Barrett learning from a Cubs great
Current Chicago backstop training with former catcher Davis
Michael Barrett was talking to former Cubs catcher Jody Davis about how he wanted to be able to start 130 games in the upcoming 2007 season.
Davis just laughed.
Back in Davis' day, 130 games behind the plate was nothing. He averaged nearly 145 games over a four-year stretch, reaching a single-season high of 150 in 1983 -- and that was before there were lights at Wrigley Field.
Barrett is learning what it takes to be a big-league catcher from Davis as the two train together this offseason near Atlanta.
"I don't think there's a better guy to work with," Barrett said about Davis, who was the Cubs' everyday catcher from 1982-87. "Randy Hundley and Jody Davis are two of the most popular catchers in Cubs history. To have access to Jody is awesome. It shows you how much he appreciated playing for the Cubs and appreciated the opportunity.
"He cares about me as a player and about me because I'm putting on a Cubs uniform," Barrett said. "It's a fraternity within a fraternity. It's been an unbelievable experience."
Davis wasn't all glove, no hit. He hit at least 17 home runs in five consecutive years, and drove in 94 runs in 1984 when the Cubs won the pennant. During a three-game series in June '84 against the St. Louis Cardinals, Davis hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs to spark the Cubs' sweep. But Davis is emphasizing the importance of defense to Barrett, who is looking at his job in a new way.
For example, last Thursday, Davis discussed applying the same mind-set on defense that Barrett has on offense.
"As an offensive player, you're thinking, 'I have to get in scoring position and do whatever it takes to get on base, whether it's a walk or a hit,'" Barrett said. "Jody made a great point -- as a catcher, you have to do whatever it takes to keep that guy from getting to first base, second base, third base and home plate."
That means no balls in the dirt. None. Passed balls allow a baserunner to advance.
"[Davis] said there should not be a ball that hits the brick all year," Barrett said of the brick wall behind home plate at Wrigley Field. "He's telling me he's going to put his name on one of those bricks, so if a ball gets by me, I'll see his name on the wall and it'll remind me not to let that happen again. I might just have him sign a brick on both sides."
Barrett got to know Davis after a hunting trip last year, and then called him this offseason to see if they could get together. They clicked. Davis, who turned 50 in November, is coming off his first season as a Minor League manager in the Cubs system, having guided the Class A Peoria Chiefs to a 75-64 record. Davis will move up to Class A Daytona in 2007 and his former Cubs teammate, Ryne Sandberg, will manage the Chiefs. Barrett, 30, is benefitting big time.
"I get to work with somebody from the same state, who played in the same stadium and knows the environment," Barrett said of Davis. "I'm not going to play the game like he did. Listening to him talk, I feel like I've got nothing on the man. As far as mental toughness, he was a tough guy."
Barrett is tough on himself in the offseason. He's invited others to join his sessions, but few can keep up. The workouts emphasize sport-specific movements and exercises.
"He wants to come into the season with all his work being done," said Cubs outfielder Matt Murton, who joined Barrett a couple times. "He feels like he's worked so hard in the offseason that the season is in no way easy, but it's easier."
Murton trains regularly at Georgia Tech with Corey and Eric Patterson, among others, and hasn't been a regular in Barrett's camp because of the long commute. They do talk about baseball and the commitment they have to make to be successful.
"The biggest thing is he takes the time and makes the commitment to not just get by, but to make sure he's in the best possible position to have success," Murton said. "What he's trying to accomplish is not just staying in shape, but enhancing what he has. It's about trying to become better. It takes a lot of time and effort."
And tapping into resources such as Davis.
"You can talk about all the great things you've done as a player, and we can talk and talk and talk," Barrett said, "and I've had some good years, but I haven't come close to what he's accomplished. It's not about numbers. To me, it's about leadership. What I love about Jody more than anything is the type of leadership he brings.
"I don't care if people remember my batting average," Barrett said. "I just want to be a champion."
And not let any balls hit that brick wall at Wrigley.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.