Cuddyer's shirts have instilled new attitude
In his second season with team, right fielder taking more of a leadersip role
SCOTSDALE, Ariz. -- When big league players reach a certain stature among their peers, they carry the mantle of leadership on their shoulders. For Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer, he wears his emotions on his chest, sporting the motto he emblazoned on purple t-shirts for each of his teammates in Colorado's Spring Training camp.
Cuddyer has been respected as a clubhouse leader since he first came to Colorado, but the t-shirts he distributed at the start of camp this year symbolize an effort to ramp up his own approach and inspire an attitude throughout the club.
Cuddyer's colorful language can't be repeated here, but the message is essentially to "Beat Them, Not Ourselves," with the first part of the phrase on the front of the shirt and the remainder on the back.
"Obviously, last year we didn't too well," Cuddyer said. "I knew we needed a little more attitude -- a little more aggressiveness mentally. So that's why I put that on the front. And then on the back, you're not going to win games if you keep beating yourselves. We beat ourselves quite a bit last year."
The Rockies finished last season at 64-98, and Cuddyer took it upon himself to proactively work on instilling a new attitude.
In his second spring with the club, Cuddyer describes himself as more comfortable in the clubhouse, having gotten past the "get-to-know-everybody" phase of his first year, along with crossing logistical bridges ranging from finding a place to live to finding a good grocery store.
"That allows you to be more yourself," he said. "You come in, you can joke with guys on a more personal level. You've got more authentic relationships than the superficial ones right when you walk in the clubhouse and you're just trying to make small talk with everybody."
Cuddyer's t-shirt continues a tradition he began in Minnesota. He actually made shirts for the Rockies in his first year with them in 2012, but they didn't catch on like this year's crop. The front read "TEAM," with the acronym spelled out on the back: "Together Expectations Are Met."
"I got 'dry-fit' material this year, so it's a little more comfortable for people to wear," Cuddyer said of the shirt's universal popularity in the Colorado clubhouse. "Or maybe because it's got a cuss word on the front, I don't know."
It's not the popularity of the shirts that pleases Cuddyer, but the traction he sees the new attitude gaining through every level of the organization. Hitting coach Dante Bichette has been a vocal proponent of an aggressive offense, dubbing his charges the "Blake Street Bullies," echoing a time when sluggers like Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, Andres Gallaraga, and Bichette routinely had opposing pitchers shaking in their socks.
"[Manager] Walt [Weiss has] had that, too, and the front office as well," Cuddyer said. "I think everybody's buying into that attitude. We've got to go out there and play with a chip on our shoulder. We got to go out there and play an aggressive, fast style of baseball. We're going to have to identify ourselves as that type of team. It started the first week of Spring Training, and it's up to us to continue it."
It can be a challenge to forge a new identity when the club is virtually unchanged since finishing 30 games behind the Giants in the National League West last year. The club could realistically add 10 games in the win column this year and still be 14 games under .500. They could win 20 more and still be 10 games off last year's Wild Card pace set by the Braves' 94 wins. With such a familiar roster, it'll take more than attitude to bring about dramatic change.
"Health is first and foremost," Cuddyer said. "We were excited about our team going into the season last year. But we didn't get to put that team on the field very often, whether it be the starting pitchers getting hurt, or position players -- [Troy Tulowitzki], myself. Guys getting banged up. We just weren't very healthy the whole year last year.
"And then it was the snowball effect. It was more mental than anything else. We started giving into the grind, and we couldn't recover. It started off as a little snowball in May, and ended up taking our house down."
Weiss welcomes Cuddyer's "authentic" style of leadership and had nothing but praise for the early initiative the slugger has shown.
"Cuddy made a statement coming in like that," Weiss said. "It's a sign of him being more comfortable with this club his second year here. He's a special guy. Those guys look at him with respect. He's very impactful."
For Cuddyer, his impact isn't just a matter of his clubhouse presence. He leads on the field, and his aggressive play even in Spring Training isn't lost on his teammates. He made the highlight reel for his play on Thursday, charging and diving for Brandon Phillips' sinking line drive to right, making the catch with a man on second, potentially saving a run and preserving a scoreless tie in a game the Rockies ended up winning, 4-3.
"Leaders are defined in so many different ways," Cuddyer said. "You got the guys that are a little more vocal, you get guys that lead by example, silent, but yet command respect when they walk into the room. It's good to have a mixture of that, and I think we do have a mixture of that."
The Rockies clubhouse has far more than its quota of leaders, with everyone from Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki to Carlos Gonzalez and Cuddyer himself helping to set the tone to turn the tables in 2013.
"Immediately a leader is obviously someone who's had success in the game," Cuddyer summed up. "It's good when you have a lot of guys in the room who have had success, because it gives the young guys a kind of blueprint, but it also gives you the belief that you're going to be a good team."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.