By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Admittedly, Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn’t get what Jon Jay was all about. He had heard plenty about the veteran outfielder but wasn’t quite sold.
“I’ve described him as being an acquired taste,” Maddon said of Jay. “I didn’t get him when I first saw him. If you watch him from a scout’s perspective, there are certain guys if you walk in the ballpark and see him once or twice, you don’t understand where the benefit is. He’s the guy that if you watch him a week straight, you totally get it.”
Needless to say, Maddon understands it now. In fact, he’s ready to adopt.
“If I needed a son or a sidekick, I’d go for Jon Jay,” Maddon said.
Paperwork is in order, according to Maddon. The compliment was enough to leave Jay smiling.
It should come as no surprise that Maddon has taken a liking to Jay, the even-keeled 32-year-old veteran. Jay can play any of the three outfield positions and is a low-maintenance, well-liked teammate. Maddon prefers Jay in that ninth spot of the order, bridging the end of the lineup to the leadoff man.
Jay joined the Cubs this past offseason to bring depth in the outfield, but there was also the hope he could help fill the void left by Dexter Fowler. The belief was the combination of Jay and Albert Almora Jr. could man center, while the versatility of Ben Zobrist could also push Jason Heyward to center field once in awhile too. Now, the Cubs have a log jam of options.
Through 21 games this season, Jay is tied with Anthony Rizzo for second on the team in WAR at 0.7. Only Kris Bryant is ahead. Jay should be playing more, but the same could be said for Almora.
Jay has a slash line of .366/.469/.463 and is a plus player so far at the plate, in the field and on the base paths. He takes quality at-bats, isn’t afraid of the brick wall at Wrigley Field and sure isn’t hesitant headed for home.
In the seventh inning of Sunday’s game in Boston, Jay went from second to the plate on a wild pitch. He never stuttered a step and refused to break stride. Jay dove into home and barely got his right hand across the plate to score the tying run.
He takes pride in a complete game.
“That’s just the way I am,” Jay said. “I’m going to go out there and play smart but at the same time be aggressive.
“I really try to do those little things that don’t show up in the box score.”
Before he was dancing with the stars, David Ross was ever present in the Cubs clubhouse to serve as a veteran figure for his young team. Now, that role is something Jay has taken on.
Jay knows his place with the Cubs, and though he admits to feeling 22 instead of 32, life is different. His locker is next to that of Addison Russell, whose interest in Pokemon cards has taken on a life of its own. Jay has been asking questions about Pokemon and trying to learn with Russell.
Maddon has mostly worked Jay in a platoon with Almora, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2012. On Tuesday night, Heyward manned center field, Zobrist played right and Javier Baez worked second base. Starts are limited in a crowded outfield, but Jay is fine with whatever Maddon prefers.
Teammates watch the way Jay prepares for a game. They see him work the same way for starts as days coming off the bench. He shags balls in the outfield during batting practice and goes through a routine in the cages. Jay takes excellent care of himself, allowing his body to withstand the rigors of a long season.
Jay is methodical in his approach. The Cubs have taken notice.
“That’s a big thing for me,” said Kyle Schwarber, “is being able to watch (veterans like Jay) and see how they go about their work, and try to incorporate that into my own.”
Jay broke into the big leagues in 2010 with the Cardinals. He played five seasons in St. Louis and one in San Diego, developing from a young player into a steady veteran. Jay won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2011.
Jay came to the Cubs ready to play whatever role was needed for the defending World Series champions. For all the homegrown talent on this team, it speaks to Jay’s demeanor in how he was so seamlessly able to adapt to this different baseball culture.
“A big reason I came here is just the appeal of having a chance to win and go to October,” Jay said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. That’s kind of just my mindset. Whatever the day brings is what it’s going to bring.”
The Cubs have watched as Jay handles his business day in and day out. Now, Maddon is sure of his new outfielder.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Maddon said.
“He’s just wonderful to be around.”