Cubs

Miguel Montero: Cubs have to believe #WeAreGood

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Miguel Montero: Cubs have to believe #WeAreGood

Miguel Montero doesn't want to hear that the Cubs don't have momentum.

When a reporter tried to ask Montero a question about how the winner of Game 5 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets may be riding the high of that victory into the NLCS, the Cubs catcher put a halt to the question early.

"So are we. We're really hot," Montero said.

Thats pretty fitting for a guy who has used a simple hashtag to unite a fanbase and help give a young, inexperienced team the confidence it needs.

[RELATED - Cubs vs. Mets NLCS Preview: Young pitching vs. young hitting]

Montero's #WeAreGood hashtag has gone viral and become the rallying cry for a team that really started to find its groove in early August and has been the hottest team in baseball since.

The 32-year-old veteran just wanted to send a positive message to his team. He had no idea it would catch on like it did.

"The fans here, they're very supportive and I remember we lost a couple of games in a row, so you start reading your Twitters from the fans and they're like, 'oh, here it comes again,'" Montero said.

"I just wanted to send a message to our team pretty much. I want to let them know what I feel about our team and what I believe about every single guy in our clubhouse. If we don't believe that we are good or not, we're not going to have a chance. So we have to believe it to actually accomplish the goal.

"I came up with [#WeAreGood]. I never thought it was going to actually have the hit that it has, and you know, guys started believing. Even the fans believe it, and right now, I guess it's a pretty good business."

[RELATED - Jorge Soler showing Cubs why he thrives on playoff pressure]

Montero is in his first year with the Cubs and said he really didn't expect to have this kind of relationship with the fanbase already.

But he appreciates the spirit and intelligence of Cubs fans and clearly enjoys interacting with the fanbase on Twitter.

"Cubs fans are amazing," he said. "They're diehard fans. It's fun to play in front of this crowd. It's fun to spend time here and watch the passion for the game, the passion for the team. I'm proud to be a Cub and proud to actually contribute for the fans.

"I just do my job. I don't try to do anything outside the box to impress anybody. I just try to do what I do, play the game the right way, respect the game and give my 100 percent every time I go out.

"The real fans will know and they will appreciate. That's what you see here. They really know about the game and they know who plays the game hard and with passion and they appreciate it."

Before he came to Chicago, Montero spent more than eight years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, earning two trips to the All-Star Game. He's been through the postseason before, losing to the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS in 2007 and the Milwuakee Brewers in the NLDS in 2011.

On a team filled with a bunch of kids, Montero is one of the veteran voices in the clubhouse who has been through this all before. He knows how to endure the mental and emotional fatigue.

Montero buys into Joe Maddon's statement that playoffs bring its own energy.

"I don't believe in guys getting tired this time of year, even though they've got 170 games played already," Montero said. "It's just a different adrenaline in your body."

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

Montero doesn't think the Cubs even gain that much by having a couple days off while the Mets had to travel to and from LA to play a grinding winner-take-all Game 5 just to get ready to host the Cubs Saturday night in New York.

"I dunno, man. I think [the time off] is overrated," Montero said. "We just gotta go out and play, regardless of if we're tired or not. There's always going to be an excuse for somebody, right? I don't like to make excuses."

As for the history of this Cubs' run, Montero doesn't want to hear anything about a goat or a curse or a black cat or a fan reaching for a foul ball.

"I don't even want to know any of that," Montero said. "I don't believe in any of that. I don't care if it's a fan thing or not. It's just belief in what we're building here and what we're going to and that's all I worry about.

"I don't want to believe in superstition; I'm not superstitious. If we play good, we win. If we play bad, we lose."

Sounds simple enough, right?

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.