I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really have high hopes for the Cy Young panel that was to be the last of the day for Saturday. I wasn’t alone either, as the media section was completely barren following the conclusion of the rookie panel that had just finished up. The nice thing about that was that I didn’t feel even a bit weird about moving up to the very front row of seats to get a little closer to Rick Sutcliffe and Jake Arrieta (Fergie Jenkins had left earlier in the day due to another commitment). But you know what? The two-man show ended up being one of my favorites of the day.
Sut’s been around the block a few times and knows a bit about how to play a crowd, and Arrieta is just such a naturally funny and interesting person that you can’t help but enjoy listening to him. I think that comes across pretty clearly in the opening 14 minutes or so I was able to capture on video, but it certainly continued throughout the rest of the hour. Neither of the two pitchers takes himself very seriously, which is always something I appreciate. And that’s not to say that the men aren’t serious about their craft, just that they understand that there are bigger things than baseball and their respective roles in the sport.
It was really interesting to hear the two discuss the varying pre-game routines they utilized and the way the game has obviously changed over the last 30 years. In the Red Baron’s day, you’d have a trainer rub a little heat on your arm, grab a doughnut and some coffee, and take the bump. Arrieta is doing three hours of stretching, including work on a Pilates reformer, along with a varied strength and cardio routine. In stark contrast, Sut relayed a story of when Don Zimmer cut a guy after finding him working out with weights because he “didn’t want football players.” Can you imagine a major league clubhouse that had little other than a dusty old stationary bike? That’s what they looked like in the 80’s.
The elder Cub said he’s never seen anyone as physically and mentally prepared as Arrieta, a process that stretches as least back to the latter’s TCU days. Relaying a story he got from one of Arrieta’s college teammates, Sutcliffe talked about a time Arrieta had come back from the bar and challenged his buddy to best him in a feat of strength. With no weights at their disposal, the pitcher proceeded to perform some type of squats with the couch. That teammate? Non other than the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, a man Arrieta said wouldn’t return his post-NLDS texts for a while.
Arrieta also said that Carpenter is a terrible golfer, which is clearly some pretty important stuff. He went on say, however, that Carp fielded a call from John Mozeliak while the former Horned Frogs were on the course and that the Cards exec was beside himself over the losses of Jason Heyward and John Lackey. How serious was Arrieta? The world may never know.
While much of the conversation was lighthearted and devoid of any real insight, Arrieta did discuss his outlook on the 2016 season and the need to save innings in June and July for use in October. He acknowledged that while you never want to come out, sometimes it’s necessary to understand that the manager has his reasons for making the calls he does. He also discussed that mental preparation Sutcliffe lauded, saying that he’s able to essentially block everything out when he’s on the mound.
During the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh, which was easily the biggest of his career to that point, Arrieta says he only knew of the various signs and chants and such after people pointed them out to him after the game. He wasn’t able to block out everything though, namely the lady behind him who he said was using some rather aggressive language and telling him he was going to take a pitch to the head in his next at-bat. He did, in fact, have to eat a beanball, after which he was barely able to prevent himself from being ejected.
I’ve written a few times about some of the folks at panels like this perhaps pandering to the fans, kind of feeding them whole meals of chocolate chip cookies, if you will. There’s also a tendency to be a bit more open though, as if they’re just having a conversation with friends. That was the case with Todd Ricketts, whose comment about his wife yelling at the Mets on TV twisted up a few pairs of undergarments. It was the case with Arrieta as well, though I’m not sure he said anything to set folks off. Well, I suppose the stuff about Mozeliak may have tweaked Cardinals fans, though since none of the higher-profile folks got hold of it, it probably stayed at the Sheraton.
But both Arrieta and Sutcliffe came across as a couple of guys talking with a much smaller crowd, just feeling totally disarmed and sharing stories. Jim Deshaies was much the same, emceeing the show with a dry humor that perfectly matched with his charges. More than the content of the answers, I think it was that honesty and openness that struck me. At times, Sut was just as much a fan as anyone, exhorting the younger man to tell him more of the background behind some of the stories, particularly the one about Arrieta having a little fun with the Pirate Parrot parody account on Twitter.
— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) October 4, 2015
The Pirates fans got all kinds of mad online about it, but those of us who “know” Arrieta knew that this was simply a statement about both his confidence and his approach to the game. When I first saw it, I realized it wasn’t as much about Arrieta guaranteeing a victory as it was him saying that he is able to block out all that external stuff. You could see it during and after the no-no in LA, when his face belied nothing. When baseball is over, this man has a good shot at earning some money at a poker table. So Arrieta was basically just telling Pittsburgh not to waste time and energy thinking they’d be able to get under his skin. He did admit, however, that he knew he’d have to go out and perform after having tweeted that out.
Thing is, that’s nothing new for him. The reigning Cy Young winner said expectations the rest of the world has for him are irrelevant because what he expects of himself will always be higher. And that’s not just as a pitcher, but as a teammate, husband, father, and human. He didn’t get into much about the contract talk, but reiterated the maxim that he’ll be a Cub for at least two more years and that he would love to be one for much longer. Given how well he takes care of his body — Sutcliffe joked about the differences in their physical fitness at one point — I can see Arrieta continuing to be very effective well into his fourth decade, making an extension a pretty good opportunity.
Beyond just his skill on the mound, he’s a guy you just want to gravitate toward, as though you’ll become a better person just by staying in his orbit. It seemed pretty clear through the course of the hour that Sut and JD were but mere satellites, content to be a part of Arrieta’s world. And when the session concluded, the ace stayed around signing autographs until two members of security had to basically force him to leave. Just as he kept one-upping himself through the second half of the 2015 season, Arrieta kept getting better and better over the course of the session.
Whether it was talking about his interest in fitness or trying to shave his back hair with a trimmer on a stick that kept cutting him or just heaping praise on his teammates and rival pitchers, the guy just radiated pure, unadulterated awesomeness. I don’t think I can be effusive enough in my praise here, so taken was I with the star of that final session. This is the kind of person you want to build a team around, and I sincerely hope we have the opportunity to see him on the North Side for years to come. I can’t really think of a better way to have capped off my 2016 Cubs Convention experience.