Cubs

John Lackey analyzes his first spring start in typical John Lackey fashion

John Lackey analyzes his first spring start in typical John Lackey fashion

MESA, Ariz. — A reporter joked with Joe Maddon Tuesday morning that John Lackey would probably just come out in his first spring start and throw 25 fastballs, to which the Cubs manager laughed and agreed.

That's almost exactly how it played out at Sloan Park Tuesday afternoon in an exhibition against Team Italy (meaning the stats don't count toward official Cactus League stats, which also don't really "count").

Lackey tossed approximately 30 pitches in two innings in his spring debut, throwing only one breaking ball and the rest fastballs.

Since this game didn't count (not that other spring training games do, of course) and because Lackey is the king of one-liners and has been through this song-and-dance in spring training so many times before (15, to be exact), let's just hear the one-of-a-kind 38-year-old break down his own debut:

Feel

How did he feel his first time out?

"I felt good," Lackey said. "Obviously, the first one out of the gate, just trying to throw some fastballs and build up the arm strength and it's a good one to keep moving forward on."

Lackey said the first couple starts at this point in the year are always about building up arm strength after a winter off.

"That's pretty much it. Honestly, the first couple times, the pregame warmup is almost more important than what happens in the game. I'm working on things in the 'pen and when you get in the game, just firing some fastballs, trying to get that arm strength going."

Stuff

Did he analyze his stuff on the radar gun?

*shrugs* "I don't look at the gun in June."

Pitch count

Does he know how many pitches he threw?

"Doesn't matter. Whatever. I got about a month to go before it matters."

So he doesn't know the number of pitches?

"Make something up. Who cares?"

Age

At age 38, the guy who said he would announce his retirement simply by not showing up the next season is still out here to compete.

He said at this point in his career, he enjoys going to team dinners and hanging out in the clubhouse and ragging on guys, but he could do without the shagging of flyballs during batting practice and won't miss the workouts.

"The between starts get harder as you get older," he said. "The workouts and that kinda stuff. But when you're out on the field competing, that's still a lot of fun. The other stuff is a little tougher the older you get. But it's necessary for you to compete at a high level."

He also said he feels better now — after the Tommy John surgery he had in 2011 — than he did before the procedure.

Opponent

Does he like pitching in exhibition games as the opposition gets geared up to play in the World Baseball Classic?

"Honestly, it's spring training. It doesn't matter who's up there. I kinda got a routine on what I do from my first start, the second start and the last probably two starts before the season, I'll pitch pretty much with everything and then go get 'em."

World Series swag

A pair of World Series boots created a murmur at Cubs camp Tuesday morning:

As if anybody needed confirmation: Yes, Lackey did get a pair of those boots.

"Of course I did," he said. "I'm not even sure how many pair of boots I have, honestly."

Lackey also has a similar pair after winning the World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2013.

As for his Cubs World Series ring once he gets that next month, he will not prominently display it. That piece of jewelry will go in a box in his closet...along with his regular wedding ring (he wears a rubber one most of the time, like most athletes due to lifting and on-field activities), the Red Sox championship ring and the 2002 World Series ring with the Angels.

"I got a rubber wedding ring, for goodness' sake. I'm not a huge, flasy kinda guy. It's gonna be awesome to have, for sure. If I'm going to a wedding or I have to put on a tux, I'll wear one of 'em. That's about it."

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

The seventh-inning stretch is a sacred tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray passionately performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every home game during his tenure as Cubs radio play-by-play man, previously doing so late in his tenure with the White Sox.

Caray died in 1998 and the Cubs have continued the tradition in his honor ever since, using a rotating cast of celebrities and former players as guest conductors. Last season, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster performed at the Friendly Confines.

Some renditions are more memorable than others, though not in an endearing way like Cookie Monster’s. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon sang 15 years ago Sunday, and not only did he refer to the ballpark as “Wrigley Stadium,” but also was off pace and didn’t really know the lyrics altogether.

Cubs fans showered Gordon with a chorus of boos, to which all he could do was chuckle and finish as fast as possible. 

Singing in front of 40,000 people isn’t easy, so it’s hard to be too tough on those whose appearances go awry. Nevertheless, guest singers know what they’re signing up for. On the anniversary of Gordon’s performance, here are five more of Wrigley’s worst in recent memory.

Mike Ditka — June 5, 1998

Well, Ditka certainly provided some energy. “Da Coach” didn’t take a breath in his 26-second blaring performance; perhaps he was winded from rushing up to the booth, to which he arrived a few moments late.

Ozzy Osbourne — Aug. 17, 2003

This isn’t a ranking of bad performances, but Osbourne sits atop the leaderboard anyhow. The Black Sabbath vocalist started off singing “Let’s go out to the ball game” before breaking into a mumble streak of made-up words. The look on Kerry Wood’s face summarizes things well.

Mr. T — May 25, 2009

It didn’t sound too good, but it sure was enthusiastic. Way to do your thing, Mr. T.

David Cross — Sept. 21, 2013

Hard to say what Cross, a stand-up comedian and actor, was going for here. He starred in three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films and, fittingly, screeched into the mic a couple of times. Maybe it was all in jest? He ended his rendition by saying, “That was awful. I’m so sorry.” 

Scottie Pippen — Oct. 22, 2016

Pippen performed the stretch in the biggest game in Cubs history (at that point) — the pennant-clincher in 2016. The Bulls Hall-of-Famer was on tune to start before mixing up lyrics, then passing the mic to the animated Wrigley crowd. 

We’ll give Pippen a slight pass here, considering he brought six championships to Chicago during his playing days.  

With that, I'll leave you with this:

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