First impressions of a skinny kid named Greg Maddux

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Greg Maddux looked like a guy who should be riding a Metra commuter train to his 9-to-5 job in the Loop, maybe sneaking out later to catch a Cubs game and have a few beers at Wrigley Field.

Maddux didn’t do intimidation or scream Hall of Famer, even while becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. So imagine him coming out of Valley High School in Las Vegas, as a teenager in instructional league, failing all the eye tests.

“We had a bunch of older coaches, and guys would bring their sons out there and stuff like that,” Mike Brumley recalled Thursday. “This little skinny guy walks by me, and I’m like, ‘Hey, is that one of the coaches’ sons?’ And they go, ‘No, that’s our second-rounder.’

“I go, ‘No way!’ Because he was just like super-little.”

Brumley, now an assistant hitting coach for the Cubs, smiled at the memories after batting practice at Wrigley Field, because it’s crazy to think about it now. Three decades later, it would become a mini-controversy when Maddux wasn’t unanimously selected to the Hall of Fame, getting only 97.2 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

[RELATED: This is Greg Maddux? Hall of Fame character goes to Cooperstown]

But Brumley heard about the legend of Maddux long before Sunday’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. Brumley’s buddy from Las Vegas knew Maddux’s older brother, Mike, who’s now the Texas Rangers pitching coach.

“Back in the winter, in the 80s, they used to go to UNLV and they’d play a Sunday pickup game, college guys, pro guys that lived there,” Brumley said. “Mike was always (there), but he said they didn’t have enough pitchers. So one day Mike said, ‘Hey, I got a 15-year-old brother, I’m going to bring him out and let him throw a couple innings.’ (I heard Greg) was lights-out at 15, 16.”

Brumley had played with Roger Clemens at the University of Texas and knew what “The Rocket” looked like. The Boston Red Sox packaged Brumley and Dennis Eckersley and sent them to the Cubs in the 1984 Bill Buckner trade.

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Fast forward to the third or fourth game in instructional league, where Brumley’s routine would have him standing in the box to get his timing down while the starting pitcher threw warm-up pitches.

“(Maddux) was like 18 or 19,” Brumley recalled. “He was like, ‘Fastball, away.’ And it was (just), ‘Wham!’

“Fastball in? The first thing you want to do is not get hit in the bullpen, right? And I mean it was just like, ‘Wham! Wham!’ His command was unbelievable the first time I ever saw him.”

They played together in 1986 at Triple-A Iowa, where Maddux went 10-1 with a 3.02 ERA in an American Association league that was supposed to be brutal for pitchers.

“All of the pitchers would be like: ‘The ball doesn’t break in Denver, yada, yada, yada,’” Brumley said. “That whole league was like that. In Oklahoma City, the ball flew out, and I mean he cut that league up. It was unbelievable. And I would always (ask): ‘How come Maddux’s ball breaks in Denver?’

“They’d get all pissed off, and Maddux couldn’t care less if the wind’s blowing out in Oklahoma City. I saw him do so many special things.”

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Where other young pitchers would just worry about getting their 94 mph fastball over the plate, Maddux would already be reading hitters for reactions, anticipating the next moves, showing signs of the guy who would win four straight Cy Young awards between 1992 and 1995.

“Greg had an ability early on — he could just see it,” Brumley said. “It’s special now, but it was special before he was Greg Maddux, too.”

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.