No “I” in team

“There is no I in team” has been the rallying cry of high school sport coaches for decades; the sentiment, usually ignored in professional sports, has found a new home on Chicago’s north side.

On Tuesday of last week, Kyle Hendricks was off to a solid start. In the 5th inning with the Cubs down by 1 run Joe Maddon pulled the 6’3” right hander, after throwing only 69 pitches because a scoring opportunity presented itself. Maddon called it a “national league moment” and Hendricks was happy to help his team, even if it wasn’t from the mound. Maddon put Tommy La Stella in to pinch hit for Hendricks and the trick worked. La Stella was walked to load the bases and Dexter Fowler followed up with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. The Cubs went on to win 4-3. Hendricks probably expected to pitch deeper than the 5th inning, but he had no qualms about stepping down when his skipper asked him, he didn’t complain, didn’t whine. Maddon commended Hendricks for his attitude, noting that he “gets it.” After the game Hendricks told the press “It’s all about the team this year. We have bigger goals this year than just game by game.”

The team first sentiment rings true in everything the Cubs have done thus far this year. From Kyle Schwarber’s cheering on his teammates from his hospital bed, to Jake Arrieta giving David Ross a watch to thank him after throwing a no-hitter, these guys are moving as one unit. Arrieta said of the thanks he gave to Ross, “It’s not an individual thing. I get the notoriety because I was the pitcher, but without the other eight, nine, ten guys who contributed to the game—I’m just one aspect of it. It’s a team thing.”

Yesterday the Jon Lester vs throwing to first base saga continued. Francisco Cervelli hit a ground ball back at Lester who proceeded to field the ball, while I let out a sigh assuming he wouldn’t make a play to first. Lester ran toward first base and took his entire glove off to throw to Anthony Rizzo; the duo beat Cervelli to the bag and got the out. This is the second time in recent history that a ball has gotten stuck in Jon Lester’s glove, and it was as if he and Rizzo had practiced the move a thousand times. Rizzo dumped his own glove to catch Lester’s and cradled it like a new born babe. Last season the two pulled off a similar play against the Padres but nothing can beat the look on Rizzo’s face yesterday after pulling Lester’s glove into his chest and hugging it. Working with a pitcher like Lester, who is reluctant to throw anywhere but across home plate, means knowing how to support him. Ross and Rizzo made a great play in the 2nd to pick of Sean Rodriguez at first base yesterday. Rodriguez had a huge lead when Lester threw his pitch. Ross, with cat like dexterity, immediately up and fired to Rizzo to get the out. Knowing Lester was key here, Lester saw how big of a lead Rodriguez was taking, but he wasn’t comfortable enough to make an attempt himself, so his catcher did it instead. Rizzo knew an attempt would come from Ross and not Lester; the three had great syncopation on the play.

The Cubs, now 20-6, are an example to be heralded this season. Considering the climate, in a time when participation trophies are handed out to every kid the roster, and we treat individuals like LeBron James like he is a one man show, the Cubs emphasis on team this season is unifying. Comparatively, of the big 4, baseball is the least demanding on team emphasis. Basketball, hockey, football- with very few exceptions the ball or puck gets passed among teammates constantly, this doesn’t happen nearly as often in baseball, but the Cubs are showing us why team is important. No team has embraced the idea of acting as a single unit this much since 1994 when the Minnesota Miracle Man, Gordon Bombay hog tied his team together to skate as one unit before the USA took on Iceland in the Jr. Goodwill Games. While Joe Maddon hasn’t tied the boys together yet this season, he has asked them to play with clowns and wear goofy looking outfits as a way of seeking unity, and with the best record in baseball… it all seems to be working.

God save the Cubs, long may they reign.