Routine helps Byrd fit right in with Cubs
Center fielder credits discipline for helping him keep focus
MESA, Ariz. -- On Sunday, before Marlon Byrd even got to HoHoKam Park, he had already taken a few swings with a bat in front of the mirror in his Arizona condo. He knew he wasn't in the Cubs' lineup for the game against the Reds, but he arrived at the clubhouse much earlier than the other regulars, got dressed, had his breakfast, and was ready to hit.
As Byrd was headed to the batting cages, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo walked in. The two joked about the timing. Naturally, Jaramillo turned around to go back to the cage with the Cubs' new center fielder.
The key to Byrd's success is keeping a routine. He learned that when he was in the Phillies' spring camp -- find a daily ritual that works was the advice he got from Jim Thome.
"It's just over time, finding a routine, picking something from all the guys I've come up with," Byrd said Sunday. "My rookie year, I came up with Jim Thome, Jose Mesa, Billy Wagner, Dan Plesac, Rheal Cormier, Tim Worrell. I started picking things from all those guys I played with, all the veterans over the years."
When Byrd was traded to the Nationals in 2005, he watched veterans like Marlon Anderson, Royce Clayton and Vinny Castilla. He wasn't afraid to ask questions. Byrd still tapes his bat the way Wil Cordero showed him.
He has learned from Eddie Guardado, Kirby Puckett and Cal Ripken Jr. When he went to Texas, Byrd watched Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa. What did he pick up from Sosa?
"Routine," Byrd said. "[Batting] cage routine. He said, 'You do the same routine every single day in the cage, never change.' Over the years, it's developed."
Byrd isn't superstitious but does like to eat the same thing for breakfast. On mornings in Texas, he would have a whole wheat English muffin with bacon, egg, cheese and a slice of avocado. He plans on doing that in Chicago, too, only a little earlier in the morning because of day games.
On Saturday, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano mentioned he's enjoyed watching new teammates like Xavier Nady and Byrd.
"I like Marlon Byrd a lot and the way he goes about his business," Zambrano said. "He just cares about playing baseball. He came here on a mission. People count more on [Derrek Lee] and Aramis [Ramirez] to drive this team but he's there. He wants to be part of those three dangerous hitters, [Nos.] 3-4-5. That's a good thing."
Is Byrd on a mission?
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"Yes," Byrd said. "I'm here. I'm here to win. I'm not here to replace anybody or anything or all that, I'm here to help this team win.
"They came and got me not because they needed a good clubhouse guy but because they needed somebody to play center field and do it well, and I know I can do that," Byrd said. "I'm getting myself ready to go out there and play as many games as possible."
Last year, the Cubs' offense scuffled and there was a significant dropoff in runs scored. In 2008, the team ranked first in the National League with 855 runs scored; last year, the Cubs dropped to 10th with 707. Can Byrd help pick up the slack?
"There's always going to be a question about me," said the right-handed hitter, who batted .283 last season with Texas. "You know what Derrek Lee is going to do, you know what Aramis Ramirez is going to do. Everyone is saying, 'He's leaving Texas, how's he going to do? What's he going to do? He's in a bigger market now -- is the pressure going to get to him?'"
Spend five minutes with Byrd, and you can tell he can handle anything with a smile.
"You see how I am -- you have to be around me to know that," he said.
Playing in Chicago shouldn't be a problem, either. Can he handle that?
"I can now," Byrd said. "In the past? I didn't know myself that well as a baseball player. I didn't have a whole routine set. That's why I was up and down with Philly and in Washington, it wasn't there."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella has been impressed with his new center fielder.
"First of all, he works hard," Piniella said Sunday. "He's serious minded about what he does and he likes to have fun doing it. That's a nice combination. He's been productive. Working with Rudy over the past couple years has made him a much better hitter. The final thing, he's liked by his teammates."
That's not easy for a new guy.
"He's got that type of personality," Piniella said. "He's not standoff-ish. I think you can rib him and he can take it. He'll probably dish it out, too. I've been very impressed with everything he's brought to us."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.