Cubs veterans offer perspective about how far team has come

SHARE Cubs veterans offer perspective about how far team has come
SHARE Cubs veterans offer perspective about how far team has come


For the Sun-Times

Reliever James Russell can tell stories about Lou Piniella’s days as the Cubs’ manager.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo can remember when the Cubs won 61 games in 2012, a total they already have surpassed this season.

Reliever Travis Wood has a résumé that includes being the Cubs’ All-Star representative in 2013 with a 9-12 record and 3.11 ERA after receiving the lowest offensive support (2.79 runs per game) of any major-league pitcher.

For those three and shortstop Starlin Castro, who are the longest-tenured Cubs, the old days weren’t exactly good ones. It’s why these days of winning and contending mean so much to them.

‘‘It’s amazing to see how things have progressed over the years and with the guys we have now,’’ Wood said. ‘‘It’s still a young team, but they brought in some veteran guys who are really pushing the young guys and showing good examples. We’re playing good ball right now.’’

Wood had to accept his own change, moving to the bullpen after he struggled in the rotation.

‘‘Going to the bullpen was a bit of a transition, but it’s still taking the ball when they ask you to and trying to get hitters out, and that’s kind of the way I’ve tried to

approach it,’’ he said.

‘‘So far, so good. We’ve been able to do a pretty solid job out there.’’

Wood said winning has helped his transition and has made this August the kind he hoped for.

‘‘There’s just a different feel all the way around, especially this time of year,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re getting late in the season, and we were not doing well right now in years past.

‘‘To be right there this year, guys are still upbeat and looking forward to coming to the ballpark and getting ready to play the best we can.’’

Russell’s first season with the Cubs — 2010 — was Piniella’s last, so he missed the winning years from 2007 to 2009.

‘‘The Lou Piniella stories are some of the best ones,’’ said Russell, who was dealt to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline last season, then re-signed with the Cubs this season. ‘‘There were some good days with Lou, absolutely. There was a lot of good talent we had then, but not as much as we have now, and that’s kind of why this is special.

‘‘It’s kind of what we always dreamed about doing in Wrigley Field. It’s nice to hear about the plan [president] Theo [Epstein] and [general manager] Jed [Hoyer] were talking about and seeing it come together and watching the young guys they talked so much about and actually seeing what they’re doing and how they’re handling it. It’s pretty special.’’

Rizzo has spent the last two seasons watching teammates get traded at the deadline in exchange for youngsters.

‘‘It’s not fun to start spring training with guys and then lose them [at the deadline],’’ he said. ‘‘This year, it was nice to see us adding guys at the deadline. It’s a product of playing good baseball.’’

Rizzo said he felt the change coming in the offseason.

‘‘Signing [left-hander Jon] Lester and getting [manager] Joe [Maddon] in here, I remember talking to my parents and saying: ‘This is it. We’re going to be on a contending team for a long time,’ ’’ he said.

‘‘They were telling me the other day how we equaled the amount of wins of 2012, my first year. I don’t think too much about the past two years. It’s definitely nice to be playing the way we’re playing and doing the things we’re doing.

‘‘The culture in this clubhouse has really turned around, and the culture in the organization has shifted. And with everything coming together, it’s been amazing.’’

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