We had a 7:45 a.m. bus in L.A. and guys were on it. Ready to go. Everybody. It takes some extra work. The first couple series here with all the rain, we couldn’t get on the field like we wanted to. We have to take advantage of the warm days and getting on the field and being able to let it loose and see the ball fly and not being in the dungeon in the cage. We make it work.
Let’s see, we have early hitting on night games. Anyone who gets to the field early, we hit at 2:30 and we don’t finish until 3:45 or so. Guys are in the cage, working on the breaking ball machine. We have to do our homework — we get our scouting reports on the starting pitchers, the relievers. We have to go over all of them. We also go into the video room — I’ll spend 15 minutes watching the starting pitcher’s last two starts. We’ll watch the relievers to see if they’re tipping, we’ll watch glove movements, any indication to see if a pitch is coming. That takes time because we need to see a slow breakdown. We also have to go over our swings at the same time.
It’s hard for people to understand how much work we do. For a 1:20 game, I wake up at 8 in the morning and I’m here at 8:15 so I’m prepared to go out there and not just for this game in May but to be prepared for a game in September and be ready for that playoff run. I leave an hour and a half, sometimes two hours after a game is over because I have to go in the weight room and I look at video again to see what my swings looked like that day.
I don’t look at bad swings at all. I only look at my good swings. If I don’t have any good swings that day, I’ll look at Manny Ramirez’s hands on his separation, I’ll look at Ian Kinsler’s feet for my timing, and I’ll look at Michael Young for his timing, especially when he’s in two-strike mode. There’s a lot of work that we put into it that people don’t see. We have the greatest job in the world. I know people watching on TV think it looks easy but when you’re here and playing this game you know it’s not. This is the creme de la creme. It takes a lot to get here and it takes even more to stay here.
I love playing the Reds. I don’t know how people will take this but I love their swagger. I love the way they play. I love how they go out there and they feel like they’re the best team. They’re the defending Central champs but at the same time, I feel we can match their swagger. My boy, Brandon Phillips, I love the way he plays, I love what he brings. A lot of people think it’s over the top but that’s the way your team is and it helps you win then so be it. That’s the way you should be. That’s one thing I remember talking to a lot of guys in Texas when I was there is having that team swagger and not worrying about what other teams are thinking — it’s about what you’re doing and winning games. I feel if we can get that feeling over here, teams start see us having fun, sort of like what I do after I catch balls. I give my salute to Soriano, I give my salute to Fukudome after outs. I’m having fun out there. I think if we get to the point where we’re just having nothing but fun out there, I don’t think there’s a team out there that can beat us. It doesn’t matter who it is — St. Louis, Cincinnati — they won’t be able to play with us. We have to get to that point. At the same time, with swagger comes winning. It’s hand in hand. With winning comes swagger. Until we start winning, it’s hard to walk that walk and talk that talk. These series are going to be big. It’s going to be a battle.
Everybody wants to talk about the three-hole. My take on it is, Mike Quade’s the manager and he makes the decision. Who he wants in the three-hole is who’s going to be there. I’ll do anything to help this team. If the team is better off with Starlin in the three-hole, that’s fine with me. If they want me in the three-hole, same thing. You have to hit in this game to stay in the top spot and the hot spot. You have to go with the hot hand. Is Starlin ready? I believe so. But at the same time, I’m a male, I have my ego, and I want to do whatever I can to stay in the three-hole. The lineup is going to go back and forth. I have to do a better job of making Quade’s job easier. Starlin is doing the job he’s doing in the one spot, Barney is doing the job he’s doing in the two spot, I have to make sure I do my job, and then one, two, three, four stays solidified. Again, you have to go with the guy who’s doing the job and driving in runs, which is Starlin. A lot of people comment about it but it doesn’t bother me. I know the job I have to do. Everything I’ve done last year, what people really don’t know is last year was the first year I really started off hot. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes you lose your swing and you have to find it. I’m going to keep battling. When September comes, I’ll be exactly where I need to be, whether it’s three, six or wherever that is.
I guess everyone knows about my blowup last Sunday in Milwaukee. There are certain things that happen in baseball that you keep in the clubhouse, you keep between the manager, you keep between the players. Quade came out and said there was miscommunication. I got asked the same question. The big thing about me is I don’t throw managers under the bus, I don’t throw coaches under the bus. The best way for me to keep DeJesus’ name, Dernier’s name and Quade’s name out of the media and my name not attached to any negativity is to not say anything. That was the only way I could get my point across to the media that day.
When you see it on ESPN or MLB Network, nobody knows the reasoning and it makes me look bad. I don’t mind that. Again, the whole point was it was handled internally and kept that way. I didn’t come out and say anything. Nobody is sure what happened and if people want to put the blame on me, that’s fine. I don’t mind that. Everyone makes mistakes in their job. But to harp on it just because a negative came out of it instead of a positive, I thought was unnecessary so that’s the reason I reacted the way I did.
I will always have my coaches backs, my whole organization’s back — all the way from the Ricketts to the clubhouse guys to the janitors to the guys working at Wrigley. I think I have respect in this game and a lot of people understand where I was coming from. The main thing was to have Mike Quade and the 25 guys on this team understand where I’m coming from and they did.
We have an idea of what we want to do this year. We came out Opening Day and didn’t get the win like we wanted to. We played good baseball but didn’t come up with the win. We had a good approach. We expect to beat the Pirates. They’re a Major League Baseball team, a great team, but at the same time, us being the Cubs, we feel we should go out there and win a series against them. We come out in the second game, we’re down by three runs in the eighth inning, things aren’t looking good and the team showed its resilience.
I know a lot of people out there don’t believe in us but we believe in ourselves in this clubhouse and I think that’s a big thing. There are little things that happened yesterday. Blake struggled in Spring Training and he came out and got a big hit. Leadoff walk for Fukey, getting that done, then Starlin Castro being Starlin Castro, he’s one of those guys who is going to hit the ball all year long. I’m not comfortable up there but I was able to get the guy over, good things happened, I got that error. We just moved station to station and got those runs. We showed our resiliency, we showed we’re not going to give up all year long. It’s easy being three runs down in the eighth inning to any big league team and just shutting it down. It’s usually set-up man, closer, game over. Hopefully, that’s going to be the key to us all year long — regardless of what the score is, if we’re down, it doesn’t matter. Teams are going to fear us until that 27th out is made.
I talked to Barney last year in Spring Training and didn’t know what kind of player he was. You watch him play and you saw he had the work ethic. One thing I thought he needed was a better routine. In the Minor Leagues, you do certain things certain ways and it works. But for some reason, in the big leagues, you try that same routine, and it doesn’t work. There’s a lot more chaos when you get up to the big leagues and start learning about the media and your meetings. Last year, when he got called up, he listened. He fought at certain times and didn’t want to listen because he had his way. I understood. Again, I’m a big believer if a guy has success in the big leagues, there’s a reason and you might want to start paying attention. You don’t have to take everything from him but take parts — I’ve said that before about passing the torch.
Coming in this year, what really impressed me, is I came out here early to work with my sprint coach. Barney came out for the entire day and all of his times — and I’ve been working with my sprint guy for a year — all of his times were better than mine. The hurdle jumps we did, sprints, everything we did, he was a lot better. And he finished the entire 1 1/2 hour workout with me and said he liked it and felt good. You compound that with his work ethic — he knows how to play. He’s a winner — back to back national championships — and then you look at his Minor League numbers and he knows how to play. You start working in the cage, and he started learning and paying attention even more. He was doing that young guy thing and sitting back and listening and taking bits and pieces. He was listening to Rudy, listening to his infield guys.
You see him as a great player and not just a utility guy but a guy who can start. I believe he can have a long big league career because of his work ethic and because of the way he learns. It transfers over into the games. Everything he’s done this Spring Training, I don’t think he’s surprised anyone and there’s a reason he has made this team. I don’t think anyone has any doubts about him because he can play the game. Everything is transferred over that he’s learned this past year in the big leagues. The biggest thing about him that I like is the fact he can play anywhere in the field and doesn’t look uncomfortable. Third, second, short — I’m sure if he was in center field he could do it. He’s that guy who is really going to help us this year.
His dad said he looks like a mini Marlon Byrd at the plate. That’s cool. A lot of guys make fun of it, but if anybody saw Mark DeRosa in Texas, they called him a mini Michael Young and there’s worse guys you can follow. Everything we’ve done, his approach, it’s Rudy’s system and he’s believed in it. There are certain things that we do similar hitting-wise. When I was in Texas, a lot of guys were like, “Oh, you want to be like Ian Kinsler?” Yes, I do. There’s nothing wrong with that. Barney is going to have his own style and it’s going to show.
I’ve been bringing him breakfast in Spring Training but that stops March 30. When he starts getting big league money, he can get his own breakfast.
The first time I started boxing was at the Boys Club and I was 12 years old. Back then, you put gloves on and you’re just swinging. You learn a one-two combination, which is a jab and right cross. Other than that, you’re throwing hooks, and it’s really wild hooks.
In 2008, I had surgery on my knee, so going into the 2009 season, I couldn’t do much running, and I worked with a Gold Glover named Angel Romero in Philly. I worked on little things — hitting the mitts, double-ended bag and a heavy bag. In 2009, I had a great season, my legs felt good, I felt more explosive. Last year, before I came to Spring Training, I did more sprinting. Everyone knows how I felt about my second half last year — I got a little bit tired. My whole thought process going into this year was to do more low impact stuff, save my legs, make sure I drop my weight and still be explosive. I talked to Hammerin’ Hank Lundy, who is a boxer in Philadelphia. He’s 19-1. The guy he trains with is Danny Davis. Danny Davis is also Bernard Hopkins’ trainer. Their gym is Joe Hand Boxing in Philadelphia. The strength coach there helped with my core work and kept my cardio up.I went there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 o’clock, and I did my core for 30 minutes and then I went 30-45 minutes boxing with the speed bag, the upper cut bag, the heavy bag. We worked on mitts, worked on the heavy mitts, we worked on focus mitts. We also sparred a little bit and worked on the sticks for defense — they’re styrofoam sticks. If you don’t keep your hands up, they’ll hit you in the head with them.
The biggest thing about that was me being in the gym with other professionals. These are amateurs trying to become professionals, or professionals who are trying to make a name in the business. Just the mental aspect of being with these guys was big. To use a cliche, being with those guys, they have the eye of the tiger. It gave me a different sense of urgency as far as going to the gym and working out. Those guys get in, get out, and have to go work 9-to-5′s. It really got me mentally prepared for this grind. I’m a guy who always works hard, and everyone knows that. I think I can always better myself and step it up a little bit. Boxing, that thought process of being in the gym three minutes on, 30 seconds off for 30 to 45 minutes straight mentally got me right.
I worked with Danny Davis and also went to San Francisco and worked with Nonito Donaire, who is a 122-pounder. On Feb. 19, he knocked a guy out and broke the guy’s orbital bone and his jaw in a fight. I worked with one of his mitt guys on different techniques to be more explosive. We intertwined everything with my first steps in the outfield. We timed my right cross with swinging the bat, and throwing my right and bringing that back hip through. It was funny, I’ve always done baseball-specific training. The past couple years, this is the first time I’ve done nothing baseball-specific but everything transfers over to baseball.
Would I ever fight? No chance. I realized just sparring with the guys and trying to hit the guys, I play baseball. It’s like a boxer trying to come out and play in the big leagues. No chance. Not happening. If I trained for maybe a year, two years, I could do an exhibition fight. Like Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they get hit. I don’t like getting hit.
Carlos, everything he’s done in Tampa, he knows how to win. We’ve bonded. We were the big dogs coming up through the Minor Leagues, got to the big leagues and scuffled a little bit. We went back and forth, Minor Leagues, big leagues, knowing we could play but we needed that one team to take that flyer on us. It was Texas with me, Tampa with Carlos. Carlos comes up, does what he does, signs that big deal in Tampa. We can feed off each other because at the same time, what we also have in common is Rudy. He was with Rudy in Texas before I was. Now we have that rapport, so we’re talking about getting his swing back to where it was. There’s a lot that goes through your head when you struggle. He struggled last year and still put up big numbers in the power category. You have to get that average back up, get that confidence back up. I had the same thing, hitting .220 in the Minor Leagues and going to Texas and working with Rudy and had to get that confidence and that feel. I knew I could hit. We started talking from day one — actually at the Cubs Convention, we started talking hitting right away. Then when we came in here the first day, we started going to the cage together, working on little things. I see things he’s doing now that I did when I first came to Texas. Having more than one eye — not just Rudy’s eye but my eye — and having that trust factor will help. He trusts me. When I see something, he says, “Hey, you’re right, I feel it.” All from that, we’re learning and feeding off each other as far as hitting. I get to feed off him as far as that winning mentality and everything he did in Tampa.
There are certain things that happen in the clubhouse. I can go to him and say, “What do you think? Do we need a meeting? Do we need a one on one?” We can go back and forth. That’s a good thing. We have all these veterans in here and we have a lot of help — Kerry Wood, Braden Looper, all those guys. Me and Carlos, being position players, he’s very vocal, just like I am. we can talk and make sure everything stays on the up and up with this team. Last year, you have your ups and downs, but you want to keep those very, very small and stay consistent. Now, we have that rapport and hopefully we can be part of leading this team in the clubhouse and on the field and carry us all the way into the playoffs.
He’s not tentative because he’s the new guy. You saw me last year when I came in here, sort of loud mouth in the beginning. Everyone was like, “Marlon talks too much.” At the end of the year, they were saying, “He talks for a reason.” Carlos, it’s the same thing. He’s talking for a reason. He’s not speaking out of turn, he’s not speaking just to talk. He’s speaking because he needs to. The time he’s put in the big leagues, the winning he’s done, the numbers he’s put up, everything, he’s earned the right for people to listen to him.
You asked about Brett Jackson. I see him being ready very soon. He has to put together another good season this year and stay healthy — that’s the main thing — and keep learning. He has to keep learning. A lot of guys with his talent — I was the same way. You dominate in the Minor Leagues but you don’t learn how to get ready for the big leagues and you come up and struggle. That’s what I’ve been trying to get across to him is I don’t want him struggling when he comes up. I want him coming up and staying up for good. With his work ethic and his athletic ability, there’s no reason he won’t be the center fielder of the future.
First off, I have to comment on the job Jim Hendry did. He didn’t have much money this offseason. He needed pieces to fix this team. We needed a first baseman, we needed left-handed thump in the lineup, we needed a veteran reliever on the back end with experience and we needed another starting pitcher. He didn’t just fill those, he went and got a Gold Glover and the best first baseman in the American League East who knows how to win in Carlos Pena. Then, he went and got Matt Garza, who is a horse. He’s not missing any starts. He’s a monster on the mound with great stuff and he’s going to give you 15-plus wins. Then he went and got Kerry Wood — that’s icing on the cake. Of course, Woody helped us out, he wanted to come back home. Nobody can blame him. This is home for him and this is where he needs to be. Jim did an unbelievable job. He didn’t just bring guys in, he brought guys in who can do the job and help us get to the playoffs and hopefully get to the World Series.
It’s exciting. On the first day, I overheard Woody talk to Cashner about throwing cutters on both sides of the plate and talking to Samardzija about that. That experience, that trust factor. Me and Carlos Pena, going back with Rudy. That trust factor is already there. Garza just fit in there. He brings that intensity, he brings that fire, something that this team needs, something the city of Chicago loves to see, loves to watch. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
One person you can’t leave out who everyone forgets about is Reed Johnson. Bringing back Reed — he’ll help in the clubhouse, help on the field. He’s not just a presence in the clubhouse, he’s a presence on the field. He’s a career .282 hitter, kills a lefty, can hit righties, can play anywhere in the outfield. He’s a veteran presence. We came up in ’99 together and played together in the big leagues. This is our ninth year. He was at St. Catharines with the Blue Jays and I was at Class A Batavia with the Phillies.
The guys we have — there’s not excitement on MLB Network, there’s not excitement on Baseball Tonight. That excitement is Greinke and Marcum with the Brewers and Berkman going to St. Louis and the Reds signing extensions to the young guys who are going to turn into big dogs. We’re going to fly under the radar and keep that excitement bottled up and once April 1 comes, we’re going to explode.