Dale Sveum cracks open a beer and folds his arms across his chest. Tattoos run up to his biceps, where two ideas stressed by his late father, a Marine, are anchored.
Give em hell.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Win or lose on the road, Sveum sits in the managers office and lets the game wash over him. He shrugs. He rolls his eyes. He laughs. He speaks in a flat voice.
Sveum has a laptop on his desk, but says he doesnt surf the Internet or watch much SportsCenter.
Sveum really doesnt understand Twitter, where his players are traded 247. He has jokingly asked for the latest Whats the twits? and threatened to put any reporter who mentions Twitter in timeout.
No matter how Tuesdays deadline plays out, there will be no excuses from the Cubs manager.
Anything can happen at any hour, any minute, Sveum said. We just focus on what we got. Everybody in the rotations going to pitch and all the hitters are still here and we just dont worry about that. We cant worry about it. Its part of the game.
After slamming a cooler in the dugout and firing a plastic bottle against the wall on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Ryan Dempster zipped up his Cubs 46 duffel bag and planned to weigh his options during Thursdays off-day.
Who knows what the roster will look like by Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals come to Wrigley Field? The sense is that Dempster will be hearing I Love L.A. at Dodger Stadium sometime next week.
But as Theo Epstein works the phones trying to dismantle this team and collect more prospects, the 40-57 Cubs have gone 16-9 since June 25, the day before Anthony Rizzo was promoted.
Weve been playing our best baseball while all this stuff (was going on), general manager Jed Hoyer said. Dale and the coaching staff handled that really well. Their focus, all along, has been on winning, even while rumors have swirled.
Dempsters tantrum at PNC Park was steps away from where he screamed at Mike Quade after being pulled from a game last season. That confrontation undercut the managers authority, confirming on television what the players were starting to think behind closed doors.
But Sveum who dressed up along with the players and went as Hellboy for this weeks Superheroes flight from St. Louis to Pittsburgh has a good feel for the clubhouse.
Theyve been the same with us from Day 1, utility man Jeff Baker said. As a player, you really respect that, because they understand how hard the game is. They work with you every day. Theres no front-running. Theyre not patting you on the back, being your best friend when youre getting hits and when youre not, they dont talk to you. Thats not how it is here.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio did the job for Lou Piniella and threw a no-hitter in the big leagues. First-base coach Dave McKay spent 26 years on Tony La Russas staff. Bench coach Jamie Quirk is in his 38th season in pro ball.
Sveum is also surrounded by an American League Rookie of the Year (Pat Listach), and the bullpen catcher (Mike Borzello) who warmed up Mariano Rivera the night the New York Yankees closer discovered his cutter.
Thats part of our jobs, to keep things together, whether theyre good or bad, Sveum said. Its always trying to keep the same atmosphere and the same work ethic and the same preparation. All of us, including my staff, (have been) through some horrible times (and) some great times.
You got to give the players as much credit as anything. I could walk in the locker room (and) even during the 12-game losing streak it was always the same every single day. Thats all you can ask for, and thats all you can try and create.
Whether people call it trying to change a culture or whatever, but thats the idea of everything we do: Try to be consistent in preparation and understanding about making yourself a better player every day, paying attention to details.
Answering questions from the media, Sveum doesnt get defensive or second-guess himself or try to entertain everyone. He almost always backs his players, unless they go off script from the game plan, like Carlos Marmol not throwing enough fastballs or Chris Volstad shaking off the catcher.
The coaching staffs been fantastic, second baseman Darwin Barney said. Everybody on this team has been very pleased and happy with the way that theyve been handling things, the way they communicate with people. That definitely has nothing to do with us not winning ballgames. Were just missing a few pieces.
For all the buzz at the trade deadline, thats the bigger question: How far is this team from contention? Epstein can have a vision for the next decade, but Sveum is the one who has to be out front every day, talking to reporters before and after every game.
Its the starting pitching thats going to dictate anything, Sveum said. Our offense is going to gradually get better and better. But I think when you go into the season, youll still put a competitive team together. You have to have all the pieces though.
You cant have an offense, no bullpen, one starting pitcher. You have to have three or four quality starting pitchers. You have to have a back end of a bullpen.
Its a whole combination of things that you have to put together during the winter, (so) that when you go into Opening Day next year, you got those pieces hopefully put together. Anything can happen, but you have to find those pieces and put them together at the right time.
Epstein and Hoyer rarely travel on the road with the major-league club. With the deadline approaching, Sveum said he hasnt been speaking with them any more than normal.
We talk about a lot of stuff all the time, but you dont have that interaction of talking about (moves for) the future, Sveum said. We have a great relationship, but right now they obviously have a lot on the table.
Sveum has to hope they play their cards right, because eventually this is going to become a lot less about feel and more about wins and losses, especially in a big market not known for patience.