CHICAGO -- It's been nearly one year since Joe Maddon's introductory news conference at the Cubby Bear presented him as the next Cubs manager. It's been an amazing run to get from his offer of a shot and a beer to Spring Training, then the 162-game season, a Wild Card win over the Pirates, and now playing in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday.
The Cubs beat the Cardinals, 8-6, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
"I drove by the Cubby Bear this morning, and the weather was kind of the same with the gray skies," Maddon said of that Nov. 3 news conference, which had to be held in the bar because Wrigley Field was undergoing renovations.
"I was back in that moment, thinking about flying into Chicago last November and how this all started," Maddon said, sitting in his cramped office. "We've come full circle within a year, and it's kind of amazing to be in this particular moment with all this at stake. This is what you work for. Again, I'm really happy for the fans to be able to participate in this moment. I think it's fabulous."
Maddon was greeted with applause by fans as he walked into the ballpark after driving his souped-up van. He took the van because his partners from his Tampa Bay restaurant will be at Monday's game, and he wanted to make sure he could drive everyone back to their hotel afterward.
All four are 23 years old or younger. Only one team in postseason history has started four position players who had yet to turn 24: the 1966 Orioles, who started Curt Blefary, Davey Johnson, Paul Blair and Andy Etchebarren in Games 2 and 3 of the World Series against the Dodgers.
Maddon said he didn't hesitate to go with the kids.
"I didn't blink in a sense because it doesn't matter," Maddon said. "It could've been five if I wanted to play [Javier] Baez. I just chose to go that way."
Are they really rookies?
"They're kind of playoff rookies, but the old line that I've adhered to is, after the first bomb falls, everybody becomes a veteran," Maddon said. "These guys, a lot of them played in the [Wild Card Game] against the Pirates. To participate in a Wild Card win and play as well as our guys did takes the edge off a little and permits you to go out and play."
• Dave Martinez knows all about how playing day games at Wrigley Field can wear a player out. He made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1986 and spent three seasons in Chicago. That background influenced Martinez, now Maddon's bench coach, in encouraging optional batting practice and rest.
"The biggest thing is keeping these guys fresh all year long and trying to figure out ways to do that, whether it's shortening batting practice, not having batting practice," Martinez said. "We told these guys in Spring Training, the goal is to play through October, and we have to have enough energy to do that. Everything that we do coincides with what our plan was in the beginning."
When Maddon and Martinez were together in Tampa Bay, the Rays did not take batting practice on Sundays or before day games. Often, they would have the younger players take ground balls even if they did not hit.
Martinez said there wasn't anything they did in Tampa Bay that wouldn't work in Chicago. The Cubs had a disc jockey in Spring Training, the players wore pajamas on the plane home from Los Angeles, and there was a cheetah on the field.
"The biggest thing is to be ourselves, and Joe and I really believe that, and we did that and the players bought in and they loved it," Martinez said. "Every day they're expecting something different. It's been a lot of fun."