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.