June 5, 2013 in Orange County, the Cubs had already eliminated University of North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran from consideration for the No. 2 overall pick they couldn’t whiff on, leaving two pitchers and a fast-rising hitter still in the conversation.

As the draft unfolded the next day, the Houston Astros selected Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel with the top pick, giving the Cubs their shot at the University of San Diego slugger who led the nation in homers, runs scored, walks and slugging percentage.

Jon Gray — the University of Oklahoma right-hander who dropped to No. 3 — put up a 5.53 ERA in nine starts for the Colorado Rockies last year. The Astros packaged Appel (5.12 ERA in the minors) in the Ken Giles trade with the Philadelphia Phillies this winter. Houston had already acquired Moran — the sixth overall pick who spent last year at the Double-A level — from the Miami Marlins in the Jarred Cosart trade at the 2014 deadline.

Meanwhile, all lines are open at Bryzzo Souvenir Co.

“This could be a very special thing that we have here,” said Bryant, already an All-Star third baseman and a Rookie of the Year. “But we just really need to focus on this year and not really get too ahead of ourselves. There are so many things that can happen in this game. We’re here focusing on today.”

• Jake Arrieta: The pitching infrastructure that just helped shut down Trout and Pujols (0-for-15 with five strikeouts) had already been in place by June 4, 2013, when sign-and-flip guy Scott Feldman got a tough-luck no-decision in a one-run loss to the Angels.

Five weeks later, the Cubs sold high on Feldman (7-6, 3.46 ERA) and shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for change-of-scenery pitchers Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

Arrieta’s unconventional workout routine/nutrition regimen has been covered at length, and there are almost two full seasons left to place over-under bets ($200 million) on how much super-agent Scott Boras will get his client in free agency.

But in listening to a Cy Young Award winner explain how to attack the Angels, it’s also clear how much Arrieta enjoys thinking about his craft and preparing for each start. Meaning there are intangible benefits to his presence and reasons to believe he will keep performing at a high level.

“Trout’s a guy who is exceptional at hitting the ball down in the zone really well for power,” Arrieta said, “both to the pull side and to right-center field. So you got to move the ball away from him and into him — to kind of keep him from getting extended — and elevate from time to time. Remaining unpredictable is really big against guys like him (and) Pujols (who) hit the fastball well.

“I expect to pitch this way every time I take the mound. Obviously, once the ball leaves your hand, you can’t dictate the results. But I expect to execute at a pretty high percentage. If I execute — and pound the strike zone with my stuff and keep them guessing — I have a pretty good opportunity to have another good year.”

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• Joe Maddon: The Cubs lucked out when Andrew Friedman bolted from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season and took a president’s job with the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing the star manager to use the escape clause in his contract.

But Maddon still knows the groundskeeper by name in Anaheim and appreciates what he learned during his three-plus decades in the Angels organization. Places like Gene Autry Park and Idaho Falls — and the long climb to the top — shaped him into the perfect ringleader for this circus.

“I really trust our players,” Maddon said. “When you talk about pressure and expectations, understand it’s spread out among the whole group. It’s not just on one guy. We have so many good players here. A lot of them have been through the baseball wars before where they’ve been very successful. We’re going to have our rough moments. (But) we have the ability – mentally, physically – to fight through those moments.

“If you factor in everything, experience, talent level, motivation — because all of them want to be here to become part of the first team that wins the World Series for the Cubs in a long, long time — there are so many good things here to repel pressure and expectations.”

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

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AP

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

There have been 1,052 players in MLB history born in Illinois (or at least that’s how many we know of).  And of those players, the one with the most home runs is… Jim Thome with 612.  But the player who’s second; the player who had the “record” prior to Thome was Gary Gaetti with 360. 

Gary Gaetti homered in his MLB Debut (in his first at-bat) on September 20, 1981 for the Twins.  As a rookie the following season he hit 25 long ones. He was a mainstay at the hot corner for the Twins in the 1980s, winning four Gold Gloves (1986-89) with two All-Star selections (1988-89).  He was part of the 1987 World Champions (and was ALCS MVP).  By the time the Twins won their second World Series in 1991, Gaetti was in California with the Angels.  In 1995 at age 36 he had a renaissance for the Royals with 35 home runs and collected his lone career Silver Slugger before moving onto the Cardinals for the next few seasons. 

After being released by the Birds in mid-1998, Gaetti arrived on the North Side where he hit 17 home runs in 150 games (in 1998-99). In that 1998 season, he was a teammate of both Mark McGwire (who hit 70 HR for the Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (who hit 66 HR for the Cubs). He remains the last player age 40 or older to homer in a Cubs uniform (all 17 of his home runs with the Cubs came after he turned 40).  Gaetti even made an appearance on the mound for the Cubs to close out what would end up a 21-8 rout at the hands of the Phillies on July 3, 1999 at the Vet.  He allowed two runs, including a solo home run by Marlon Anderson and an RBI triple by Doug Glanville. Gaetti concluded his MLB career with five games for the Red Sox in 2000.

After his retirement as a player, Gaetti had some coaching gigs in the minors and majors. In 2012, when 50-year old Roger Clemens came back to make two starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, Gary Gaetti was the manager, as he was three years later when 50-year old Rafael Palmeiro played a game for the Skeeters. Gaetti led the team to the Atlantic League championship in 2016.

Quite a career.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

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AP

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

My mom’s father, my grandfather, in his North Carolina accent, used to ask me nearly every time I saw him.

“You still hittin’ that ball?!?!”

He knew my brother took extensive time to groom me in the game of baseball as soon as I could walk. So he recognized early on that my passion for the game only grew with time. So when he passed away during the offseason nearing midnight into Dec. 23, 1997, it was tough. I could no longer answer his question with a baseball career update.

He passed away in the same hospital where the legendary Negro League player, Buck Leonard, would pass away less than a month sooner. It is just so happened that Leonard’s passing coincided with the day my grandfather was first admitted into the same facility. I took it as a sign as I reviewed baseball and family history thinking about how I could honor my grandfather through both.

1997 was not the offseason I had envisioned. After coming off my breakthrough major league season, my first full season as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, I had hit .300 and earned a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day. We had an exit meeting that year in the Astrodome. Cubs general manager at the time, Ed Lynch, was blunt and honest.

He explained very clearly that the organization tried to give the everyday job to “everyone else but you,” but was complimentary in how I was able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

I was a speedy center fielder that was in left field for most of the season after a revolving door of our top outfield prospects didn’t quite do enough to lock down the every day role. A platoon gave me a chance to play against lefties, which grew into against righties too.

The talent was deep from my vantage point: Ozzie Timmons, Robin Jennings, Pedro Valdes, Brant Brown, Brooks Kieschnick, Scott Bullet and so on. There were a ton of a good outfielders, and when the smoke cleared, I was the one holding the starter trophy. I was hoping the offseason was a time where I could cement that status as a Chicago Cub.

So I went into the offsseason with hope. Hope that only strengthened while I was on Lake Shore Drive and heard Ed Lynch on the radio talking about my season and how the expansion of the league (1998 the league added the Rays and the D-Backs) was going to force him to make tough decisions about who to protect from the expansion draft.

He conceded that I would be seeking a significant raise after my season. Then, the minimum salary was $109,000 (I made a little more than that in year two) and because of my strong year as a second season player, Lynch was making a reasonable conclusion. I knew my agent was happy.

My grandfather’s health had been declining over time, so his passing was not a shock, but before I fully digested the loss, the phone rang around 12 hours after I got word that he was gone. Who was calling?

I took the call in the basement of my parent’s house. This was while I was in the midst of a sea of unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn all over the ping pong table, the main wrapping station in the Glanville household during the holidays. My first thought was it must be my mom, who was in North Carolina pivoting from savoring his last hours to working on funeral arrangements. My brother was with her. It already was an awkward holiday from our geographically broken family.

It was Ed Lynch on the line, telling me that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

What?

I fielded all of the media calls the rest of that day. It was an all-day affair. Between the fresh news of my grandfather’s passing, the shock of being traded after finally breaking through as a starter, and the exhaustion at the idea of learning a new organization, I was not that thrilled.

In fact, one member of the Philadelphia press core finally asked me why I was sounding so unenthusiastic about being traded to the team I loved growing up as a kid. So I had to tell him about my grandfather’s passing and the reality sinking in that I was about to celebrate my first family Christmas with our nuclear family broken into pieces.

For the first time during the holidays, there was this divider in my family. Separated by life’s harsh terms. My father and I were home and my mother and brother were not. My dad and I celebrated at a long-standing friend’s house, a thousand miles from my mom and big bro, and a million miles away from truly accepting that I had been traded.

I had just completed my sophomore year in Major League Baseball and it was a moment when I felt like I had figured out some of my mechanics of the game. I was learning how to be consistent, learning the ropes about managing life in season and now offseason.

I was being traded to a team whose organization brought me great joy in 1980 as a die hard fan, a place where I could start in center field, but this was different. This was the business of baseball. The day I became a movable commodity, traded away for present value in Mickey Morandini. The Phillies were betting on my next chapter being my best years.

Can they do that? Just trade me away without asking me? Of course they can. Wait, why can they?

My 1980s memories of that Phillies championship was more than about the trophy. It framed an era. By my following that team since I was five or six, I saw that team build, I pulled my hair out when the Dodgers kept knocking them out in the ‘77 and ‘78 NLCS. But most of all, they had the same personnel. A core of players, nearly untradeable. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and so on. They were practically glued together for several seasons.

But in the modern game of the late '90s, that dream of being drafted by a team, growing up with that organization, winning with the Cubs and retiring a Cub was no longer possible. That was how the game was evolving.

Although I was a big leaguer, I still was a fan. I still was caught off-guard even after I knew the Cubs protected me in the expansion draft. I understood that at all times, lurking were many ways in the game where I could change teams. Some voluntary, most not.

I realized that the offseason was not just this big training session to get ready for the next season. It was also a chess match of competing value. What you are worth versus what you think you are worth. The 2018 Cubs have many players asking that question. Will Kyle Schwarber be traded? Will Kris Bryant sign?

All players will experience life hitting them in the face when they least expect it. During that downtime, the reflection time, the break. That is why it can sting so much. And loss spares no one in this game, even after you hit .300. The rumors alone can eat you up.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral and reunite with my mom and brother days after the trade. I took a moment during the time with family to make one simple declaration to the sky above.

“Granddad, I am still hitting that ball.”

Just this year, instead of Cubs blue, I would be wearing Phillies red.