Can Maddon's Cubs find comfort in handling the uncomfortable?
While "authenticity" is one of Joe Maddon's new catch words for 2017, the one I'm most intrigued by is "uncomfortable."
Who wants to be uncomfortable? Nobody.
But the Cubs manager sees some benefits to his players dealing with a little uncomfortableness, beginning in spring training and heading into the regular season.
It's not that Maddon wants to keep the Cubs from getting complacent; he doesn't view that as a problem.
No, Maddon sees an opportunity for growth arising out of being uncomfortable for the defending world champions.
"It's really important to be uncomfortable," he said in the early days of training camp. "If you become a comfortable person, I think that subtracts growth from the equation. I think if you remain somewhat uncomfortable, you'll continue to grow. You don't become stagnant. You don't become complacent, set in your ways. On every level, I want us to be uncomfortable. I think that's a really positive word. That's one of the messages I want to get out there quickly with our boys."
Cutting to the chase, the idea is to get the Cubs to repeat as world champions, which is no easy feat.
"Whenever you push yourself outside of that zone, it may be uncomfortable, it may be something you don't want to do in the moment, but once you've done it, you bask in the afterglow in that event," Maddon said.
"Then you realize, 'Man, I'm really happy that I did do that, I did step outside.' People talk about comfort zone, thinking outside the box, all those different things. I think the benefit, the residue in a positive way, is once your do push yourself to that moment, then you can really imagine or feel what you're capable of doing as a human."
On a personal level, I can relate. For my trip to Mesa, I was given a real camera -- to supplement my phone and an iPod -- to get additional photos for our print and online editions. It was a bit uncomfortable. First, the camera and lens were pretty heavy. And second, I'm not a professional photographer, just guy taking pictures.
After some trial and lots of error, a good number of my photos turned out well. And yes, there is a sense of personal satisfaction derived from being uncomfortable and overcoming it.
The key, Maddon said, is overcoming fear.
"Fear plays into all that," he said. "We're all fearful. We don't even know what we're afraid of. But we are. I think anytime you feel like you're intimidated or afraid with something, it means you absolutely have to do it. You absolutely have to whatever that is that makes you uncomfortable.
"I'm trying to balance and focus the message. But at the end of the day, man, it's all about making yourself go beyond your normal limits, push through the fear, whatever that is, whatever that emotion is. And then you come out the other side, you're pretty gratified."
Baseball players will sit still for only so long and listen to what some may consider psychobabble. So after Maddon presented his theories a couple weeks back, pitcher Jake Arrieta was asked about being uncomfortable.
"What I like about the uncomfortable aspect and that motto is you have to find a way to be comfortable with an uncomfortable situation," Arrieta said. "We had a lot of uncomfortable situations last year where we were able to persevere and get through and come out ahead.
"I think it's going to be very similar this year. We're going to have situations that aren't ideal or aren't very comfortable. But if we come together as a unit and overcome adversity, we're going to be just fine."
Maddon said he was going to have T-shirts printed -- probably made of comfortable cotton -- to get the "uncomfortable" theme ingrained. But while making "uncomfortable" a way of life, Maddon said he doesn't want to take away from the fun the Cubs have been having.
"While we're balancing this thing out, talking about it, feeling uncomfortable in a sense that we want to keep growing and pushing, I want us to keep having the same kind of blast that we've had the last two years," he said. "I think that's important, also."
Whether they know it or not, baseball players are uncomfortable every day, according to Maddon, who related it to game situations.
The Cubs were challenged last year with a midseason slump. They saw their playoff lives flash before their eyes in both the division and championship series before feeling more than a little uncomfortable in the World Series, finding themselves down three games to one against the Cleveland Indians and blowing a lead in Game 7 before finally prevailing.
"Baseball players on a daily basis are trying not to embarrass themselves." Maddon said. "You're always uncomfortable about not being able to do what you just had done. Guys will have a bad batting practice and fret about going out to play the game. So there's a tremendous amount of discomfort going from the batting tunnel or the pregame.
"There are pitchers coming out to the bullpen. 'How was he in the bullpen?' 'He was horrible.' So you feel uncomfortable going out to the mound. Then all of a sudden, something clicks because you don't quit, because you keep pushing through the moment. So we all are uncomfortable constantly with what we do. When you're playing in front of 40,00 people and everything you do is scrutinized much as it is, there's a certain level of being uncomfortable.
"However, if you face it, then the other side is pretty cool."