MESA, Ariz. – Are the Cubs, with all their charismatic young players, still too lovable?
Can they be viewed with a Yankees-like aura or Red Sox-like stature in the game without the contempt from other teams and fan bases that seem to come with that kind of annual expectation and success?
Even after winning a championship, All-Star Anthony Rizzo and others around the team keep talking about the personalities in the clubhouse, the “authenticity” of players and how “likeable” guys like Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and others are.
But Rizzo got a dose of post-title perception from the outside while working out one day during the offseason.
“I had an older man in the gym telling me he’s a big Red Sox and Patriots fan,” Rizzo said Thursday. “And he said, `Yeah, congrats, you guys won one, but you haven’t done anything until the whole country hates you.’
“In a way it’s true, because growing up a die-hard Dolphin fan, I hated Tom Brady because he was the best. And now it’s like I’m almost a Patriots fan because he’s so good.”
Never mind that the old man seemed to be making the opposite point.
“I think this team has a lot of good personalities,” Rizzo said, “where it’s going to be tough. But it’s the way it goes. If we just respect the game, it’ll make it hard for people not to like us. But it is what it is.”
Either way, Rizzo doesn’t see this team having any problem getting motivated to work toward the kind of repeat success this year that figures to help build the hatred from the other side.
Get uncomfortable, as manager Joe Maddon wants them to do?
“I don’t want to get political,” Rizzo said. “But when we were at the White House [Jan. 16], there’s a little quote in the Oval Office [President Obama’s desk] that said, `Hard things are hard.’ There’s no shortcut. And that really stuck with me.”