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Joe Maddon in comfort zone amid Kris Bryant chaos

4/18/2015

CHICAGO -- Things were relatively back to normal at Wrigley Field on Saturday – save the sounds of hammering, sawing and welding in the construction zone that is the bleachers.

The Cubs did their own roster reconstruction Friday, calling up top prospect Kris Bryant for his debut and training all the eyes of baseball on toward the North Side in the process.

It was an attention-getting day that was going to happen at some point, and while the Cubs were obviously still trying to win the game, the sense Friday was that an eventual 5-4 defeat still was secondary to the start of the Bryant era, which is expected to yield positive results sooner rather than later.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon knew days like this were coming when he signed up for his new gig this winter, and the Cubs have made no secret that days like Friday are why they coveted the former Tampa Bay Rays skipper.

“I think sometimes people don’t understand when you talk about generation gaps or whatever, or age gaps, it’s probably incumbent on the older person to remain contemporary, in the sense of understanding what’s going on with the younger person,” Maddon said Saturday. “So that’s pretty easy for me. I have five grandchildren, two kids, plus I really haven’t matured yet. I kind of like these conversations.”

At the time, Maddon was actually talking about 25-year-old Kyle Hendricks, who is the Cubs' scheduled starter Saturday, but he could have been talking about any number of players on the team’s young roster.

From what Maddon has observed, there hasn’t been an issue with Bryant getting so much attention. That's the case not only Friday, but all through the slugger’s development, even when he was hitting for power as well as anybody in baseball in spring training.

“I would want to hope and believe that it permits you to just go and play,” Maddon said, about the younger players trying to perform when so much of the focus is placed in one direction. “You’re being deflected [from scrutiny] in a sense by a younger player, when normally that would be by an older player. To this point, though, I have not noticed anything but good.”

Starlin Castro, the team’s 25-year-old shortstop who takes his fair share of criticism, isn’t going to complain about having some new blood in the clubhouse.

“You don’t feel really comfortable right away; we always have nervousness,” Castro said when asked about Bryant’s 0-for-4 debut with three strikeouts. “It’s not easy. A lot of people are waiting for you to goof right away. He can go get it today.”

Even the guy whose wrist injury opened the door for Bryant’s arrival has been impressed. Mike Olt, wearing a cast from his hand to his elbow to help assist the healing of a hairline fracture, predicts nothing but success from a guy who just might be here to stay.

“He does a good job of not putting attention on himself and looking past all of it, and that’s what makes him a great player,” Olt said Saturday morning. “He’s able to not focus on what everyone is saying about him and just goes out there and does his job.”

Maddon has been in this spot before, particularly with the arrival of Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay, so he seemed at ease with the process Friday. On Saturday morning, it was almost like business as usual.

“Having been in Tampa Bay for a while, we had the same thing with the ascension of a lot of good young players but with a nice mixture of veterans,” Maddon said. “So the part that made this all seem believable is yes, the young players are here, but it’s the veterans that had been chosen to be here, too.

“I do like working with young players a lot. I always have. That’s how I started. It’s exciting. But I also like balance, too. Believe me, man, the conversation with veteran players a lot of times is a lot easier.”