Prince Fielder hugged Dale Sveum by the batting cage at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night, in almost the exact same spot Albert Pujols had embraced Jim Hendry 13 months earlier.
Hendry knew it would become a story the moment the St. Louis Cardinals icon reached out for a man hug. The Cubs general manager at the time shook his head: I cant win!
Pujols wound up getting his megadeal from the Los Angeles Angels, while Hendry is now working in the New York Yankees front office. Who knows what would have happened to Fielder and Sveum if there hadnt been sweeping changes at Clark and Addison?
On both fronts, there was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Fielder certainly heard about all the rumors once his old Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach got the managers job on the North Side.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Fielder said, but it didnt work out.
Fielder laughed, and so would you if you got a nine-year, 214 million contract from the Detroit Tigers. As much as super-agent Scott Boras would have loved to have drawn the Cubs into a bidding war, Fielder said: There was some talking, but clearly it wasnt serious.
Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have vowed to build from within, by assembling as many young players as possible and using free agency for the finishing touches.
Fielder whose first six full seasons in the big leagues coincided with Sveums six years on the Milwaukee coaching staff believes they hired the right manager.
Dales the same guy every day, Fielder said. Hes the one who kind of helped me with that, because he might get a little frustrated, but what does snapping do? After awhile it becomes just for other people to look at you doing it.
Just like in slumps when youre hitting: After a certain point, its not the bats fault. After a certain point, you got to be able to just say: All right, just deal with it and try to get out of it. Dales the same (and) thats one thing that I liked about him. It helped out the atmosphere of the clubhouse in Milwaukee. Hes going to be the same no matter what.
Epstein and Hoyer recognized those qualities in Sveum, who has only admitted to snapping once, behind closed doors, a few weeks ago, and wouldnt go into further detail.
The front office wanted someone who would be able to project calm and have the patience to teach young players. Thats what the Brewers did with their homegrown core of Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks.
Reading Sveums body language and listening to his monotone voice, you would have no idea that hes managing a last-place team. The Cubs didnt want someone destroying Gatorade coolers, throwing players under the bus and snapping in front of the television cameras.
What does that do? Fielder said. Youre going to win 10 in a row?
Three games is so far the longest winning streak for this Cubs team. Fielder who began the day hitting .315 with 10 homers and 40 RBI has the left-handed swing built for Wrigley Field and turned 28 last month. That would have checked off a few of Epsteins boxes.
Whenever the Cubs decide to make a splash in free agency, that player will almost certainly have demonstrated the same drive and intensity Fielder has shown over the years.
Hes one of my favorite if not my favorite guy Ive ever coached, Sveum said. Hes just a guy that comes to the park every day to beat your butt and hes going to play as hard as he possibly can every single night. He wants to play. He loves to win and compete.
A new regime knew that this team wasnt one piece away. Fans cant complain about the production from Bryan LaHair, whos in the All-Star conversation, and theyre already obsessing over first baseman of the future Anthony Rizzo (.367 average and 22 homers at Triple-A Iowa).
Sveum said theres been conversations about promoting Rizzo, but no set date has been decided. Even the Cubs manager is on Rizzo Watch.
Hes that guy (where you) get your e-mail and look at the minor-league report right away to see if he hit another home run, Sveum said.
Some of the pieces are being put into place. But if youre looking to win a World Series ring, do you sign here? How far are the Cubs from being contenders?
I dont know, Fielder said. It wasnt that serious, so I didnt look at it. The one thing I did look at was Dale being the manager, so that was a selling point for me if anything were to happen. But as far as everything else, I didnt look that deep into it.