Hot Off the Presses: Sept. Vine Line featuring Cubs ace Jake Arrieta

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Here’s a bit of advice for aspiring sports journalists out there: If you ever plan on writing a story about Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, you need to get comfortable with waiting. It’s not that Arrieta isn’t accessible or approachable. Quite the contrary, in fact. He’s polite, intelligent, thoughtful and probably takes reporters’ questions much more seriously than they deserve to be taken. And when he’s in the clubhouse, he’s happy to accept queries from all comers.

He’s just not in the clubhouse all that often. And if you’ve ever really looked at the 29-year-old starter, who twirled the first no-hitter of his career Sunday night in front of a national ESPN audience, you can probably imagine why.

When we were trying to track down Arrieta (and his glorious beard) for our cover feature this month, we asked various sources if they had seen him around. Here’s a sampling of the responses we received:

“When I got here at around 2 p.m. (for a 7:05 game), I know he was on his Pilates machine.”

“The last I saw him, he was in the weight room.”

“I know he was throwing earlier. He’s always working. He’s impossible to find sometimes.”

This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but Jake Arrieta is an extremely hard worker. Still, that’s not what makes him unique. Most major leaguers are hard workers. It’s the wide range of activities he does to keep himself in shape—from Pilates to cycling to weights to isometric work—and the gusto with which he undertakes these activities that make him a bit of an oddity.

What I found most interesting during the reporting process was listening to how his teammates talk about him. Even in a room full of professional athletes, most Cubs players still seem to view the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Texan with wonder. Rotation mate Kyle Hendricks said he aspired to be like Arrieta one day. Catcher David Ross called him a tree bark-eating caveman. Pitcher Jason Hammel mythologized him as a Greek god. Most freely admitted they couldn’t keep up with him, while others hesitantly said they were weighing whether they should actually join him on his famous Pilates reformer.

“Some of the stuff I see him do in the weight room, there’s no way my body could even get in those positions,” Hendricks said, laughing.

Arrieta also might be the poster child for why the Cubs need the 1060 Project’s improved player facilities. The current Wrigley Field weight room and clubhouse are surprisingly small, so Arrieta has moved his Pilates machine (yes, he has his own Pilates machine—of course, he has his own Pilates machine) into the media room. In the last few months, Cubs beat writers have grown accustomed to waiting a few extra minutes for their daily pregame briefing with manager Joe Maddon, while Arrieta either does Pilates himself or puts one of his teammates through the paces.

For the last few seasons, people have been asking—and I asked the same question of everyone I spoke to—why the Cubs’ version of Jake Arrieta is so much better than the Orioles’ original version. The consensus answer points back to his Herculean work ethic. Arrieta is truly driven to be great in every aspect of his life. He always had the stuff. That’s why he made an Opening Day start for the Orioles in 2012, even though his numbers never said he was an ace.

This month, we examine how Arrieta transformed himself from an underachieving prospect into one of the top pitchers in the National League. We also get to know the next wave of heavy hitters in the system, this year’s top draft picks Ian Happ and Donnie Dewees. Finally, we look back at the last time the Cubs were flush with young talent during the tenure of aggressive and often aggravating general manager Dallas Green.

The 2015 season is almost in the books, but things are just heating up. Here’s one more piece of advice: Don’t miss a second of the Cubs’ playoff push. We’ll be there for every last pitch in print, on the Web and on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

To subscribe to Vine Line, go to cubs.com/vineline.

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