Cubs

Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

No current player understands what it means to be a Cub more than Matt Szczur.

The 2010 fifth-round pick has been here longer than Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon, just to name a few. 

And entering his eighth year with the organization, Szczur is already in Cubs history forever as one of thd guys who helped end the 108-year championship drought.

So how did the Cubs finally shed that "Lovable Losers" label and win it all? The key may be in Szczur's perspective.

"Winning the World Series is a dream come true, obviously," Szczur said. "If you ask a lot of these guys, it wouldn't matter what team. But being the Cubs, it's really special, just because of the drought for 108 years. As far as wrapping [my head] around it, I don't think we think like that. We just go out there and we're just trying to win every day. It's just hard to explain how I feel as a baseball player.

"It's awesome to win the World Series and to win with the Cubs, but as far as putting it in perspective, just winning the World Series is awesome. But that's what we're here to do. We're here to win; we're here to accomplish those feats.

"It's like the first time you get called up to the big leagues. People are like, 'Wow, what is it like?' But you've been playing [baseball] for so long, it's just another day. So winning the World Series with the Cubs — it's awesome, but that's what we're here to do.

"For me, that's the best way I can describe it. To put it in perspective as far as the Cubs not winning in 108 years, we don't think like that. As baseball players, we're here to win, every day."

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Szczur said he doesn't think the 2016 Cubs had any issues with "Cubbie Occurrences" or curses or anything even remotely in that category mainly because they didn't feel any added pressure. They didn't let any outside noise seep into the clubhouse and disrupt the mojo that was formed from the most talented roster in Major League Baseball and the confidence that came with the league's best regular season record.

As a two-sport star at Villanova, the former wide receiver has been in his fair share of locker rooms and called the Cubs World Series-winning clubhouse one of the best he's ever been a part of.

Szczur played only a small role in the Cubs' championship in terms of on-field stats, but his impact loomed large behind the scenes.

The 27-year-old outfielder was one of the top pinch hitters in baseball in the 2016 regular season and was not on the active roster in any of the three postseason series, replaced by Albert Almora Jr.

But as Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell broke out of their prolonged slumps at the turn of the tide in the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, there was Szczur in a supporting role: lending Rizzo his bat and Russell his leggings.

"He's such a good teammate," manager Joe Maddon said. "You saw that last year; you saw how the guys gravitated toward him. He's not on the playoff rosters but he's with us and he's on the top step constantly.

"It's just who he is. It is the football mentality, but it's also him. This is a pretty good human being."

As the roster crunch starts to heat up with spring training coming to a close, will Szczur have a spot on these Cubs? He's out of options so he cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without passing through waivers and as a proven bench/role player, his value at the big-legaue level is apparent. 

But Szczur didn't come to Cubs camp with any sort of chip on his shoulder.

"I don't think like that," he said. "I just want to win. I feel like guys that want to win takes care of itself.

"I'll do anything to win. I won't cheat, but as far as on the field and what they ask me to do, that's just how I play."

Maddon sees that, too.

"Totally. He's been that guy his whole life," Maddon said. "Wherever he's played — I would imagine you talk to the Villanova football coaches and they'd tell you the same thing. You could go back to his high school days.

"He's just a different cat. The way he approaches life in general; he's just so sincere about everything and everybody he comes in contact with. No doubt.

"Here's a guy that's still trying to establish himself as an everyday player in the big leagues, but he's there for everybody else all the time. Just a different animal, man."

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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