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|Joe Mather has been one of the more impressive players on the Cubs this spring.|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Where some at spring training see a grass berm beyond the outfield wall, Joe Mather sees bleachers.
Where some see that padded wall splashed full of ads in front of that berm, Mather sees ivy.
It's a singular focus Mather has held since he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in December, about the same time he began a sort of ramped up offseason routine aimed at getting him as close to regular season form as possible once spring training began in February. He had a job to win.
It not only has worked so far, Mather could be a model for how offseason preparations should be made both physically and mentally.
"I think every time I'm out there I'm thinking of Wrigley Field," Mather said Tuesday morning. "I feel like visualizing that stuff is a great thing to do. I think we're only three weeks away and I keep playing well I know I have a shot."
If spring training ended today, Mather would have a spot on the 25-man roster. Alfonso Soriano might be the team MVP so far this spring, but Mather isn't too far behind with a .545 batting average (6-for-11) with a home run and five RBI.
Only Darwin Barney and Soriano have driven in more runs (six each), with Barney doing it in 16 at-bats and Soriano in 14.
Mather, who plays both outfield and infield, figured to have Tony Campana as his main competition for a roster spot. Campana can certainly fly around the bases, but it's Mather who has three steals to none for Campana so far.
"I have always been able to pick up a few bags here and there," Mather said. "There are obviously guys in this clubhouse that are faster like Tony. He's incredibly fast and really good on the bases, so I think it's nice to show what you can do."
What Mather can also do is hit for power and play corner outfield and infield spots. He's listed as an outfielder on the Cubs' spring roster, but he will start at third base against the Giants on Thursday. It doesn't matter. He came into camp ready for anything.
"I put a lot of work in during the offseason to be able to come in and feel ready," Mather said. "Spring training can be tough just because you haven't seen pitching and you never really know how it's going to go. I felt like I put in the work in the offseason to where I'd feel comfortable coming in and so far I have."
It doesn't hurt that the Phoenix native can feel right at home this spring. It certainly has looked as much.
A third-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2001, Mather has appeared in 126 major league games, 36 of which came last season with the Atlanta Braves, who claimed him off waivers following the 2010 season. He finished last season in the Colorado Rockies organization after he was designated for assignment by the Braves and elected free agency.
Finding himself at a bit of a crossroads this winter, he signed his minor league deal with the Cubs knowing he still has some good baseball left in him.
"Yeah, I figure I'll play baseball here for a few more years," the 29-year old said. "I still have fun doing it. It's still something that is a challenge and is worth my time. It's something I love to do so I will be playing somewhere someplace."
For now, that someplace appears to be in Wrigley Field.
The complete lineup for Tuesday's game against the Giants at Scottsdale:
1. David DeJesus, RF
2. Darwin Barney, 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
5. Bryan LaHair, 1B
6. Joe Mather, 3B
7. Steve Clevenger, C
8. Dave Sappelt, CF
9. Chris Volstad, P