Results tagged ‘ Len Kasper ’

Barney’s defense is golden

The following is an excerpt from the November issue of Vine Line, on sale now at Chicago-area retailers.

Good as Gold

When Darwin Barney came to Spring Training in 2011, he was expected to be a utility player. By the end of 2012, he was a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a cornerstone of the Cubs’ future.

April 18, 2012, was a rough day for the Cubs.

It was the second game of a three-game road trip to the Marlins’ ultra-modern, “only-in-Miami” new ballpark. Starter Matt Garza struggled through five innings, while his mound opponent and former Chicago compatriot Mark Buehrle cruised through eight, surrendering one run. The Cubs managed just six hits in a 9-1 loss … and starting second baseman Darwin Barney didn’t make an error.

It was an altogether forgettable evening of baseball, except for one thing. This game touched off one of the best defensive runs in baseball history.

It would be more than five months—141 games—before Barney made another miscue in the field. During that nearly season-long stretch, the diminutive second baseman made all the plays (including a surprising number of spectacular ones), piled up records, and bypassed former coach and Cubs legend—and perhaps the best second baseman of all time—Ryne Sandberg.

“I’ve been around a long time, and he’s been as good as I’ve ever seen,” said manager Dale Sveum. “[Barney] has put together arguably one of the best defensive second base years in the history of the game. I mean, he’s passed a lot of people. And when you’re basically passing one of the best—if not the best (Ryne Sandberg)—it’s one heck of an accomplishment you can hang your hat on for the rest of your life.”

There are more obvious kinds of excellence. Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown practically begs for plaudits and superlatives—it necessitates hits, home runs, fireworks and its own SportsCenter playlist. Barney’s is a low-key, under-the-radar, grind-it-out kind of excellence.

An errorless game is nothing to get excited about. Major league ballplayers aren’t supposed to make errors. But given the physical and mental grind of 162 games, they all know how difficult it is to put together an extended errorless streak.

“If I had a 20-game streak, I was pleased with myself,” said former Cubs third base and infield coach Pat Listach, who played six seasons in the majors and was integral to Barney’s defensive improvement over the last two years. “This guy has got over 100. Just knowing how hard it is to do every day, day in and day out, made it more impressive every day.”

Work Ethic

To a man, every player and coach immediately mentions Barney’s tireless work ethic and consuming drive to get better. He consistently receives the highest compliment a player can give to any other major leaguer: “He’s a baseball player.” And over the course of the 2012 season, Barney fashioned himself into perhaps the preeminent defensive second sacker in the game.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Listach said. “He knows this is a game you can only play for a certain number of years, and he wants to be the best at it while he’s got that window open. He’s like the old-school baseball players. When us coaches leave after we’re done dissecting the game, he’s still there. He’s in the weight room, or he’s in the video room. He’s trying to make himself better every day.”

The Move

Given the way Barney handles the keystone, it would be easy to believe he’s spent his entire life mastering the position. But in reality, 2012 was only Barney’s second year at second base. He’d grown up and played his entire career as a shortstop, including at Oregon State University, where he said he really started to focus on his defensive play.

“We had a coach, Marty Lees, who’s now at Oklahoma State,” Barney said. “Every ground ball I took my freshman year, I felt like he had something to say. And I was so frustrated because [it was] every single ground ball. And we took a lot of ground balls.”

When Barney made his debut as the Cubs’ starting second baseman on Opening Day 2011, it was just the 24th game he had played the position as a professional. Although he thought the transition would be easy, he said he was often uncomfortable in the field, especially turning the double play. He ultimately finished the 2011 season with 12 errors and a .981 fielding percentage—a decent defensive season for a guy adjusting to a new position—but Barney was far from satisfied.

“I just took a lot of pride in the work that I did,” Barney said. “I was always conscious about my habits and my practice efforts and getting to work every single day. A lot of times when you’re tired, you take your defense off and take less ground balls. For me, I take less swings. I make sure I get my work in on defense and stay solid out there.”

Chasing Greatness

By almost any measure—advanced metrics, errors, fielding percentage or just the eye test—Barney’s 2012 was one of the best defensive seasons for a second baseman in the history of the game. In 156 games, Barney made only three errors—one of which came at shortstop—and amassed a .997 fielding percentage at second base. Baseball-Reference had Barney tied with Brendan Ryan of the Mariners for the best defensive wins above replacement (3.6) mark in the major leagues in 2012.

“This is my 11th full year doing big league games, and this is the best defensive year by an individual player I’ve witnessed,” said Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. “I think we’ve come a long way with defensive statistics and how to look at defense. The bottom line is: Forget about the errors and fielding percentage. It’s about balls hit in your area and turning them into outs. It’s been borne out in the statistics that every ball hit in his area turns into an out.”

Constant Improvement

But Barney is not spending the offseason resting on his defensive laurels. Despite his superlative campaign, he still wants to get better around the bag turning double plays. He plans to work on his speed and flexibility to improve his range. And he wants to continue to refine his routine so he’s ready to play every day. And for people who know Barney, none of this comes as a surprise.

“A lot of times, players have a tendency to work on the things they do well,” said Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and outfield coach. “Darwin works on everything. He works on his backhand, he works on his feeds, ground balls hit up the middle, ground balls hit to his left. He works on them all because he wants to be that guy—he wants to be the Gold Glove second baseman. I think once he gets it, he’s going to get it forever.”

—Gary Cohen

To read the entire article, pick up the November issue of Vine Line or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Hot Off the Presses: October Vine Line featuring the best of 2012

The Cubs’ 2012 season has been all about adjustments. Year One of the Theo Epstein regime is in the books, and despite the struggles at the major league level, the future is looking a little brighter. The Cubs took advantage of the draft and trade deadline to bolster their minor league system, but Epstein is far from complacent.

“I think we’ve made some pretty significant changes in direction as well as philosophy,” Epstein said. “It’s hard to talk about the year, though, without talking about the frustration that goes with it. We aren’t even close to where we want to be.”

One of the biggest changes late in the season has been the Cubs’ infusion of youth. Anthony Rizzo was called up on June 26 and made an immediate impact. On Aug. 5, top prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters joined him on the parent club. In the October issue of Vine Line, we talk to the two good friends about their paths through the Cubs system and what they hope to accomplish at Wrigley.

“I can remember countless times just over the past couple of years, where either one of us was struggling or both of us were struggling, and we’d talk about it,” Vitters said. “I think we both know each other as a player enough that we have a decent idea of what it is the other person’s doing if they’re struggling a little bit or going through a rough patch.”

For our end-of-season issue, we also went to our blog to ask readers to help us determine the best highlights from the Cubs’ 2012 season. Despite the down year record-wise, the Cubs had a surprising amount of incredible memories, from Kerry Wood’s retirement to Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame induction to Alfonso Soriano’s bounceback year. You’ll find the results in our cover story, 12 for ’12.

Finally, we went into the booth with Len Kasper and Bob Brenly to get an inside look at what it really takes to put on a major league broadcast. If you think talking about baseball for four hours every day seems easy, think again.

For all these stories and more, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute—from Wrigley Field events like the Bruce Springsteen concert last month to all the breaking hot stove news.

Seventh-Inning Stretch Lineup, 8/24-9/2

This afternoon, Jeff Samardzija helps the Cubs kick off a 10-game homestand with the Rockies, Brewers and Giants. If you’re on your way to Wrigley to cheer on the new-look North Siders, here’s your seventh-inning stretch lineup:

  • Friday, August 24 – Glenn Beckert, former Cubs great
    First Pitch:  Rowdy Gaines, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming, Pregame: Several other Olympic swimmers are on hand for a special recognition, including Peter Vanderkaay, Davis Tarwater and Cullen Jones
  • Saturday, August 25 – Fergie Jenkins, Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher
  • Sunday, August 26 – Tom Dreesen, comedian and Chicago native
  • Monday, August 27 – Buddy Guy, Grammy Award-winning blues legend
  • Tuesday, August 28 – Len Kasper and Bob Brenly from the Budweiser Patio
    First Pitch:  Elisabeth Moss, actress and star of Mad Men
  • Wednesday, August 29 – Umphrey’s McGee, popular rock jam band
  • Thursday, August 30 – Doug Bruno and Oliver Purnell, DePaul University’s women’s and men’s head basketball coaches
  • Friday, August 31 – Bobby Hansen, former Chicago Bulls guard and current Iowa basketball broadcaster
    First Pitch:  Fran McCaffery, University of Iowa men’s head basketball coach
  • Saturday, September 1 – Jon Lovitz, actor and comedian
  • Sunday, September 2 – TBD Chicago Blackhawks players
    First Pitch: Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks star

While you’re at the park, remember to pick up the latest issue of Vine Line and the collectible Vine Line Gameday Edition and scorecard.

The Crosstown Classic invades Wrigley Field

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After Friday’s 3-2 loss, the Cubs now sit 39-46 against the White Sox since Interleague Play began in 1997. They do still hold a 22-21 record against the Sox at Wrigley Field.

Prior to the game, Manager Dale Sveum discussed his excitement about getting the noteworthy series underway:

“You don’t want to say it’s different than any other game, but they really are. That’s just the way it is. … Everything’s more magnified, the fans are into it, they’re going to stay longer, it’s a whole different atmosphere than any other game. It’s like being in the playoffs but you’re not. … To me, it’s like Christmas morning. You can’t wait till that morning comes. You get up earlier. It’s different than any other game.”

Cubs center fielder Tony Campana discussed what it’s like to play in front of the Wrigley bleachers:

“I’m sure it’s [ going to be crazy]. They’re always pretty rowdy out there, so I’m sure it’s a little more so because you’ve got both sides out there.”

Finally, Cubs play-by-play TV announcer Len Kasper broke down the series from the booth:

“I think it’s neat that you have two major league teams in a city. It’s always fun. There’s always extra energy in the ballpark. I think it’s as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get in the month of May.”

October 2011 Vine Line sneak peek

The October issue of Vine Line continues charging forward with its coverage from top to the bottom of the organization, including a can’t-miss feature on Tony Campana and an exclusive first visit with Shawon Dunston Jr. and Trevor Gretzky, two of the blue chips acquired in a big 2011 draft.

  • Live for speed: Bruce Miles writes that Tony Campana has shown the drive to overcome challenges his entire life.
  • Scout’s view: New contributor Jason Parks explains what a scout looks for in the speed tool.
  • The People of Wrigley Field: A day with Len Kasper and profile on Home Clubhouse Manager Tom Hellmann
  • Glory Days: 9 innings with Randy Myers.
  • The Profile: John Gaub.
  • Stretching Out with Larry King.
  • Farm Report: Shawon Dunston Jr. and Trevor Gretzky step out of the shadows.
  • Minors Tracker: An all-new way of tracking the system, including Future Watch by Kevin Goldstein
  • Minor league notebooks and more!

Get your insider’s pass to Wrigley Field today at cubs.com/vineline.

From the Cubs Convention: Z talks no-hitter

zambrano convention.JPGIt was another jam-packed Cubs Convention weekend — meeting readers at the Vine Line booth in the exhibition hall, hosting sessions on online media and the farm system, and volunteering in the batting cages to demonstrate wheelchair softball with the RIC Cubs — and another great opportunity to get a pulse of the Chicago Cubs and our fanbase. Thanks to everyone who said hi and made it another special weekend!

In the midst of all that, I had the opportunity to listen to Saturday afternoon’s presentation on Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter. Len Kasper moderated the discussion with Big Z and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

One thing struck me most: After seeing the session with the 1984 Cubs earlier in the day, I realized that 25 years later, Big Z’s no-hitter now might be the defining moment for a new generation of Cubs fans. During the Q&A, several fans were on the verge of tears and relayed their stories of watching the game on TV or traveling on a whim to Milwaukee. The Carlos Zambrano no-hitter Vine Line cover received the most comments at our booth.

zambrano convention room.JPGWe all hope that Z’s no-no is not the peak of this Cubs era, but it is nice to see a new narrative that can sit alongside 1984 and 1969 at future Cubs Conventions.

Other notes from the session:

? Big Z was asked about keepsakes he had from the game. He replied, “My uniform, glove, shoes … I will have those in my house probably until I die.”

? There was an extensive discussion of how bullpen warm-ups translate to the game. Carlos had said that he felt great in the bullpen and that, when he heard the game would be played in Milwaukee, he knew the fans would make it feel like a home game. Larry said that he had really great, heavy stuff warming up. But both said that doesn’t necessarily translate into a good start …

Rothschild: “Sometimes, guys think they have good enough stuff if they throw well in the bullpen, so they don’t turn it up a level in the game.”

zambrano no hitter vl cover.JPGZambrano: “One day against Milwaukee, I was throwing 120 [mph] in the bullpen. [Everyone laughs.] Seriously. I was throwing my fastball nice and easy, and it was going, ‘HAHH! HAHH!’ And it was the shortest outing of my career. [Laughs.]”

? Len, who of course did a phenomenal job moderating the session, became the sideshow when one fan berated him for uttering the phrase “no-hitter” when exiting a late inning. Saying she has been watching games since 1945, she pleaded with him never to utter the phrase during an active one again. Larry agreed and was pleased to get some support on the point, as he and Len have been going back and forth on the idea of jinxing a no-hitter. Len tried to defend himself by saying, “Well, he threw it, didn’t he??”

? But the funniest moment came when a fan asked if Carlos was hoping to bat in the top of the ninth or if he wanted to be rested going into the last three outs. Carlos’ reply? “What do you think?”

— Sean Ahmed

News and notes from a simmering off-season

Many of you probably have heard by now that the Cubs declined to offer arbitration to any of the club’s free agents. As was mentioned yesterday, the team still can negotiate with these players under the current Basic Agreement (which eliminated the restriction that a club must re-sign a player or offer him arbitration before the deadline else lose his rights until May 1).

The entire baseball operations department is at Wrigley Field and preparing for next week’s Winter Meetings. Those run from Dec. 8 to 11 in Las Vegas, Nev.

Some other notes:

? For those of you who have voiced your support for more Stephen Green photos on the blog, the longtime team photographer has heard your call. He is currently assembling some photos so that we can pepper them on the front page throughout the off-season.

Thanksgiving Kasper Vorwald.JPG? Charitable foundation Cubs Care funded and supported the annual National Runaway Switchboard Thanksgiving dinner at a local church last week. Play-by-play announcer Len Kasper and WGN Executive Producer Bob Vorwald helped prepare and serve food along with 20 members of the Cubs front office.

? Geovany Soto visited Wrigley Field a couple weeks ago and said that he has been back from San Juan Puerto Rico since late October. He, his wife, Luzem, and his daughter, Gia Leizan, enjoyed Gia’s first birthday on Oct. 24.

? Geo autographed hundreds of photos as gift items … including some Vine Line Cubs Convention prizes! Be on the look out for signed, uncut sheets of our exclusive 2008 Rookie of the Year cards at the Vine Line booth from Jan. 18-20.

? We offer our condolences to Henry Blanco and his family after the reported shooting of Henry’s brother, Carlos, in Venezuela.

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