As interim manager for a going-nowhere California Angels team in 1996, Joe Maddon walked into the clubhouse just before game time and couldn’t believe what he saw.
“A guy sleeping on a couch,” Maddon said. “So I had the TVs yanked. The TVs were gone (the next day).”
The Cubs have at least nine TVs in their new Wrigley Field locker room, and that’s only a small part of a 30,000 square-foot clubhouse footprint that trails only the New York Yankees for biggest in The Show. The media got its first look — at least at the few sections that aren’t off-limits to reporters — before Monday night’s 5-3 home-opener win over the Cincinnati Reds.
“I think I’ve grown as a manager, as a person since then,” Maddon said. “I really have a lot of faith in our guys. If we weren’t to be playing well at home — I don’t think it’s going to be directly related to anything that’s going on in that room.
“That’s an easy connection of the dots that I believe has nothing to do with anything. I believe in the professionalism of our guys. I just spoke about how relentless they are in their prep for the first pitch of the game. I anticipate that to (stay) the same.
“If anything were to go wrong, everybody’s immediately going to point to the soft nature or whatever you want to call it. I’m here to tell you that would not be the case. The case would be that we’re not catching the ball well or that the other team’s playing better than us.”
Or as first baseman Anthony Rizzo said: “At the end of the day, once you step on that line, it doesn’t matter if you’re out there in a parking lot, you got to play baseball.
“Now we’re in a country club.”
If anything, the state-of-the-art facility could help the Cubs play better and feel more prepared. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein rattled off all the shiny new toys beyond the batting cage and weight room: hyperbaric chamber, cryotherapy, float tank, underwater treadmill, infrared/steam saunas.
“It’s everything you could ever imagine to help you get ready for a game,” Epstein said, “and help you recover after a game and on and on and on. When you are surrounded by nice things and high standards, it makes you want to raise your own level. It makes you want to come to work. It makes you want to hang out with your teammates. It’s a wonderful place.”
In addition to building The Jake Arrieta Pilates Room, the Cy Young Award winner also requested air-hockey and ping-pong tables and pop-a-shot games.
The Cubs also created a Dance Party/Celebration Room for the postgame blowouts that couldn’t have endeared them to visiting clubhouse attendants across the National League last season.
“It’s about time,” Maddon said. “We walked in last night, and it was in full force. It was blaring, and the lights were on. It was pretty spectacular. We’ve talked about this, and sometimes people get upset. But I really believe (in it). I love the celebration.
“Every win, I think, is a big part of the camaraderie or the unity of the group. You’re not discrediting anybody else. It’s just about your group having a good time. Again, don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure of the moment. All of that stuff is encapsulated in that one particular room right there.”
How/when/if the Cubs strike their TV megadeal will probably be the greatest equalizer in their pursuit of free agents. But players are constantly texting each other, and a clubhouse like this should help attract even more talent.
“It’s a great recruiting device,” Maddon said. “Beyond the city itself, beyond the organization, the ballpark, the team, (it’s having) this kind of a facility here that speaks — or screams — to the player and also to the players’ families.”