Whether it’s sharing wine with his players, talking life during ballgames with Kyle Hendricks, or sitting in his classic car with Mike Montgomery in a parking lot, Joe Maddon has a unique way of connecting with people in an authentic manner. That’s what made the Cubs manager so desirable to the Cubs front office in 2015. And that might be why Yu Darvish was able to settle down and strike out eight Brewers during Friday’s game.
“[Maddon] really takes care of me,” Darvish told Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic (you can subscribe here for full access). “He thinks a lot about me. In today’s outing, there was a similar situation as the previous game, but because I spoke with Joe, I was able to overcome and kept going today.”
Maddon talked with Darvish about being present and staying in the moment. Being present, a phrase you might have heard spoken by many affiliated with the Cubs, is a theme for this franchise. Even when Maddon isn’t using mindfulness-esque words, John Baker, Darnell McDonald, Josh Lifrak, and the fine folks of the Mental Skills Program work with players using the same philosophy.
“I want him to stay in the moment,” Maddon said. “Attack-the-present-pitch kind of attitude. That’s it. I’m not looking for results other than that he’s really able to be in control of the moment.”
Darvish, who converses with teammates in English, spoke to the media through an interpreter about how he had gotten flustered during the 5th innings of his past two starts. That led some folks to translate Darvish’s comments as signs of mental weakness, which Maddon said is a gross misrepresentation of his pitcher’s approach.
“This concept that he doesn’t compete is absolutely fabricated and false,” the manager elaborated. “Players with that special kind of ability, sometimes you just get out of your zone somehow. And you need to be reminded about a couple things.”
Maddon gets a lot of flak for in-game tactical decisions, but this is a good time to take a step back and appraise the World Series champion manager’s influence on the clubhouse. I’m reminded of Mike Matheny angrily talking at, not with, Shelby Miller on the mound in Busch Stadium many years ago. Granted, I understand players and managers communicate differently, but it’s impossible to imagine Maddon ever intimidating or trying to instill an ounce of fear in players on his team.
Instead, it’s a sense of confidence and fearlessness that Maddon impresses upon Cubs players, the most recent of whom is Darvish. That kind of treatment permits players to rapidly adjust to high-pressure situations, as we saw Friday afternoon.