Coaches, players remained stoic about approach
CLEVELAND — Aside from the hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters watching the players’ every move on Wednesday, batting practice before Game 7 of World Series was like any other session from any point of the year.
Players were taking their cuts, laughing with each other and running the bases like it was June 2, as opposed to Nov. 2. With a game time temperature of 72 degrees, it certainly was more like the regular season than the postseason.
But, it wasn’t a normal game. Far from it.
However, there was a sense of normalcy in the Cubs and Indians locker rooms before the game.
“That’s one of the things we’re looking for,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “I took the Cribbage to the road today and went out in the clubhouse to play because you want to kind of take the temperature a little bit. I mean, you have guys around everybody here, long enough to see the guys that are loud but maybe trying to cover up a little bit of anxiety.
“One of the biggest challenges is to be yourself. And sometimes you’ve got to almost work it out a bit.”
The players did a good job of masking any anxiety or desperation in pregame warmups. Inside, though, they had to know what was at stake. From an arms reach away, I was sweating enough for everybody wearing a uniform on the field.
I, obviously, had no bearing on the outcome of game. Neither did the thousands of reporters from around the world who were at Progressive Field. My typographical error or incorrect use of ‘who or whom’ won’t be dissected by an entire fanbase for generations.
Only my editors and loyal readers will have to put up with those mistakes. If ESPN personalities Buster Olney or Tim Kurkjian stumble over a word or phrase on live television, they may be ridiculed on social media for a day, but a brief tongue-tied episode will be quickly forgotten.
A swing-and-a-miss by Kris Bryant, a dropped fly ball by Lonnie Chisenhall or a wild pitch by Corey Kluber will be infamously blasted and blamed for costing their team a championship.
“Shoot, man,” Francona said, “everybody’s going to be nervous, myself included. As long as that doesn’t get in the way, that’s OK.”
The hype of the moment is one created by people’s fandom and baseball legend. These major leaguers have dreamed about winning a World Series title since they first picked up a bat and ball. Chances are, none of the 50 players out there specifically had the Cubs or Indians in mind.
Players like Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli, Anthony Rizzo and Dexter Fowler will be household names in Cleveland and Chicago, respectively. They won’t forget their 2016 seasons in those cities, either, no matter where their careers happen to take them.
It’s a lot to handle, this Game 7, no matter how much the players and coaches attempt to downplay its meaning.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon began Wednesday just like any other day of the week. Staying in that routine, with his daily ritual of breathing and meditation exercises, helped him and his staff stay focused throughout the game.
“I love to meditate in the morning,” Maddon said. “I’m a big believer in meditation. Whether you want to call it prayer or meditation, that to me is very, very helpful to just really get my mind right for the course of the day. So that when you do come to the moments, you have to make a decision that you feel convicted in that decision, and that is based on what you do prior to, during and then after.”
After, there was cause for celebration.
The Cubs held off the Indians, 8-7, in 10 innings to claim the 2016 World Series. The joy and raw emotion was seen on the field as players mobbed each other after recording the final out.
The scene was all the pomp and circumstance displayed by the Cubs on a Series-winning day. Before the game, Maddon didn’t even speak to his team as a whole.
“I could only hurt them,” Maddon said. “I can’t help them baby trying to be brilliant or emotional or motivational. They don’t need that.”
And, there will be plenty of time for the fans to do that for them before spring training begins in March.