Pythons, magicians, breakdancing, power sources and 'The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time'

Pythons, magicians, breakdancing, power sources and 'The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time'

It's official: Anthony Rizzo is the latest magician to enter the Cubs clubhouse. 

Though, we've known his propensity for magic for a while:

Joe Maddon is a huge fan of mixing things up for his teams from the monotony of an exceptionally-long season. That's why he brings in zoo animals or magicians or any of his "Madd Scientist" drills.

Tuesday, he decided to employ Rizzo as the "distraction" of sorts by taking the slugger from the heart of the Cubs order to the top.

Thus marked the second run of "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

"I really thought we needed something like a 20-foot python, a magician or a breakdancer in the clubhouse, so instead, I chose to hit Rizzo leadoff," Maddon said. "I thought it might pick the boys up a little bit. Tough series against Milwaukee. I didn't think we were on top of our game [Monday]."

It worked immediately, as Rizzo sent the first pitch from Rockies starter Jon Gray high into the night sky and out into the first couple rows of the left-field bleachers for a wind-aided homer (StatCast predicted only a hit percentage of only 1 percent on the ball). But that was all for Rizzo, as he grounded out twice and popped out his other three times up.

"Obviously i got a little lucky there with the wind," Rizzo said. "You go up there, it's 2-0, you should probably take a pitch, but Joe put me up there to swing and hit. Just go up there loose and have fun."

The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn't manage another run Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies.

Before Maddon wrote out the lineup card, the Cubs woke up Tuesday riding the high of a five-game winning streak, but the offense was certainly not firing on all cylinders over that stretch — setting a franchise record for wins in a row while scoring 3 runs or less in each game.

Rizzo also has been mired in a season-long slump sandwiched around a stint on the disabled list for a low back issue. He finished Tuesday's game with a .154 batting average and .489 OPS in 78 at-bats.

Maddon also wanted to give Albert Almora Jr. and Javy Baez — who have been filling the top of the order the last week-plus — a day off and somebody had to be that "power source" to give the lineup energy from the leadoff spot.

The Cubs' unofficial captain was all for it, smiling and joking at his locker before the game about getting back to the spot he filled admirably in the middle of last season for about a week.

"Probably be a little bit more loose, just leading off," Rizzo said. "It's something I don't get to do all the time."

That's exactly what Maddon's hope was — to loosen Rizzo up. And it worked to an extent.

"The whole thing is [a mental adjustment]," Maddon said. "It's all about the mind. He really hasn't been doing that badly. He's hit the ball pretty well — hitting into the shift decently. He's fouled off his pitch a couple times.

"For the most part, he does like [leading off]. That's a big part of it and he is a big kid. He understands the fun about the game."

As a funny side story, Maddon's protege Davey Martinez decided to run the same gamut with the Nationals lineup Tuesday, leading off Bryce Harper (who also homered). Though, that was more strategy-based in hopes of avoiding intentional walks to Harper.

From a Cubs perspective, it's gotta be a tough look for Rockies picher Jon Gray to immediately start Tuesday's game off by facing the two toughest hitters in the lineup — Rizzo and Kris Bryant — though Gray was unstoppable after Rizzo's leadoff dinger, allowing only two other hits.

Maddon is hoping something light-hearted and fun like this will be the mental reset Rizzo needs to get going.

It's also coming on a perfect day, as the calendar flipping to May and the weather warming up could also be the triggers Rizzo needs. A new month often brings new feelings of hope for baseball players.

"Winning definitly helps cope with [individual struggles]," he said. "In the game of baseball, you have good days, you have bad days, you have good weeks, bad weeks, good months, bad months. I'm hoping to look at April as a quote-unquote best month of just learning, learning what happened.

"Hopefully May 1st is a new story, right?"

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

It’s quite fitting Andy Green’s introduction to Cubs Nation came at the team’s annual fan festival this weekend.

Green, whom the Cubs officially hired as bench coach in December, grew up a Reds fan in his native Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t long before his allegiances changed to one of Cincinnati’s geographic neighbors, however.

“I went to [former Reds ballpark Riverfront Stadium] as a kid at like 5, 6, 7, first time I saw big-league baseball,” Green told NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday. “But my mom took me up to Wrigley at 12 or 13. I was like ‘This is big-league baseball.’

“I switched over allegiances that time as a Cubs fan, watched Ryne Sandberg — Mark Grace was somebody who jumped off the page to me at that point in time. It was late 80s, early 90s.”

After four years managing the Padres, Green’s childhood fandom has come full circle. Now, he’s David Ross’ right-hand man, brought in to use his own experience managing to help the first-year manager adapt to his new position.

When Green took the helm in San Diego in 2016, the Padres were in the thick of a full-scale rebuild. He holds a 274-366 won-loss record, but that isn’t indicative of what he’s bringing to the Cubs dugout.

“Andy so far for me probably [has been] the biggest help for me in directing my thoughts, getting things organized, getting prepared,” Ross said Saturday at a coaching staff panel. “This guy has been through the season, the National League, knows the details of what it takes to lead.

“Obviously, his resume and what he’s done building a young group over in San Diego speaks for itself. Who he is as a person, Andy right off the bat probably [has] been the biggest help for me. Sends me text messages, emails about leading, about coaching. I can’t say enough about this guy, and I’m very blessed to have him next to me in every game. You guys are gonna see a great product, and a lot of my big decisions, I’ll have a great mind next to me helping me make those.”

Green said he’s spent the last few months learning what Ross’ vision is as a manager and how he intends to execute it going forward. Managing games and preparing for them are different beasts, but Green can already see the intangibles that could make Ross successful.

“He’s fun to work with, he’s hungry to win, he can hold people accountable and smile at the same time, which is an unbelievable skillset that I don’t have,” Green said of Ross. “People feel it when I come down on them. They feel love when he comes down on them. He just has that [relatability] that very few people do, and that’s incredibly impressive to me.”

Accountability has been the word of the offseason for the Cubs. After five seasons with Joe Maddon as manager, the club felt it was time for a new voice in the dugout. They hired Ross not only to try and make the team greater than the sum of its parts, but also hold players accountable, putting them in their place and using tough love when needed.

Ross will have a lot on his plate this season, so he'll rely on Green to lead in areas as needed and take a load off his plate.

“For [managers], there’s a large number of tasks that if you have a capable staff, you can just delegate and not even think about,” Green said. “I want to take that kind of stuff off his plate, stuff that doesn’t have to have the manager’s attention, because you can get some decision fatigue, because it’s amazing what comes at you in that seat.

“I know what that feels like, so every now and again, it’s nice to have somebody who doesn’t just have the answer but has the feelings that come with the answer. I’ve enjoyed it, and honestly, it’s a whatever he needs type thing. My vision on him is I’ve watched him do so much prep work this offseason getting ready for game decisions. He’s going to be great. He’s going to be great.”

It also helps that Green has four years of managing under his belt. Ross can learn from his successes in San Diego, but also learn from Green’s failures to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes common in new managers.

“It takes a little minute to know where the best answer is on the bench, and he’ll figure that out pretty quickly,” he said of Ross. “Executing the game decisions, you have to find out in time how he processes those things.

“I made a lot of mistakes. He can learn from my mistakes without having to make them himself. If you can share things in humility, a lot of times it keeps somebody else from repeating your mistakes. There’s things I messed up on, things I did well too. Kinda share those visions along the way and make certain the whole way that this is David Ross’ team and he’s leading this team and all I’m here to do is support and help him and help the players perform at their top level.”

Green spent four years with a losing club. He’s joining a Cubs team full of star players — which, as functioning infield coach on a team with Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, excites him. He wants to win now and believes Ross is the man to lead the way.

And, again, the lure of being a Chicago Cub was strong.

“The fan base is one that you’re fired up to go to work for and bring a winner to,” he said. “Whatever part I can play in that, I’m fired up to do it.”

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Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras and viral moments at Cubs Convention go hand-in-hand.

At the team’s annual fan festival in 2018, Contreras stole the show with a story from the 2017 season. During a mound visit against the Cardinals, the Cubs catcher gave profanity-laced advice to Jon Lester, the Cubs starter who rarely throws pickoffs due to a serious case of the yips.

"I went out there and I said, 'Hey motherf--ker, throw the f--king ball to first,'” Contreras recalled in January 2018.

Contreras stole the show again Saturday, telling a story about a moment against the Cardinals — this time from the 2019 season.

“So last year, we were facing the Cardinals and I started talking to [Marcell] Ozuna,” Contreras said. “He told me ‘Just call a fastball right down the middle.’ [And I said] ‘Yeah okay, I will.’ Then I called the fastball and he took it.

“I told him ‘What the f— are you talking about? Just hit the ball, just hit it.’

“He asked me ‘Just call it again.’ And I did it. He took it. Swing the [bat]. I called a third pitch and it was a strikeout. And then next time it was like just ‘Shut up,” or something."

Warning: graphic language

How Contreras will top this at 2021 Cubs Convention is uncertain, but considering he now has two viral moments on his resume, we can be sure the next one will be just as amazing.

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