Did Chapman get Ricketts’ message? Will it translate by October?

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New Chicago Cubs pitcher Aroldis Chapman meets the local media for first time Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field. | File photo

The Cubs can only hope Aroldis Chapman will finish games better than he started his public relationship with Chicago on Tuesday.

Whether it was the lost-in-translation moment team officials said it was or diversionary tactics that it seemed, Chapman’s first impression was awkward at best as he failed to answer six versions of the same question related to the phone conversation he had Monday with chairman Tom Ricketts regarding his off-the-field past and the club’s expectations.

Team president Theo Epstein, who also was on that call, made it clear repeatedly on Monday that the outcome of that conversation was a critical part of the club deciding to finalize the trade for the pitcher who served a 30-game suspension this year under baseball’s domestic violence policy.

What are Ricketts’ expectations, as Chapman understands them based on that phone call?

After several answers from him about trying to win and being welcomed to Chicago, a member of the Cubs media relations department eventually stepped in to spell out the meaning of the question to translator Henry Blanco during the press conference in a media-filled visitors dugout at U.S. Cellular Field.

“He’s trying to remember,” Blanco said after listening to Chapman’s response in Spanish. “He was sleeping when they got [him up for] the meeting with him on the phone. He’s trying to remember what they talked about.”

Epstein and other team officials insist Chapman wasn’t being as evasive and dismissive as it might have seemed through a translation, that he was nervous and may not have understood the questions.

In fact, during a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez later Tuesday, Chapman – who was prepped before that interview that the question was coming – acknowledged the Ricketts conversation “about being a better person and being a better neighbor to people [translated from Spanish].”

Lost in translation? Maybe. But Gomez also asked the question – in both languages – during the group session.

Nervous. Maybe.

“Or maybe he did not want to relate exactly what had been said,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Regardless, “I am certain he got the message,” Maddon said.

And when it comes to why Chapman is in Chicago at all – why the Cubs sent four players to the Yankees to acquire the 105-mph closer – one question to Maddon Tuesday might have summed it up best:

If you win a World Series with this guy closing out Game 7 in the ninth inning, does it matter if he’s a good guy?

“Was Ty Cobb wonderful? I don’t know. Something happened to this [White Sox] team, was it 1919? I don’t know,” Maddon said, referring to the baseball’s iconic bad guy and the Black Sox scandal. “At the end of the day I’m here to get to know him om our terms, me and him, with his teammates. He’s been a great teammate from everything I’ve ever either read or discussed. That’s the lens I’m looking at it through right now.

“He did do his suspension, and he has talked about it, he showed remorse, and everybody else has their right to judge him as a good or bad person,” Maddon added. “That’s your right. But I know there’s times I’ve been less than perfect. I think we can agree that we’ve all been less than perfect at particular moments that nobody’s ever known about.”

It’s a massive leap from “less than perfect” to choking a girlfriend and firing a gun into a couch in his garage during the incident last fall that drew him the suspension.

On the other hand, Chapman is hired to throw a baseball, hired to help win games, in a cold, bottom-line, $10 billion industry that goes this far down the road with off-the-field character issues only because the business is so public and perception matters.

In reality, the players and staff just need to know if they can work with Chapman.

“I want to know what he’s like the clubhouse,” said veteran David Ross, who did his own background check on Chapman by talking with Yankees catcher Brian McCann, a former Ross teammate. “Those are the questions I ask because we’ve got to be around each other a lot and we’ve got a good journey that we’re going to go on here with some ups and downs. You want to know what kind of human being you’re getting in those times.”

Ross said he got good reports from McCann.

All Maddon knows for sure, he said, is that he wants to continue to get to know Chapman and to see that his All-Star arm can make the difference deep into October that many seem to believe he can.

“And he’s got that potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series,” Maddon said. “If he does, I promise you I will embrace him.”

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