Thanks to all the NL players. That’s No. 1, hands down. Without them, I wouldn’t be in the All-Star Game. I made the All-Star team all the way thorugh the Minor Leagues and now I made it in the big leagues. It’s just huge for me. I’m not a guy who likes talking about himself but being voted in by your peers, I don’t think there’s a bigger honor. The players see me day in, day out, the NL Central, the guys in the West, the East — I’ve played against all of them. They know what I’ve been doing and it shows they’ve been paying attention. It doesn’t get any better than being recognized as one of the best in the National League.
Silva was on a team in 2006 with the Twins that was 14 games back at the All-Star break and on the last day of the season, made the playoffs. I saw the Twins do it a couple years ago when they caught Detroit and played that extra game and ended up beating them. I saw the Phillies come back from seven games out with 17 games to go and they caught the Mets. Lou’s done it. They were 14 games out and wanted to dismantle the Yankees and they ended up winning the World Series.
When you have a good team, you can’t count that team out at all. You see how everybody and every team has been playing us — they play us tough. There’s a reason. They know how good we are. We have to start believing that and get back to that feeling of knowing how good we are and having that swagger on the field. A 9 1/2-game lead, 8 1/2-game lead, 10-game lead can turn around quick. I believe we can get that down within five games by the All-Star break, we’ll be where we need to be. The second half, like everyone says, it’s 0-0 again.
It’s different facing the West teams now and when I was with the Rangers. It’s different when you face a team 19 times because they figure you out, then you figure them out and it goes back and forth. It seems like they keep a steady rotation and you’re facing guys over and over again and you pick up on things as a hitter. It’s the same thing with the Angels and Mariners. It’s a division that keeps getting better and better. The AL East is the beast, they’ll always be No. 1. The Central with the Twins and Tigers will be tough. I believe a champion will come out of the West very soon. It looks like the Rangers are doing a good job and they’re not far behind the A’s with the young leadership over there. There’s guys like Mark Ellis, and I call Kurt Suzuki a veteran — it seems like he’s been around for 10 years. They’re just a tough team and it’s shown in the games we’ve played against them.
It’s different facing the West now since I’ve been facing National League pitching. In my mind, sometimes I have to get back to that American League style. For example, Gio Gonzalez has a great fastball but on 2-0, he threw me a changeup. I’ve been getting fastballs on 2-0. It’s a little different and you have to change your mindset. I’ll be happy when we finish these games and I get back to National League style.
Everyone’s heard the names. Juan Gonzalez. Pudge Rodriguez. Rafael Palmeiro. Alex Rodriguez. Michael Young. Then you turn the page to Gary Matthews Jr., Mark DeRosa, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz. One thing all those guys has in common is they’ve worked with Rudy and they have positive things to say.
With Gary Matthews and Nelson Cruz, we’re all big league players but we struggled in the big leagues. Opening Day, we were sitting at home. Gary Matthews went through that with me. Nelson Cruz went through that same thing, getting designated. Sticking with Rudy’s program, him believing in us, us believing in him, working hard every single day, getting in a routine, we got better. Hands down, he’s the best hitting coach in baseball and everybody knows that.
I also had to talk to Rudy and remind him that in 2007 when I came to Texas, the Rangers were a team nobody talked about. The energy wasn’t there. It was a team that just hit. It took a couple years to change the culture. You saw how they won in 2009 and you see how they are now in 2010 — full of energy. Everybody over there is doing their jobs.
I told Rudy coming over here, implementing your system, it doesn’t happen right away. That’s what the fans and everybody watching the Cubs has to understand. It doesn’t happen right away. Me working with him, it’s my fourth year. I know how to work with him and he knows how to work with me. He’s still learning everybody’s swing and he’s still trying to figure out how to work with different players and personalities. It doesn’t sound good to say it but 2011 is going to be a better year as far as this whole Cubs organization knowing his system. We are going to get better as we go through this year.
I think our defense has been pretty good all year long. You have some ups and downs. Any time you get the great pitching we’re getting, it’s automatically good defense. Guys hitting their spots, you get in the right position. You’ve got the advance scouts who put us in the right spot. Josh Hamilton the other day in Texas — I was playing him the other way and most guys play him to pull. You hit the spot. James Loney, same thing last night. It makes it easier. Our outfielders work together, we work in tandem. If you watch the games, whenever I move to the pull side, everybody moves, everybody shifts. Maybe I go to the pull side and leave the right fielder on the line because the hitter is a guy who doesn’t really go into the gap in right center.
I have little hand signals, little movements to communicate with the guys. If I want a guy to get into the gap, I point to them and point to the gap. If I want to move them a little bit, I put my hand down a little. If I don’t want them to move but I want them to know, “Hey, I’m moving, so you’re going to have to help me out to my right or left,” I’ll point to myself and show them where I am. It’s little movements that people never pay attention to. You never really see us until the ball gets out there.
We’re doing a good job infield, outfield. It all starts with our pitcher and our catcher. Geo is calling a great game. Last night, you never say just a starter threw a shutout, you also say a catcher threw a shutout, too. He’s calling the pitches. That right there improves our defense.
Last year, they wanted Yoshi [Nakazawa] to be the bat boy, and I know he’s undefeated. I don’t know how many wins he had but I know he’s undefeated. We begged him today. He saw that we were in need so he did it. We always need a lttle luck on our side. It seems like he brought it. I think he has a new job — massage/bat boy/everything else.
It’s just great to get a win, great to get good pitching and get timely hitting and have something go our way. The Pirates, they played great. Defensively, they had four web gems in the game. If we keep playing like this, like I’ve said over and over again, we’re going to be fine and start winning series and we’re going to take off and catch up to whoever’s in first in the Central.
We haven’t put it together yet. This team, on paper, is a very good team but that goes all away once the season starts. We have to start playing better. It just hasn’t come together where you’ve got pitching, defense, timely hitting for a whole series, back to back series, over and over again. When we’re home, we’re doing well. On the road, we’ve just lost it. We have to figure out a way to get back on track and quick.
Home runs — gosh, when the wind’s blowing out of here, it can happen very easily, especially with these guys and this team. Everybody with the pop they have — Soriano, me, Derrek Lee, even Theriot can get it up in the air and it’s going out. Once we get our swings, it’s going to be a lot of fun this summer when the wind’s blowing out.
That Reynolds’ homer in the fifth Saturday — I had no clue where it was. That was one of those where I was trying to jump as high as possible to see if I could get a glove on it. By the time I was on the ground, I saw the ball fall. I wasn’t sure if it went over or bounced off. I was going to play it through regardless. I’m still going to play it through even if I know it’s a home run. I’m still going to fire it in. They have instant replay now, but you never know.
As far as our offense, the hits are coming. They’re coming. You can see everyone starting to get comfortable. I’ve heard about the Cubs in April and the Cubs from May on. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues from May all the way through the playoffs. I know everybody was worried, everybody was wondering, what Rudy was doing. Rudy said from Day One, it takes time. I knew that. When I worked with him, it took me about a year to really understand and get my swing going. You can see it — you can see everybody getting better.
You can see it in Fukudome, you can see it in Theriot. You see guys are a little different. Even with Geo. It’s all going to come out. Once we have our one through eight hitting, with the pitching we’ve been getting, it’ll be a lot of wins for us.
I have no clue why I have so many two-out RBI. Ron Washington pointed it out to me last year. He told me that with two outs, I drive in more runs than I do with less than two outs. He was trying to figure out what my approach was. I said, I’m just trying to bring them in, bottom line. I don’t know. When you see a guy out there, you have to try to keep your focus and try not to do too much and not change anything as far as trying to put the ball in play. I try to relax a little more and just touch the ball — I learned that from Bobby Abreu. He’s unbelievable driving guys in. Just hit it where it’s pitched and sort of flick at the ball and let it hit your bat instead of really trying to drive the ball into the gap.
I don’t think about the pitcher at all, not one bit. I try to stick to my game plan and try to keep it simple and clear my head as much as possible. The more you start thinking, the more you forget about the ball. I just try to see the ball and put it in a good spot and not try to do too much.
I’ve always run fast. No. 1, coming up, watching Scott Rolen. Two, I don’t want to show up anybody. Regardless of what happens, you hit the ball, you might see it go out, but when you get around the bases, get around to make sure you’re not showing up any pitchers. There’s one way I play the game and that’s hard. I believe that’s important. Just get aorund the bases, get home, high five and get ready for defense.
Rolen may not be that fast but he runs hard around the bases. You watch him — he hits homers, puts his head down and runs around the bases. It’s one thing that stuck in my head. it’s pretty cool because my cousin Roger, his son was playing and hit a home run and ran around the bases fast. Roger asked him why he ran around the bases that way, and he said, “That’s what Marlon does.” I’ll take a guy sprinting around the bases over someone who takes 40 seconds to get around on a homer.
Jackie is the reason I’m playing today. His importance to the world is more than just baseball. There’s the integration of baseball, of course, but the Civil Rights movement, the whole nine yards — my parents went through it. Without Jackie, there’s no Hank, there’s no Ken Griffey Jr., there’s no Ryan Howard, there’s no me. Every single day I think every player who is a minority in this game — all the way to Fukudome, Ichiro — you have to be thankful for what Jackie did and what he went through. I think what’s missed is nobody knows what he really went through. At the end of his career, he probably aged 20, 30 years, more than everyone else, because of the beating that he took mentally — I just couldn’t imagine. And for him to put up the numbers he did and to be the great player and Hall of Famer that he was, that’s phenomenal. I owe it all to Jackie.