#360USA: Maddon’s Cubs aren’t taking life too seriously

Steve Brenner 06:30 14/06/2016
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Enjoying life: Joe Maddon.

Being a Chicago Cubs fan isn’t normally much fun. Of course, watching matches at the iconic and beautifully historic Wrigley Field is something to enjoy and savour.

But celebrating titles and pennants on the pitch? That’s an entirely different story. You have to trawl back all the way to 1908 to find the last time the Cubs had their paws on the World Series.

They came darn close last season – reaching the National League Championship series only to be swatted away by the New York Mets. That run however fuelled hope.

Coach Joe Maddon had sparked something serious which has continued to manifest itself this time around. It’s good fun too. The Cubs are flying – currently sitting pretty at the top of the Central Division boasting a 42-18 record (before Sunday night’s game against Atlanta) which can’t be bettered right now.

A youthful roster interspersed with experience is winning plenty of plaudits among MLB officialdoms. The starting rotation leads the majors with a 2.30 ERA and ranks third in innings pitched behind Toronto and San Francisco.

Opponents have found a miserly pitching pack who give little away. Yet what’s great to see is a franchise going about their trade with smiles permanently stretched on faces. And for that Maddon must take a bow.

Ever since last term when he told minor-league call-up Javier Baez ‘not to suck’ following his return to the majors, those wise words have become a cheeky slogan for hopes of finally conquering the world.

Considering the Cubs have sucked for decades, it was a pep talk bordering on the stupidly obvious. Its effect , however, has been quite something.

T-shirts with the phrase continue to sell like hotcakes. Great for fans and also Maddon’s Respect 90 foundation which helps disadvantaged inner city kids in Chicago. Not brilliant, however, for some pernickety security staff who were sent into meltdown.

Last month, the St Louis Cardinals had to backtrack after initially indicating they would refuse entry to anyone sporting such supposedly offensive words when the teams met in April. Some were told to wear their shirts inside out or forget about getting into the ballpark altogether. Political correctness gone bonkers.

Once the Cardinals managed to get their heads around the fact the slogan wasn’t offensive but merely a lighthearted attempt in the all too serious world of professional sport to raise a few smiles, their stance, surprisingly, changed.

“Our event staff will exercise a degree of discretion in interpreting the context of the use of the word,” said St Louis spokesman Ron Watermon. “The shirts that Joe Maddon had made to benefit charity that say ‘Try not to suck’ will be allowed under the new approach.”

The move to ban them certainly did wonders for sales – over $50,000 worth were sold in the aftermath. Forget about ridiculous rulings however. The bottom line is Maddon is creating a feel good factor which transcends matters on the mound. They are carefree and enjoying the ride.

It’s been brewing ever since the off-season when the Cubs were grooving their way through training camp with structured dance circle sessions. Wild times indeed.

“It hasn’t changed a bit from spring training to now,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s the atmosphere Joe creates. He’s the same guy every day when he comes to the field. He knows it’s a long year. We’ve got to get our work in – you’ve got to do what you have to do.

“But you have to have fun, too. He’s one of the best at creating that atmosphere for us, and we all feed off it. I think that’s where it starts.”

Luck, as well as laughter, have been key. There was a blow when left fielder Kyle Schwarber picked up a knee problem which brought a premature end to his season but on the whole, everyone has stayed fighting fit. Roster depth will be tested though Madden isn’t perturbed.

With his flashy, garish suits and penchant for a joke or two, what’s to worry about? If he ends 108 years of hurt, hero status will be guaranteed.

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