MILWAUKEE Nyjer Morgans face lit up when a reporter mentioned Dale Sveum: Nutso, thats my guy!
The Milwaukee Brewers paid their respects on Friday, everyone from legendary broadcaster Bob Uecker to general manager Doug Melvin, who were seen chatting with Sveum during batting practice.
Sveum has preached that you need to play with an edge, that theres nothing worse than being a vanilla team. How can the Cubs get under a teams skin? Ask the instigator who played junior hockey in Canada.
I cant give you all my secrets, Morgan said with a smile. But you just play the game hard, play the game right, have fun with it and everythings going to happen for them.
Sveum is the kind of guy who left his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field last November and went back to Wisconsin. The new Cubs manager was the best man for a Miller Park clubhouse attendant and had planned the bachelor party for that weekend.
Sveum killed it that day, drawing upon his experience in Milwaukee and telling Cubs fans everything they wanted to hear. (He also joked that his Nuts nickname had nothing to do with my lower half.)
In Sveums mind, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.
The catcher should fear you running into home plate dont take the easy way out and slide. Win or lose, the other team should know that theyre in for a fistfight.
Sveum said: The worst thing that happens in baseball is when we look over and say: Theyre dogs. Nobody plays hard over there.
Major League Baseball once suspended Morgan, then with the Washington Nationals, for throwing a ball into the stands and igniting a bench-clearing brawl.
Last season Morgan mocked Alberta Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter, using his Tony Plush alter ego. But he quickly bonded with Sveum, the Brewers hitting coach at the time.
Hes just cool, calm, collected, Morgan said. Hes been in the trenches and he knows what its like to go through struggles and to have success and just keep it all together. (That) made the game a lot easier.
He had your back. And when you have a guy thats in your corner and battling for you, you cant ask for anything more.
Cubs president Theo Epstein recognized those qualities when he hired Sveum, who assembled a coaching staff with decades upon decades of experience in the majors.
A 3-11 start only reinforced Epsteins belief that Sveum could be the next Terry Francona. The Cubs have gone 3-0-2 in their last five series against the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, all potential playoff contenders.
Theyve been a model of consistency since Opening Day, Epstein said. That was a pretty rough first couple weeks and Dale handled everything with a real calmness and confidence that I think is genuine and players pick up on that. They like playing for Dale and all the coaches.
The amount of preparation, hard work and attention to detail is as good as it gets. They deserve a lot of credit for how smoothly things have gone, and hopefully results follow.
Its hard to draw many conclusions after 32 games. Mike Quades 37-game audition in 2010 didnt turn out to be a preview of things to come in 2011.
But its easy to notice all the balls hit right into defensive shifts, the calculations made after extensive video analysis. Outside of Kerry Wood throwing his hat and glove into the Wrigley Field seats the other night, there really havent been many unscripted moments. Its pretty much been all business.
Were playing good baseball, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I think the teams on the other side of the field are recognizing that. Were playing hard on both sides of the ball and things are going to keep coming as long as we play that way.
The Cubs and Brewers woke up Friday tied for last place in the National League Central, and it will be interesting to see where this I-94 rivalry goes from here.
To be honest, Sveum said the Brewers were far more concerned with the Cardinals, and got up for those games. There were sparks between Morgan and Pujols, and Zack Greinke called Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter a phony.
Nyjer obviously did a few things that would get under anybodys skin, Sveum said. I love the guy, (but) when he gets between the lines, theres a different person that comes out sometimes.
He just has that hockey mentality (where he cant) restrain himself sometimes. But hes a wonderful kid. Hes a completely different person than (the perception). The bad thing about Nyjer is people think hes this crazed psycho or whatever. And hes one of the most polite, nicest kids youll ever be around.
Greinkes one of the most brutally honest guys youre ever going to be around, and probably said some things he wished he wouldnt have said.
But thats just the rivalry that comes out sometimes. You try not to say stuff that youll regret. Thats (their deal). Were the Chicago Cubs. Were not the Brewers. Thats not our concern anymore.