Emma: Clubhouse Leadership Has Different Dynamic For Rebuilding Cubs
By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — In Ryan Sweeney’s first big league clubhouse, there was no room for nuisance.
When he was a rookie with the Chicago White Sox, veteran leaders Paul Konerko and Jim Thome set the example for how to act in the major leagues. Sweeney followed their lead best he could.
“They taught you how to be a professional and handle yourself on and off the field,” Sweeney said.
It’s something the Cubs’ center fielder carries with him today. The example set by Konerko and Thome is what he tries to pass on.
At just 29, Sweeney is considered one of the veterans of this youthful Cubs roster. When prospects work their way to the majors, he might as well be their grandpa. Sweeney has embraced being a clubhouse leader for the young Cubs.
“We just try to give them as much information as we can,” Sweeney said. “They’re learning while they’re in the big leagues, and learning quick.”
Before the Cubs came together in spring training, there weren’t many familiar faces. This is simply a factor of the organization’s rebuilding process, where new names are patched into the lineup as placeholders for the prospects.
The Cubs’ clubhouse is filled with unique baseball backgrounds. There are just eight home-grown players on the 25-man roster, and nine were on a different team in 2013. The longest-tenured Cubs are 29-year-old Jeff Samardzija and 28-year-old Darwin Barney, making their leadership roles especially important.
“Their sticktoitiveness is a big piece of these guys learning how to be professionals at the major-league level,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “You still have guys developing into major league baseball players.”
In the most spacious, comfortable locker in the clubhouse sits Barney’s often-vacant chair. The Cubs’ second baseman is rarely in one place. He’s constantly moving between lockers to spark conversation or spending time in playing Xbox with teammates.
Barney is one of the Cubs who keeps things loose with teammates. His cool personality is infectious. He’s often the first to offer a challenge in video games, but he’s also the first to discuss situational baseball. It’s part of being a veteran in this game.
“Baseball is what we do,” Barney said. “We’ve done it our whole lives. A lot of us don’t know anything else. It’s fun to get other people’s perspective on parts of the game.”
Baseball brings a 162-game grind, something taxing on every player — both physically and emotionally. It’s not easy to keep the right mindset during the dog days of summer. For a Cubs club that set a franchise record for losses in a two-year span, it’s especially tough to keep upbeat.
The key is to keeping positive with outside influences. Edwin Jackson is on his eighth major league team at the age of 30 and has seen it all with each clubhouse stop. Whether it’s working the music before each game or simply offering teammates a vote of confidence, Jackson is doing his part to be buoyant.
“At the end of the day, you’re trying to keep everyone up,” Jackson said. “This is a tough game to play, regardless of it’s a good day or bad day. You have to have a short-term memory, continue to have confidence in what you’re doing and continue to grind.”
The personalities put together on a major-league roster can be unpredictable. When 25 people are put together in a cramped Wrigley Field clubhouse, a team’s character is quickly revealed.
Fortunately for the Cubs, the team has collectively clicked in the season’s first months. There’s no nuisance to deal with.
“With the personalities we have here, it’s a nice, loose environment,” Cubs third baseman Mike Olt said. “It makes everything easier.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmmaScout.