Maddon rehashes dicey Game 7 logic: 'There's no Game 8'
CHICAGO (AP) There's no ivy in sight and the river running alongside the downtown hotel where thousands of Cubs fans gathered this weekend is frozen solid.
But there's an unmistakable feeling of autumn in the air as baseball's longest-suffering fans packed the team's annual convention to extend the party that began last November, when the Cubs beat Cleveland in Game 7 and broke a 108-year-old World Series drought.
Not surprisingly, two of the biggest topics of discussion were the same ones hashed over at the victory parade.
Namely: What was manager Joe Maddon thinking when he pulled starter Kyle Hendricks in Game 7, starting a chain-reaction collision in the bullpen that nearly cost the Cubs the Series? And, how did slugger Kyle Schwarber - who was supposedly done for the year after reconstructive surgery on a knee he shredded in the third game of the regular season - come back in time to make an impact in the postseason?
Maddon handled the first question a lot more deftly than he did his pitchers in that last game of the season.
''There's no Game 8,'' he replied. ''You can't play that one like you did in June and July.''
As for the Schwarber mystery, no one in the Cubs organization has a good answer yet.
''No one ever seems to believe us, but we never had a conversation about him coming back,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ''But what he did was the stuff of legend.''
Hoyer wasn't kidding about the surprise return. The Cubs had no plans for Schwarber until he left his surgeon's office on the eve of the postseason and called Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, to say he'd been cleared to test the rebuilt knee in game situations.
Epstein, the chief architect of the Cubs' triumph, was thrilled - except for one thing. Laura Ricketts, sister of Cubs principal owner Tom Ricketts, kept asking him when Schwarber would return and he'd told her several times there was no chance of that.
''So when Kyle called me and said, `I'm ready,''' Epstein recalled, he blurted out, '''You can't!' I already told Laura you're not coming back.''
Here's a handful of other highlights from Day 2 of the convention:
TELL IT TO THE PREZ: The Cubs' quick trip to the White House isn't as rushed as it might seem. President Barack Obama actually extended the invitation during a congratulatory call to Maddon right after the Cubs clinched.
''We had a great conversation,'' Maddon said. ''He definitely wanted us to come before he left office.''
Asked whether he had any advice for the soon-to-be unemployed president, he quipped, ''I'll just listen.''
And Maddon already knows that any useful tips on improving his ballclub aren't likely to come from the chief executive himself.
''He's a White Sox fan,'' Maddon chuckled. ''But Ms. Obama (who grew up in Chicago) is a lifelong fan and so is most of his staff.''
MARRIAGE COUNSELING: Some fans were more than a little surprised to see just-married National League MVP Kris Bryant and new wife Jessica spending their honeymoon at the convention instead of a beach in Hawaii or some romantic villa in Europe. When they noticed Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo passing a note back and forth during one session, some assumed Rizzo was scribbling something like, ''You better have a jet chartered to Antigua or someplace even nicer the minute this thing ends.''
But no. Turns out they were just playing tic-tac-toe.
There was, however, some worthwhile matrimonial advice being handed out.
When a fan told Epstein the Game 7 win was ''the best day of my life ... until my wife reminded me of our marriage,'' Epstein smiled.
''When we win again, renew your vows the same day,'' he laughed, before adding quickly, ''I made that mistake, too.''
STRANGERS BEARING GIFTS: Members of the Cubs recalled the most touching tributes they received from fans after the win. Several recalled hearing stories about flowers, baseball caps and pennants left on the graves of fans who didn't get to see the team break the most confounding streaks in sports.
Maddon said the reaction ''validates everything you believe in about sports.''
In an equally touching moment, a downstate Decatur family used their moment during a question-and-answer session simply to thank the manager and present him with a baseball signed by every member.
As applause rippled through the crowd, the next fan in line stepped up to the microphone. But before he could ask a question, Maddon deadpanned, ''So,'' he said, smiling broadly, ''what do you have for us?''
KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS: What was billed as a ''Kids Only'' press conference gave pint-sized fans a chance to grill four of the team's best young players. In addition to Schwarber, Albert Almora, Javier Baez and Wilson Contreras faced some tough questions.
''My question is for Schwarber: Do you plan to play in the regular season,'' one youngster began with perfect timing, ''or are you just going to wait for the World Series again?''
''What's your favorite scary movie?'' came up several times and proved especially tricky after one young fan said his question was for ''Kris Bryant,'' who happened to be elsewhere at the moment.
Undaunted, Schwarber dialed Bryant up and held his cellphone in front of the mic.
''I don't like scary movies,'' Bryant's reply echoed through the room. ''I'm too much of a wimp.''
Baez volunteered ''Paranormal Activity'' was his favorite.
''Did you watch it?'' he asked.
''No,'' the young fan replied.
''Don't,'' Baez counseled. ''It's really scary.''