Marlon Byrd steps back into the arena


Marlon Byrd steps back into the arena

MESA, Ariz. It took two sittings, nine hours total, for Marlon Byrd to get the tattoo on his right arm. The words are from Theodore Roosevelts The Man in the Arena, a 1910 speech Byrd reads every year before the season starts.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood

Byrd wanted a reminder, which he paired with an image of a coliseum. It was part of an offseason makeover in which the Cubs outfielder lost around 20 pounds after seeing a specialist in New York.

Byrd who has long been obsessive about his preparation and routine discovered food allergies and symptoms of celiac disease.

The transformation really happened all around the Cubs organization. Theo Epstein is in charge of the front office, Dale Sveum is the third manager in the past three years and Byrd is one of a few established veterans still remaining.

I have to go play the game, thats it, Byrd said. Ive trained all offseason, so I dont have to think about (anything else except going) all out. For this organization, a sense of urgency? No, we have everything in place.

(Chairman) Tom Ricketts made the moves right after the season ended and brought the new regime in. Youve seen what (Theos) done, everything hes put in place. Those guys are workers. Were going to have a staff where you come in (and) go play, thats it.

Its a different feeling around here, and its a good feeling.

This is a team that waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, who combined for 57 homers and 173 RBIs last season. Sveum plans to bat David DeJesus leadoff, and probably Bryan LaHair cleanup, but its wide open after that.

An All-Star in 2010, Byrd never really got on track last season, which was interrupted for six weeks after a fastball fractured his face at Fenway Park. He finished at .276 with nine homers and 35 RBIs. Hes another potential bounce-back player on a roster filled with them.

Put me in the lineup, thats it, Byrd said. Im going to dictate where I am by the way Im hitting.

Byrd is entering the final season of a three-year, 15 million contract, and he will be pushed by outfield prospect Brett Jackson. Its time to enter the arena again.

I dont want to go anywhere, Byrd said. I came to Chicago for a reason and that was to help them win. I havent done that yet. I have a lot to accomplish here and I just have to go out there and do what I can to help this team win. And if they want me here, Im definitely going to be here.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound


Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.