Let's face it, laying a foundation is no fun. It's painful at times. It makes you start to wonder if you'll ever reach your ultimate goal or fret about just how long it's going to take to get there. But, it's necessary. Nobody wants a house built of cards. Perhaps it's why Cubs manager Dale Sveum seems so even-keeled about his team's failings this year. There's frustration, yes, but there's no ranting and raving, no tirades to speak of.
"It's not easy to lose ballgames on a consistent basis and still keep an attitude of work ethic and preparation," lamented Sveum before the Cubs-Tigers series finale on Thursday. "That's all you can ask for."
And so Sveum methodically goes about building a winning culture based on teaching players how to play the game the right way, how to prepare for success so when it comes, it will be automatic. But the biggest factor in that cultural equation is accountability. It's something the Cubs insist on and it's something Sveum is mandating without exception.
"You're building something to where it's (mistakes) not acceptable," said Sveum emphatically. "You're accountable for everything you do, even talking to the media after making a blunder. That's part of your job, to be accountable after a game when things don't go well. That's what you try to produce. That's the way we do things here and if you don't want to do them that way, we'll get somebody else."
As a working member of the media, that's music to my ears. Getting a player to talk after a poor performance in any sport can be difficult. Even the Miami Heat don't require Lebron James and Dwayne Wade to face the music after a loss. The two are notorious for blowing off the post-game press conference. But there was Joe Mather after Wednesday night's loss, standing at his locker fielding questions about the error he made in the 6th inning that could have been the difference in helping Matt Garza to his first win since April 29th.
In fact, this whole Cubs way is kind of refreshing. Veteran players taking early infield practice at 3 o'clock, a good hour or so before batting practice. Extra long practice on Thursday, a day game after a night game when most teams opt out due to the short turnaround.
"I just believe those are certain things that need to be done on a constant basis," replied Sveum when asked about it. "The bottom-line is trying to get better in every situation."
It won't translate into any measurable results just yet, but even a small semblance of progress is encouraging and that's what's keeping Sveum from losing his cool when the going gets tough.
"It's a reality that we're building, setting a tone and building an organization," said Sveum matter-of-factly. "You're setting a precedent that we've got to build an organization to where that's going to happen every year, that we're going to win 90-plus games and have a chance of being in the postseason. Then your chances of winning a World Series go up and that's the ultimate goal."
In the meantime, the Cubs sit 20-games below .500. President Theo Epstein is backing up the truck as trade talks heat up. New hitting coach James Rowson is charged with conveying the 'selectively aggressive' approach to his struggling hitters and Sveum continues to lay one brick at a time, a tedious process that will ultimately pay off.
Laying the foundation isn't fun, but from the looks of the sellout crowd at Wrigley for the Tigers series, fans are willing to watch the Cubs build from the ground up with the promise of grand ambitions filling the air.
"That day is going to come," promises Sveum. "Where winning every game is life or death to get to the postseason. We're going to win 90-plus games every season and not have to rebuild again."