Brrr, It's Cold...Let's Talk Baseball!

Jan. 29, 2004

Listen to today’s edition of Inside Iowa

Editor’s Note: The following was written by Mike Hlas and first appeared in Jan. 27 editions of The Gazette.

Before you Chicago Cubs people get too optimistic about the year ahead, note that the Cubs haven’t had back-to-back postseason appearances since 1907 and 1908.

But it should be more than snow and cold that is causing Cubs fans to eagerly await April. The defending National League Central champions have real reasons to believe in a successful 2004 season. They’ve brought in quality new help like first baseman Derrek Lee, relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and infielder Todd Walker to join the talent already on hand.

And if Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry can lure pitcher Greg Maddux back to the friendly confines, those Wrigley Field tickets will become even harder to grab.

Unlike Cubs general managers of the past, Hendry is earning roses rather than thorns. He’ll undoubtedly be well-received when he appears with former Hawkeye/ current Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Wes Obermueller at next Monday night’s inaugural Iowa Baseball Lead-off Dinner at Iowa City’s Sheraton Hotel.

“Notre Dame, Creighton… you can win at a northern school. You can go to the College World Series as a northern school. But it starts with getting good players.”
Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, a long-time friend of new Iowa Baseball Coach Jack Dahm

New University of Iowa head baseball coach Jack Dahm was a player and assistant coach for Hendry at Creighton. Dahm was on Hendry’s staff when the Bluejays finished third at the 1991 College World Series. Hendry left Creighton for pro baseball in 1991. Dahm was the Bluejays’ head coach from 1993 until last spring.

Via phone Monday, Hendry was asked what Dahm has to do to wake Hawkeye baseball from its streak of seven straight losing seasons.

“First of all,” Hendry said, “you’ve got to get a belief and an excitement about the program. You have to do the best you can at keeping the better players at home. Iowa does have a history of having a lot of quality players.

“Notre Dame, Creighton… you can win at a northern school. You can go to the College World Series as a northern school. But it starts with getting good players.”

Keeping your own state’s talent from straying is a pretty basic rule, but you have to do it. For instance, Dahm has landed current Cedar Rapids Kennedy senior Danny Bales, a pitcher who defines what it is to be a “gamer.”

If Cubs aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood have any distant cousins with their kind of pitching genetics maybe Hendry could point them toward Iowa, too. For now he’ll just hope Prior and Wood keep doing what they did last year in helping first year Cubs Manager Dusty Baker to 88 wins and a divisional series playoff win over the Atlanta Braves.

The state of Cubs baseball, Hendry said, “is pretty good. I wish we’d had five more outs and five more games last year, but we had a terrific year coming off a rough year before.

“We’ve had a good off-season. We feel like we’ve filled a lot of holes. We expect to be good from now on, and not the way we used to be.

“The Cubs are now a place people want to play, for a variety of reasons.”

Hendry said that because of deals made with Lee, Hawkins and others, the Cubs don’t have huge money to offer Greg Maddux, an Atlanta Braves free agent who has won 15 games or more each season since 1988. Still, don’t rule it out.

“Greg’s going to do what Greg thinks is best for him, and not worry about getting that last dollar,” Hendry said. “Economically, we’ll do what we can for him.”

“Todd Walker and LaTroy Hawkins are two guys who left more money on the table elsewhere to come here. Walker’s coming in without a starting job. Those are things that don’t happen much anymore in professional sports. That’s because we’ve got the right guy (Baker) in the dugout. We’ve turned away a lot more people than we’ve signed. This has certainly become that kind of place.

“I think we’re going to camp with a better club than we had last year, and that’s important. I really feel like we’ll be a contending club.”

Three months after the dashing heartbreak of the NLCS loss to the Florida Marlins, you can almost hear these two words in the bitter winter winds of Wrigleyville: Hurry, April.