SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes what he’s seen from his new team this spring so much that he says he feels like a college coach.
“I hope he’s not comparing us to a college team,” pitcher Jason Hammel said after his spring debut Saturday.
No, no, no.
“I mean that in a most complimentary way,” Maddon said, referring to what he has dubbed Cub University this spring.
Make that “The Cub University,” he said.
He was talking Saturday about the effort in drills – some of them new to many of the players – ingenuity of the coaching staff and overall vigor he’s seen so far.
“It’s to the point where – I mean this in a most complimentary way – it’s like running a collegiate baseball program,” he said. “It’s like running almost an amateur group that’s trying to become professionals.
“It made me think the other day it’s almost like Cub University, or The Cub University. That’s what we’re kind of building right now. And I love it. … I think right now I’m almost like the head coach of a really good baseball university, and it’s really kind of neat.”
Of course, a lot of the guys in the clubhouse are fresh out of college – from the University of San Diego’s Kris Bryant, who homered in Saturday’s 7-5 loss to the Rockies, to Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber, who hit a grand slam in his spring debut Thursday against the Giants.
“We really promote liberal arts,” he said. “I believe in a liberal arts education in baseball. Specialization – yeah, you need a lefty out of the bullpen once in a while. But overall, you give the position players a broader curriculum and I think you really develop a better baseball player.”
For instance, second baseman Tommy La Stella got time at third base, as promised, Saturday. And others can expect to see multiple positions this spring they might not have played under previous managers.
But don’t expect help with tuition. Everybody pays.
“Nobody’s on scholarship,” Maddon said. “It’s a non-scholarship university. There’s no entitlement program whatsoever. It’s all earned. And I think these guys get that.”
We’ll save the jokes about the College World Series.
For now it’s more about finding out how good this school is and how equipped its graduates are for the real world.
Ivy League? (Outfielder Mike Baxter did go to Columbia, and Dexter Fowler got an offer from Harvard).
“It’s gotta be, right?” Hammel said. “I would hope so. We don’t want any junior colleges. That’s what I hope.”