Quade gets his chance with Cubs

Mike Quade realized just how much his life had changed when he

returned to Florida and a neighbor delivered some chicken soup to

welcome him home.

She also brought along a dozen baseballs for him to sign.

He’s a man whose signature means more now than ever. He’s the

manager of one of baseball’s marquee teams, the Chicago Cubs.

After managing more than 2,000 minor league games and serving as

the team’s third base coach, Quade ran the Cubs on an interim basis

for the final six weeks last season – and did a good job – after

Lou Piniella retired in August.

Then in October, he got the job for good. Now the decisions he

makes will analyzed daily by thousands and they’ll be much more

crucial to the Cubs’ success than whether to send a runner home or

hold him at third.

As pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, Quade was

eager to get going, but said Friday when the full squad reports

will be a much bigger deal.

”I downplay stuff. Somewhere deep in my heart, yeah, this is a

big day to start this thing,” the 53-year-old Quade said.

Those final six weeks, when the Cubs compiled a 24-13 record

under his guidance to complete a 75-87 season and fifth-place

finish, helped Quade get a feel for the job and how the players

would respond to his style. It was all positive.

”Obviously he’s changed a little bit because he’s the man in

charge now,” right-hander Ryan Dempster said. ”But his

personality didn’t change. His relationship with us as players

didn’t change. What you see is what you get, what he says is what

you get. He did a really good job of communicating with all of us.

We all really enjoyed playing for him.”

Those six weeks may have been enjoyable, but they came after the

Cubs were far out of contention. Quade was chosen from a pool of

candidates that included popular Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg

and now must find a way to make the Cubs a force in the NL Central,

where the Reds are defending champs, the Cardinals are always

formidable and the Brewers have greatly improved.

And not that anyone needs to be reminded, but it’s been 102

years since the Cubs won a World Series. And many managers, with

longer resumes and bigger names than Quade, have tried and come up

short in that mission to bring the championship to the north side

of Chicago.

Quade will let his coaches do their jobs but plans on being

hands-on with some of the finer points, like cutoff plays, going

from first to third, bunt defenses and other fundamentals.

”I just think for these guys to understand what I’m about,”

Quade said, ”these are areas I have to be involved in.”

Quade, a native of Evanston, Ill., was 1,213-1,165 as a minor

league manager in Montreal, Philadelphia, Oakland and Cubs farm

systems before becoming Chicago’s third base coach in 2007.

An avid fisherman, he makes his offseason home in Florida. And

since last season ended, he’s made a trip to Italy for baseball

clinics and attended the Cubs’ winter caravan.

He’s got plenty of decisions ahead, like picking his opening day

starter, where newcomer Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan

Dempster are the candidates. He’s hoping that the emotional

Zambrano, who underwent anger counseling last season after a

meltdown in a game against the White Sox, can show the same form

that allowed him to go 8-0 at the end of the season.

He must determine the rest of the rotation, sort out middle

relief and find a leadoff hitter.

”I couldn’t wait to get here. It’s probably the first time I’ve

relaxed in two or three months, if that makes any sense at all,”

said Quade, who walks to work at spring training and will do the

same in Chicago since he lives only two blocks from Wrigley Field.

He’s also been known to take public transportation.

Chicken soup as a gesture and a dozen baseballs as a favor sort

of sums up where a baseball lifer like Quade has landed. He’s a

normal guy who’s now a public figure.

”I understand the magnitude, believe me,” he said. ”But it

doesn’t do Mike Quade any good to get wrapped up in the magnitude.

I’m more of a grinding day-in, day-out guy. If we’re going to be

successful here with me in charge, I have to stay in charge of

myself and do what I need to do.”