By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The words came late Wednesday night after the Cubs’ come-from-behind 2-1 win against the Mets at Wrigley Field.READ MORE: Mayor Lightfoot Delays General Iron Permit To Move To South Side Over EPA Concerns
“We would have lost that close game last year,” the Chicago player said. “We were conditioned to thinking we were not good enough yet.”
The statement is reflective of how the culture has changed, for the better, for the 2015 Cubs. Like winning, losing is a state of mind after long periods of conditioning. For more than three years under the present baseball front office, Cubs players and coaches had resigned themselves to accepting a fate of losing.
Those days now appear to be in the rearview mirror, and it’s not only evidenced by Chicago’s 18-15 record entering play Thursday. It’s also about the attitude.
“We lost a lot of games around here the last three seasons,” catcher Welington Castillo said. “It is way more fun around here now. Of course, winning is way more fun. We took some of the last few years as experience. We have been able to put a lot together and learn from the past.”
Adding a manager in Joe Maddon who has won and who has vast experience at positive reinforcement has been a huge plus for the evolving Cubs. While previous managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria did a lot of the heavy lifting with player development at the major league level, putting Maddon in charge for the final push to becoming a winner couldn’t be argued with by anyone.
Under Maddon, the Cubs come to the park truly expecting to win every day.READ MORE: Chicago Night Clubs Gear Up For Looser COVID-19 Restrictions As State Prepares To Enter Bridge Phase
“We expect to win and also enjoy the fun afterwards,” Castillo said of the party atmosphere in the clubhouse after home victories. “Everybody around here now expects to win, and we work every day at that goal. We have learned to play together and start winning.”
In addition to stocking one of baseball’s best farm systems, management helped the cause by bringing in some proven winning players in the offseason. Championship players like starter Jon Lester and reliever Jason Motte liked the direction the Cubs were moving. The addition of top young talent over the past three years and the signing Maddon were huge in showing the Cubs were a franchise serious about winning once again.
“I was sold on Maddon before I accepted their offer here,” said Motte, a former St. Louis Cardinal. “A big reason I did sign was because of Joe and the players they were putting together. He has been super to play for. You know he has your back and will go out and fight for us. The mangers like (Tony) LaRussa and (Mike) Matheny seem different, but like Joe, they are all about winning. Their styles are different, but the message from the good ones is the same: It is all about winning.”
Maddon wasn’t in Chicago during the losing and early rebuild, but he does understand that winning synergy is created as a group, not just as an on-paper exercise.
“The veterans here have a lot to do with that,” Maddon said of creating a winning atmosphere. “You have to be on the bench to feel what I mean. These guys are totally absorbed. I love how guys like Miggy (Montero) and David (Ross) get involved on the bench when they are not playing. It’s like having other coaches there. It’s the peer coach — they can resonate a little louder (than coaches). My role as cheerleader is to be on that top step. It must be consistent win or lose. That has always been very important to me. I always wanted the person who was in charge to be the same, good or bad.”
Maddon was surprised to hear that the thought of losing was expected as a part of the day-to-day experience last season.
“The only thing I can compare things to is the way it felt (Wednesday) is the way it is suppose to feel,” Maddon said. “I have been involved in bad moments with teams that don’t demonstrate that they want to win. Right now, for me this is a very good feeling, how the guys are going about their business. I want to get beyond that (last year’s thinking). There is definitely a mindset. It’s the Henry Ford thing: ‘If you believe you can, you can. If you believe you cannot, you cannot.’ We need to get them to fight down to the last out. It really matters.”MORE NEWS: Saint Joseph Catholic School Principal On Administrative Duty After Former Teacher Charged With Child Sex Crimes
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.