By Sam Zuba-
(CBS) Every season is a fresh start, or so the saying goes.
But the words “fresh start” don’t even begin to describe the overhaul the Cubs have gone through since last season.
Jim Hendry? Gone. Mike Quade? Gone. Crane Kenney? Replaced.
The Cubs completely revamped their entire organization when they brought in team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum.
“Every year is new life,” Marlon Byrd, one of only a few remaining veterans, said. “You throw away last year and you start over. We just had some extras that have been added in — a new manager, new GM and team president. It’s all good. Everything is real good.”
The “good” that Byrd is referring to is the well-documented Cubs Way. It’s a new way of thinking, a new approach to baseball ushered in by Epstein and Co.
The new Cubs Way can be characterized by boiling baseball down to its most simple parts — practicing fundamentals, taking pitches and playing good, solid defense.
“Mostly, it’s just been attention to detail, like the amount of time we spent working on little plays, things that come up here and there that can change the game,” second baseman Darwin Barney said. “Especially those one-run games. You’re going to win your five-run games and you’re going to lose your five-run games, but in those close games, there are those certain things that can turn the game around.”
Nobody knows how fast errors and defensive miscues can derail a season like the Cubs. After all, they led all of Major League Baseball with 134 errors in 2011.
“You sit back and look at the numbers from last year and it’s embarrassing,” Barney said. “We don’t like that. The coaching staff obviously needed to address that. I think the work we put in during spring training is showing. We played better defensively. We were more tight as a club.”
Admittedly, expectations are low for the 2012 Cubs. Nobody expects this team to win the NL Central – or even compete for that matter.
Still, Hoyer said there’s a long-term plan in place and the Cubs will stick to it.
“Ideally, you want to win,” he said. “I had an interesting experience my first season in San Diego. We had no expectations. Vegas said we were going to have under 70 wins. I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August and we were able to win 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie. I think the most important thing you can do is be prepared every game and have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen.
“Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise you, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong. If that doesn’t happen and that isn’t our script, I certainly hope throughout the course of the year that we continue to add talent to our roster and build for a great day in the future. I would never give away any season. There’s no reason given the personnel in that clubhouse and the coaching staff that we can’t surprise a lot of people.”
Welcome To Chicago, Newcomers
When manager Dale Sveum takes his post in the Cubs dugout tomorrow, for the first time, the fans at Wrigley Field will cheer rather than boo.
Sveum, who played and coached for the Brewers, said his first game as a big league manager will be a lot like his first game a big league player.
“There’s nothing like opening day,” Sveum said. “A lot of players get called up for the first time at the beginning of the season or the middle or the end, so you can’t wait to make a team to be there for opening day. It’ll kind of be that same kind of feeling. So, my first time managing on opening day will probably be pretty special.”
Also making his Cubs debut Thursday will be third baseman Ian Stewart, who was acquired from the Rockies via trade in early December.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Stewart said. “Ever since I got traded here, I’ve been looking forward to this day – just the history with this organization and all the great players that have been here. I was telling my wife that it’s crazy coming here and actually thinking that I’m going to be putting on a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Field for this team. It’s just a lot of excitement for me.”
Stewart is looking to rebound from a forgettable 2011 season in which he played just 48 games after injuries cut his season short.
“If I can stay healthy, I think the number will be there in the end,” he said. “(Athletic trainer) Mark O’Neal and the guys in the training staff have done a great job with me. I just continue to get treatment from them and hopefully stay healthy.”
Dempster Looking Forward To Opening Day
With Carlos Zambrano teaming up with Ozzie Guillen in Miami, the Cubs will look to Ryan Dempster as their opening day starter.
“It’s always an honor when you’re in the lineup that first game of the year,” Dempster said. “Whether you’re a position player or a pitcher, it’s a tremendous honor to go out there and be the first guy to play. Hopefully I can go out there and do my job and give us a chance to win.”
Still, the veteran pitcher isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.
“It’s just a baseball game,” he said. “There’s really not much difference to it. It’ll be a little louder for a little while, but once that first pitch goes, it’s the same thing.”
News & Notes
— The Cubs finalized their bullpen Wednesday, announcing the team will carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers.
Rounding out the six-man bullpen will be Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Rafael Dolis, Lendy Castillo, James Russell and Shawn Camp.
GM Jed Hoyer said the team will likely stay with a six-man bullpen for the first few games before bringing Rodrigo Lopez up from Iowa.
— The Cubs also announced the team had claimed infielder Luis Valbuena off waivers from the Blue Jays.
The 26-year-old infielder is a career .226 hitter in parts of four major leauge seasons with the Mariners and Indians.