Sveum has Cubs on track in his second season
MESA, Ariz. (AP)
Dale Sveum doesn't plan on wearing the bright orange hunting vest with the large bull's-eye on the back anytime soon.
At least not until after his second season as Cubs manager.
About halfway through his opening speech at spring training, Sveum noticed Chicago's players peeling off their jackets and jerseys to reveal orange hunting tops. Soon, many of the Cubs were also sporting matching orange caps in a playful dig at their manager, who was accidentally shot by Hall of Famer Robin Yount, his close friend, while hunting quail during the offseason.
Sveum enjoyed the joke.
''It's nice that maybe they're saying they don't want to lose me in a hunting accident,'' he said with a loud laugh on Tuesday.
Hey, least the guy didn't lose his sense of humor, too, after a 101-loss season.
But beyond being a well-planned, well-executed prank, the Cubs' trick on Sveum was a sign of respect for the 49-year-old, who guided a young Chicago team through a rough year on the field, but one that was much smoother for the club off it than in previous seasons.
''Most 101-loss teams or even most last-place teams have a lot of controversies and a lot of brush fires and we had none last year,'' Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. ''I think some of that credit belongs to our players, but a lot of it should go to Dale and his staff. They kept a positive atmosphere.
''We weren't talented enough, that's why we lost all those games. But we were prepared, our guys had a good attitude and that will help us a lot down the road.''
With his straight-talking, confident approach and an ease in his manner, Sveum has endeared himself to Chicago's front office and players. The Cubs enjoy playing for Sveum, who was a journeyman shortstop for seven teams in 12 major league seasons.
Maybe his nomadic playing career played a part in in molding him as a manager, but Sveum said he's just being himself.
''The key for anybody is to not do anything that's outside your personality and don't try to be someone else,'' he said. ''You have to be brutally honest at this job, but in a calm and collected way. That's what I try to do. I don't try to be anybody else. That's all I can do, otherwise, these guys are grown men and they see through anything like that.''
Sveum's goal in his first season with Chicago was to create a setting where accountability was paramount, where actions were evaluated. There would be rules, many of them basic ones: hustle, be on time, respect the game, don't take any shortcuts, work hard.
As long as those were obeyed, winning would follow. The Cubs took their lumps, but some day they may start giving some back.
Sveum never stopped learning in his first season as a big-league manager.
''You take a lot of things from any season,'' he said. ''It's a different day every day and different adversity comes up as well as when you're winning. It's important to keep the guys the same every day. That's the biggest thing, that no matter what's going on in the win-loss column, your job is to win that game and to prepare and be the best you can - that day.
''That's all I can do. The one positive out of last season, there was no question in my mind that we prepared and our work ethic and our routines were the same every day.''
Don't think Sveum is all work and no play.
For the second straight spring under Sveum, the Cubs are holding a team-wide, 64-man bunting tournament. It's a way to break up the monotony of camp, build camaraderie, practice a skill that could win a game and be competitive. Sveum pitched a few rounds each of the past few days before a blister on his finger forced him to bring in a reliever.
On his way back to the clubhouse after he was eliminated, Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva said one of the reasons he signed with Chicago was because of Sveum. Villanueva was with Milwaukee in 2008, when Sveum, the club's hitting coach, took over as manager after Ned Yost was fired and led the Brewers to the playoffs.
''After that season, there wasn't one guy in that clubhouse that didn't want him to come back and manage the next year,'' said Villanueva, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last month. ''We were pretty disappointed he wasn't hired, but every guy in there wanted him and loved him and one of the bigger reasons why I came here is because he's at the helm.
''It was a no-brainer.''
There's a genuineness about Sveum, who won a World Series as a role player with the Yankees in 1998 and as Boston's third-base coach in 2004. He's firm, but fair. It's easy to see why players relate so well to him.
Villanueva said Sveum knows what to say and when to say it.
''It's a skill,'' he said. ''You are born with it. He communicates with players. He makes you feel comfortable. It doesn't matter if you're a pitcher or a position player, he's somebody that you can talk to and you feel like anything you say to him stays with him and you work it out with him.''
Sveum is very much his own man, though he has been influenced by playing under an impressive list of managers including Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland and Tom Trebelhorn. He's found a managing style that suits him, and he has no intention of changing.
''You take a little bit from here, and you take a little bit from there,'' he said, ''but in the meantime you better be yourself otherwise those guys in that clubhouse will figure it out right away.''
Notes: RHP Matt Garza will be sidelined one week with a pulled side muscle. The Cubs were relieved an MRI showed the injury wasn't worse after Garza, limited to 18 starts in 2012 with an elbow injury, felt a sharp twinge while throwing batting practice Sunday. ... After committing the most errors (27) of any NL shortstop, Starlin Castro said his goal is to win a Gold Glove this season, his first since signing a seven-year, $60 million contract. ''It's one thing I challenged him to do,'' Sveum said. ''I said, `Your next step now is to win a Gold Glove.' He's got the ability to do it. The rest is up to him.''