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My Summer as a CUB
By R. Rathbone Leonard
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 R. Rathbone Leonard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFriday, January 14, 2011
"This is Heaven on earth" was my thought as the taxi entered the Loop and my long ride, most recently from O'Hare to the Hilton and the site of the annual Chicago Cubs Convention, had transformed this windy, icy cold January day into a hazy, lazy summer paradise. That was in my mind's eye as I figuratively pinched myself to see if my dream were coming true, or is my dream just that— a little dream of a gangly youngster just twenty years removed from the roster of a Martin's Hardware Little League team.
For the third straight year for Christmas my girl friend, Joyce Lambert, presented me with a ticket for the annual mid-winter convention that attracts thousands of fans to the hotel just a relay throw from Lake Michigan. Next week I'll be in Arizona fulfilling my little dream as a member of the Randy Hundley Cubs Fantasy Camp. Who knows, for eight days and seven nights I can be Roy Hobbs, The Natural brought to actual life.
For just under $4,000 I'll become a make-believe Cub, no longer a 32-year-old physical workout specialist for the National Institute of Fitness and Health in Indianapolis. It'll be bats and balls, not Nu-Steps, Treadmills and bar-bells for a week.
I've pinched myself a dozen, nay a hundred times until I'm convinced this no longer is a dream. It's the real thing, I'll be in Cub shoes and in the blue and white. Put yourself in that spot, in those spikes and in the blue and white. And your first major league At Bat. With your teammates breathlessly waiting for you to bring in that runner from second base. You're no longer on that high school sandlot.
Before physical fitness beckoned in my direction, I had set a goal of being a high school basketball and baseball coach, and had three years of college preparing me for that. Maybe it's not too late. With my physical fitness background and what I learn at Hundley's camp, coaching should be a distinct possibility, especially if I complete college.
When I arrived at the Hilton I was greeted by Wally Hayward, a Cubs executive vice-president who wears many hats and it wouldn't surprise me that someday he'll become president of the organization.
I had known Hayward briefly when he was senior advisor for the Chicago 2016 Olympics bid. Our company, NIFH, had been involved in physical therapy plans for the Olympic Village. Hayward advised me to just soak up the Cubs atmosphere, to relax and enjoy myself and get my mind set on the upcoming experience of Hundley's Fantasy Camp. Knowing of my year of journalism at Ball State University, he convinced me to journalize the current experience and those baseball-related ones that follow with the idea of publishing a book. That's a long shot but, one never knows.
So for three days I'll just mingle and get acclimated with Cub players. There, make that acquainted instead of acclimated, I don't want to have my Little League readers giving up in frustration because they don't understand what I'm saying. When I discussed writing as a vocation with Professor McReady, that was a point he stressed.
Whereas Convention talk a year ago centered around the return of Greg Maddux, this year fans faced the sobering fact that Ryne Sandberg no longer would wear Cubs threads and that Ron Santo no longer would be among them.
Maddux, a four-time Cy Young recipient who won 355 games, 133 as a Cub, had his best season in 1992 with a 20-11 record and a 2.18 ERA. In his new role Maddux will rove the Cubs system searching out and developing talent.
"As I've always said about him," Cubs GM Jim Hendry stated, "as a player and now as an employee, when Greg Maddux walks in your front door, your organization became a lot better that day." I'm looking forward to batting against Maddux at the Fantasy Camp.
It was after the 1992 season that free agent Maddux left the Cubs, upset that they had refused to negotiate with him until the end of the season. Meanwhile early in the year they had given Sandberg a $7 million contract, highest in baseball at the time.
That was then and this is now. Sandberg was bypassed for manager in favor of Mike Quade who in his brief 2010 stint had a 24-13 won-lost record.
Just prior to Thanksgiving in 2010 Sandberg signed with the Phillies organization to manage in their Minor League system. That action followed by about eight months the slight given Sandberg by the Cubs media relations department which referred to their Hall of Famer as Ryan Sandberg in the 2010 Media Guide. Not all bad, I guess. It could have been Ryan Sandburger.
And one that puzzles me is Wikipedia's Wrigley Field rundown. The online encyclopedia states "groundbreaking March 4, 1914, opened April 23, 1914. "That means it took a whopping 50 days to build the ballpark. Fifty days? You do the math!
The day Lou Piniella resigned, I remember clearly Ryno saying, "The Cubs know how I feel. I'd like to have a shot at it." Casey Coleman is just one of several who Sandberg managed who swear by him, saying he is a great instructor and motivator.
In his Hall of Fame speech Sandberg lamented about the lack of respect now missing in the game. Was there some of that in his dismissal? What he said at the end of his speech, the final two words, he probably said again although with a different meaning.
If I had the money, I'd go to the Phillies' Phantasy Camp. I have a hunch that Ryno will be a big part of it and that, if the truth be known, was the attraction that drew me to Hundley's camp when I applied several months ago. But as Cubs fans have been saying, there's always next year for crying out loud.
The current Convention, the 26th annual, is the first, the very first, that Sandberg has not been a part of. It appears his ties with the Cubs have been permanently severed, less than five years after he was admitted to the Hall of Fame. Here's his numbers:
Sandberg was Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2010 as he directed the Iowa Cubs to the pennant. As a player from 1981 through 1997, Ryno compiled a .285 batting average with 2385 hits and 282 home runs in 2151 games.
In a four-year period of 1989-92 Sandberg per year averaged 157 games, 31 home runs, 91 RBIs, 106 runs, and 180 hits with a batting average of .298.
I should inform readers right now that I'm quite a Cubs historian, have been since 1988 when dad took me to Wrigley Field on my eighth birthday. As this account of the season goes on, I probably will interject statistics and background.
Well, that's enough. Let's get on with the 26th Convention.
Last year during the Convention several players worked out at Northwestern University. I wonder if Yanks' manager Joe Girardi, a Northwestern grad and ex-Cub, had anything to do with that. Haven't heard anything to that effect this year.
When manager Mike Quade was introduced, there were a few boos (probably Sandberg fans) but most fans applauded in appreciation of the 24 wins in 37 games during his tenure in 2010. His speech was the "we're out to win and bring to Chicago a World Series."
A tremendous ovation was given Andre Dawson who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer. Other Hall of Famers attending the convention were Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams.
Dawson wore a Montreal cap at the ceremony by orders of the Hall of Fame. I'm guessing had he concealed some type of Cubs insignia or apparel that down the road a few years it probably would have a tremendous price tag for collectors.
One reason Dawson was excited to become a Hall of Fame member was to learn the secret handshake. He doesn't know if Jenkins and the others were putting him on as they continually made remarks about it. I think they were but Dawson hasn't commented one way or the other.
As was expected, one of the highlight moments of the Convention was the announcement by Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts that the memory of and tributes to Ron Santo will continue during the upcoming season.
Player uniforms with patches bearing the number 10 will be worn the full season including Spring Training games. That number is the number Santo wore for 18 years as the Cubs third baseman, a "number" that should long ago have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In addition on August 10 a dedication ceremony of a Ron Santo Statue will be held at Wrigley Field prior to a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.. It will join statues of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Harry Caray.
The expected announcement of Santo's successor on the radio with Pat Hughes was not made as evidently no decision has been made. When it is, Dave Otto oughta since the former Cub subbed many times for Santo in the past couple of years.
Other names mentioned included Steve Stone, Randy Hundley, Bob Costas and even Ryne Sandberg.
As you can imagine, the Hilton rocked with applause greeting the announcements.
First words officially on Friday when Ricketts opened the doings were, "How cool is this?" If a survey had been taken, the cool factor would have been at least 110 per cent.
When a fan told Laura Ricketts, one of the sibling four owners, that "you have provided new hope," she replied, "We really haven't done that much yet," a statement that promised much more in the future. "Next year at this time I hope everyone's as happy as they are now."
As the Convention wore on, fans came up with pointed questions and statements such as "Why'd you keep Hendry as last season backslid for the second straight year?"
Tom Ricketts replied:
"We came here a year ago and I think it would be incredibly unfair and wrong for an organization to judge people without enough information, and make big changes. Over the past year I've grown in confidence in Jim. I think he has a great team of people he's put together. I'm going to judge him by how many players we consistently bring up to the Major Leagues.
"He's done a good job. We're starting to see the fruits of his labors. His farm staff made it possible, if we didn't have the prospects to trade we wouldn't have Matt Garza."
Hendry's contract runs through 2012.
Replying to a question on Minor League financing toward player development, it was stated that Hendry has a budget and the amount allocated to scouting amateurs is based on the talent level in the draft and in the international market.
Hendry admitted mistakes saying, "You don't hit a bulls-eye all the time in the free agent world. We've made a few mistakes like everyone else and sometimes you have to eat some contracts. We threw a lot of dollars into the Club in '07 and '08 and won back-to-back division titles."
Bruce Miles of the Arlington Herald produced a sobering thought:
"Let's remember that the Ricketts family didn't amass billions by being nice people only; there's a ruthless streak common to all successful business people."
A year ago this time Ryan Theriot was a favorite of fan and player alike. At the 2011 Convention it would be putting it mildly to say he was raked over the coals.
Theriot, who was traded by the Dodgers to the Cardinals in December, appeared on a St. Louis radio show and stated:
"I'm finally on the right side of the Cubs-Cards rivalry."
Geovany Soto said "I'm a little ticked." Koyie Hill added, "There's probably a decent chance he's going to feel how hard the dirt is around home plate at least once, maybe twice every at bat. I don't know how long it will take to get an apology out of him. Circle May 10 on your calendar, he may get a knockdown pitch or three or four."
* * *
One of the Conventioneers mentioned Abbott and Costello's famous skit when discussing the second base situation involving Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt and Darwin Barney, changing it to "Who's on second?"
"At least their names aren't as crazy as in that dialog," Ruth McKee said.
"That was back in the days of funny names," I said. "Dizzy and Daffy Dean. Ducky Medwick, Pepper Martin, Babe Ruth, Bucky Harris, Gabby Hartnett, Frenchy Borderguray."
"At least you can't do an Abbott and Costello thing with the Cubs names," William E. Gote said.
"Don't know about that," I answered. "Try this with all these guys here at the Convention:
"They had a MARSHALL guarding the DIAMOND at all the BANKS. And next door there's a CARPENTER sawing WOOD for a CAMP. They'll need MORE LAND for it, wRIGHT over there where that BYRD, a CARDENAL, and some MAD DUCKS, are trying to get some of the TROUT in that LAKE and those WELLS. Just over that HILL the BAKER is waiting for the charCOLE MAN so he can fire up the grill. He weighed some steaks on the SCALES to go with the RICE. When I leave this small BERG, I'll be RIDING to MAINE.
"Is that enough or do you want some MOORE?" I asked.
"That's enough," everyone said.
"So I've picked up the conversation and thrown it enough?"
"You've had enough?"
"Enough is enough."
"That's really BUSH."
"He's the Cubs' Assistant General Manager!"
* * *
The name Puddock is strange to most people and so it is with Cubs fans here at the Hilton. When asked I simply explain the word is a Scottish term for frog and that one of my grandparents down the line probably had the name from his business or occupation, like a goldsmith or a baker or cook or porter or bishop, well you get the idea.
I joke and say that my great great great great great grandfather jumped froglike as he walked and he became known as the puddock and it developed from there and that.
Carlos Zambrano kept his cool when asked if he was going to open a rehab center for Gatorade coolers (in reference to his destroying one in a temper fit last season). He replied, "Let me think about that. Sometimes I do things I shouldn't do. I don't want to hurt anyone."
Zambrano has taken anger-management courses.
Manager Mike Quade commented, "I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished last year when he went 8-0 in the last ll games. If he explodes, all right, so he explodes. Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well.
"One thing that I don't want to do is take all the passion out of Carlos Zambrano."
Not sure about what it means. Sounds like Quade will overlook Z's antics.
In reference to hosting an All-Star Game in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, both Ricketts and Cubs president Crane Kenney said, "Renovations to Wrigley Field need to be completed before that can be considered."
The Cubs may try for it in 2016 which will be the 100th anniversary of the move into the ballpark.
Kenney addressed the problem of high ticket prices.
"We are concerned. We always strive to have games that are priced under $10 a ticket and we will again this year. Are they against the Yankees? Or the Sox or the Cardinals? I"ll admit they are not.
"We say to ourselves how can we price our tickets to keep the $8-$9 ticket, keeping the games affordable for families. In terms of the marquee games we're going to let them subsidize the rest of the season. We have priced the tickets for the Yanks and the Cards on a higher level and it is not fan friendly from family perspective. But it underwrites all the other games at the lower prices."
Excerpted from My Summer as a CUB by R. Rathbone Leonard Copyright © 2011 by R. Rathbone Leonard. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIn Memory of Ron Santo....................v
Introduction by Reid Duffy....................xiii
Foreword by Joe McConnell....................xv
Preface by Chuck Marlowe....................xvii
Chapter 1—2011 Cubs Convention....................1
Chapter 2—Hundley's Fantasy Camp....................13
Chapter 3—2011 Spring Training....................33
Chapter 4—April-May 2011 Season....................69
Chapter 5—June-July 2011 Season....................97
Chapter 6—August 2011 Season....................131
Chapter 7—September 2011 Season....................155
Chapter 8—2011 Division, League Playoffs....................175
Chapter 9—2011 World Series....................185
Chapter 10—Post 2011 World Series....................207
Birth of Wild Card....................215
About Author, Illustrator....................217