CHICAGO -- When Jonathan Jay signed a one-year contract with the Cubs in November, no one knew the veteran would be the one to fill David Ross' role on the team.If you're looking for an X-factor on the Cubs, someone under the radar who has provided a major contribution, Jay
CHICAGO -- When Jonathan Jay signed a one-year contract with the Cubs in November, no one knew the veteran would be the one to fill David Ross' role on the team.
If you're looking for an X-factor on the Cubs, someone under the radar who has provided a major contribution, Jay is the man.
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"It's just the way he goes about his business every day in a professional manner, he creates a good example," Kyle Schwarber said. "He goes out and shags early. He has his own routine, what he does in the cage. Being in the outfield, there's constant communication. As a younger player, it only helps and gets you better. You pick up things from a guy like him who's been around and been to a couple World Series already. He's been a clubhouse leader, a leader on the field. You can't say enough about what he's done for this team."
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Jay is different. He is devoted to Miami -- his nickname for Players Weekend included the city's "305" area code. Every day, he wears an orange and green Hurricanes knit cap -- manager Joe Maddon likes to call it a "beanie" -- plus his orange Crocs.
The plan in Spring Training was to have Jay, 32, help mentor Albert Almora Jr. in center field, with the two sharing the spot. Schwarber was projected as the leadoff man, so Jay spent most of the first half at the bottom of the order. But Jay worked his way to the top.
"I really attribute that to Jon Jay's work ethic," Maddon said. "This is the kind of guy who loves this stuff and he wants to be there. Jon Jay knows there's other guys who can play his position -- [his attitude is] 'nobody's going to take my spot.' He's playing from that mindset. Give him all the credit in the world. He's forced us to that setup."
Jay fit in perfectly with the group.
"He always talks," Jason Heyward said. "He's very in-tune to what's going on, good, bad or indifferent. How can we do something better the next time? His mind is always working. He's preparing for the day, before and after the game. It's a treat to get to work with someone like that."
Wasn't Ross like that last year with the Cubs?
"Absolutely," Heyward said of the backup catcher. "We just got it in a different form of an outfielder, who's running the bases, who's playing. It's huge to be versatile in that role. He stepped right in and he's been what we needed."
Jay impressed his teammates again with a 15-pitch at-bat against the Brewers in which he fell behind 0-2, then took two pitches, then fouled off 10 in a row before hitting a single. His goal? To get on base.
"It's something I take a lot of pride in," Jay said of his at-bats. "I'm just trying to stay consistent out there and stay in my lane and do what I can."
"That guy has a knack for a professional at-bat every time he's up there," Schwarber said of Jay. "To see him go up there and grind, it's all good stuff."
"He does not cave in; he's able to move the ball," Maddon said of Jay. "That's the throwback component of him that I really appreciate, which is how he works at-bats."
Jay has played in two World Series with the Cardinals. He knows what it takes both on and off the field.
"When you're a good person, good guy, it goes a long way in the clubhouse," Kristopher Bryant said. "I can't say enough about him."
"He's a baseball player," Heyward said, which may be the ultimate compliment. "He's always looking at ways to try to beat the other team and always looking at ways to pass it along. He's just aware and pays attention to detail. He finds a way to get something done that's going to help us win."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.