(CBS) — It’s a few hours before game time, and pitchers and catchers start gathering in the bullpen, deep on the third base side of Wrigley Field.
Lester Strode watches from afar. The former minor league pitcher and bullpen coach has been wearing the blue pinstripes for 27 seasons.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a blessing, to be honest. It’s a blessing.”
Strode is the longest-tenured Cubs coach, having served under eight different managers.
“My first was Tom Treblehorn, then Jim Riggleman, Baker, Baylor, about eight managers now,” he said. “I realize it’s a blessing because you get so many different styles, philosophies and approaches that you can learn from and make yourself better.”
Strode has also worked with hundreds of young pitchers over the years, serving not only as coach but mentor and sometimes father figure, many experiencing the big leagues for the first time.
“You have to address different things in life with them because it’s not just about baseball sometimes,” he said. “It’s sometimes issues off the field you have to talk to them about sometimes. The fact that I’ve been through this process many years, I feel like I have an answer for them.”
He says money has changed the game a bit, and young pitchers are brought through the system quicker, which he says makes his job that more important.
“The game is still the same, developing the pitchers is the same, but the expectation is to get there quicker because of the money,” he said. “The first thing I tell them is that this is still the same game that you played in the minor leagues, in high school. It hasn’t changed. Yes, it’s faster and you have to perform at a different level. Focus on what you do best. It’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing.”
He’s had many successes over the years. He points to former Cub Kerry Wood as one of his prouder moments.
“When he pitched his last game after he came back to the Cubs, I worked with him from the beginning of his career until the end,” Strode said.
As Strode reflects on nearly three decades, he admits he’s seen the good, bad and the ugly years but says the energy within the organization now is one he hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The Cubs are for real,” Strode said. “We’re on a mission. It’s a great feeling when you come to work when you know that you have a chance to compete and win every day.”
It’s an energy, he says, is on the verge of something big, something big he’s been waiting for longer than most.
“I’ve been waiting,” he laughed, “and now I feel like we’re so close and I know it’s something we need to get done but we feel like we’re getting the personnel on the field that’s going to allow us to have that championship here in Chicago.”
Bleeding Cubbie blue has been his life’s work.
“This is where I pretty much built my foundation,” Strode says. “It’s the organization that I love, and I care to do whatever I can to help us succeed each and every day. I can’t imagine being somewhere else in this moment in time. When it happens I want to be here.”
When he finally decides to call it a game, Strode says he hopes to walk away wearing that ring.
“I feel it’s going to happen real soon,” he says. “I hope it happens real soon and when it does, you’re going to hear me from miles and miles away.”