On the day before the biggest start of his life, Jose Quintana wandered into the clubhouse of the Chicago Cubs, looking for a bit of breakfast. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and Quintana was a little unnerved when he was told that food was not available in the players’ dining room.
“Eat on the field,” he said. “What is that?”
It was Sunday’s page from the Joe Maddon playbook. The Cubs’ manager had arranged for his team to enjoy breakfast on the field, with the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions showing on the big screen at Wrigley Field.
Some players wore ski caps on the 78-degree afternoon. Some wore shorts adorned with the stars and stripes. Some wore gray T-shirts decorated with the favorite sayings of pitcher John Lackey, including “I’m always one out closer to the beer.”
In the clubhouse, Maddon himself wore a kelly green Joe Namath jersey, from the New York Jets. By the time he appeared for a press conference, he had changed into his Cubs gear and out of the Jets jersey.
“It’s not the appropriate sponsor,” Maddon said, “so I had to stay away from it.”
Quintana, the Cubs’ grand prize from this summer’s trade season, never has appeared in a postseason game. His opponent Monday: Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, the presumptive National League Cy Young award winner. The Cubs and the Nationals are tied at one victory apiece in this best-of-five NL division series.
So, before the Cubs worked out Sunday, Quintana grabbed a paper plate and a plastic fork, then visited the catering station behind home plate for an omelet, waffles and fresh fruit. He passed by the three boxes of Halloween doughnuts decorated in black and orange frosting, and he poured himself a cup of orange juice.
Then he sat on the padding atop the backstop, his feet dangling onto the warning track, and enjoyed breakfast at Wrigley.
“You’re coming to the ballpark, you’re having breakfast on the field, you’re watching football on a big screen, on a football Sunday,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “What else do you want?”
These were classic stunts, none of them new, from Maddon’s bag of motivational tricks. When the Cubs traveled to Cleveland last Halloween, facing two elimination games in the World Series, Maddon dressed in costume and encouraged his players to do the same.
To each his own, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
“It’s not my thing, really,” said Baker, a three-time manager of the year. “I’m an innovator of stuff. I don’t copy other people. Most of the time, they copy me.
“They can do what they want to do. I don’t really care, honestly. It seems to work for them. Our own thing seems to work for us.”
It does work for Maddon, also a three-time manager of the year. In his first two seasons with the Cubs, he led the team to four postseason series victories, one more than they had in the 139 seasons before he arrived.
In his first postseason trip, in 2008, Maddon led the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series. There is a method to his madness.
“Lighten the mood a little bit,” he said. “You don’t have to thicken it up. You don’t have to tighten them up. You don’t have to add thoughts or concerns or worries. Why would you ever want to do that?
“Just keep going the other way, keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”
Schwarber took mock batting practice against the 9-year-old son of one of the Cubs’ coaches, then charged the mound and pretended to pummel the kid after a pitch wandered too far inside. Maddon is the only major league manager for which he has played, and Schwarber loves this stuff.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It keeps us loose. It keeps the minds at ease.”
What, the Cubs worry?
“I don’t think,” Schwarber said, “you’re going to see any kind of worry out of our team.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin