Joe Maddon wants Cubs to 'embrace the target'

MESA, Ariz. -- Getting his cues from Jack Ryan, the main character in author Tom Clancy's CIA spy books, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon wants his team to "embrace the target" of high expectations as the Cubs begin spring training looking to win their first World Series since 1908.

"I'm really a big believer in running towards the fire instead of away from it," Maddon said Friday. "I want our guys to get comfortable with the concept of everyone speaking so glowingly of us."

The Cubs won 97 games last season and made it to the NLCS, where they were swept by the New York Mets. But after adding Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Adam Warren to an extremely talented group of young players, the Cubs have a great chance to break their long championship drought.

With that talent comes a lot of attention, so when Maddon needed a hook for his team, he found it in Clancy's book "Clear and Present Danger." In it, Jack Ryan advises the president of the United States not to disassociate himself from a friend who had been killed during a drug bust.

"Jack Ryan pops up and says, no, Mr. President, don't do that," Maddon said. "Not only was he your friend, he was your best friend."

"And he ran right into it and disarmed the entire moment. So it's my Jack Ryan moment."

"Embrace the target" is the theme for 2016, and the manager says the best way for his team to deal with the high expectations is for the players to handle their business the same as if they weren't picked to win it at all.

"It's all about processing the day properly," Maddon said. "You never take anything for granted. You never get complacent. Coming off a really good season, there's a lot to be proud of, but there's so much more to accomplish."

Cubs president Theo Epstein echoed that strategy, relying on the foundation he has built and the highly talented players he has acquired since taking over the front office in 2011.

"Fundamentally we trust the characters of the players . . . and the culture of the organization," Epstein said. "It's because of that culture we're not overly concerned with being overconfident."

Epstein jokingly asked Maddon if Jack Ryan went on to win the World Series.

"That's the next novel," Maddon shot back.

The Cubs are hoping it's the finish to their story as well.

"This is a special place and a special time to be in this place," Epstein said.