It is not uncommon during a trip to see Chicago Cubs first base coach Mike Napoli at a table at the Visitors ’Club who plays in Cribridge with a player.
Veteran left-hander Wade Miley was one of his toughest opponents, and infiltrators Nick Herner and Nick Madrigal began learning to play. Napoli views card games as important builders of relationships between players and even coaches. It dates back to his playing career, recalling how he argued with manager Terry Francona during one season of Napoli in Cleveland.
These settings allow you to establish personal connections and communication where the focus is not on baseball.
“It’s very valuable to be able to switch between player and coach faces,” Napoli coach David Ross said in an interview with Tribune. “That’s right.”
The 40-year-old Napoli has always thought that after the end of his career the player will start working as a coach. But he thought it would take longer after retiring in 2018 due to the ACL gap he got in Triple A. However, he quickly realized he didn’t know how to fill so much free time.
So when Ross, his teammate for two years in Boston, after taking over as Cubs manager in October 2019, approached him to see if he was interested in joining his staff, Napoli realized he was ready to coach.
Napoli, in his third season in the organization, enjoyed the other side of the game, taking on a bigger role this year as a first base coach.
“I know the game of baseball, but I really know how to teach it and get into the minds of players and try to help them, I studied,” said the Napoli Tribune. “I’m trying to pick my places to deliver the message. It’s a little different than when I played.
“It’s been a training experience, but I think every day I’m growing to become a better coach.”
One of the aspects of coaching that surprised Napoli was the number of hours spent on the football field. As a player, Napoli did not realize how much time coaches spend every day: “Shoot, coaches are underpaid,” he added with a laugh.
Long hours of work are a useful investment for Napoli, both in his desire to help Cubs players improve, and in his long-term career – to become a top league manager.
“I always wanted to drive, but I knew I would have to take steps to learn,” Napoli said. “I’m always for it. I always want to make myself the best I can. I don’t know all about this game. I’m going to learn something new every day. “
Napoli’s resume in the major leagues made him an attractive addition to the coaching staff, and he attracted the attention of other teams before moving on to the “Cubs”. During his 12-year career in four organizations, Napoli joined the All-Star Team, appeared in three World Series – won the title with Ross at the Red Sox 2013 – while making a career of .246 / .346 / .475 out of 267 home runs and 117 OPS + as the catcher who became the first of the bottom / assigned striker.
“He has a very good reputation in the game,” Ross said. “He’s done a lot and he’s alone, alone, we have a story together, we’re friends, but he also has a lot of weight when it comes to experience in this game. This is very important in the dugout with the players. “
Napoli is one of six Cubs fielders with experience in the major leagues, joining Ross, bench coach Andy Green, pitcher Tommy Hotawi, third base coach Willie Harris and assistant pitcher Daniel Mascas.
“They know how hard the game is, they know the league,” baseball president Jed Hoer told the Tribune. “They treat them a little better and I think it’s very important to have a mix of these guys in the state. You don’t want a full staff of such guys. You also don’t want all the staff to be made up of guys who didn’t necessarily understand what these (players) were going through.
Rossi and the people around him (Napoli) all spoke so loudly that he was not only a great teammate but also a great base runner, really paying attention and focusing on things and he was really present in it ».
After spending their first two seasons as a quality assurance coach, the Cubs moved Napoli to first base coach and transferred Craig Driver, who has played the role since 2020, to the dugout as his strategy game and catch coach until the 2022 season.
The cubs felt that the change improved both areas and played with the benefits of each coach. Instructions for running at the base are the responsibility of Napoli.
“It gives him responsibility, fire, does homework on the pitcher, does the little things you have to do on the opposing team that made him invest even more in the guys,” Ross said. “Because he wants them all to succeed, and he’s trying to make friends with all these guys.”
Napoli is enjoying his new role. He admitted that he was tired from his previous position and he had nothing to do in the dugout during the games.
Chicago Tribune Sports
A daily sports newsletter is delivered to your inbox for your morning trip.
“I felt like I was becoming a psychologist,” Napoli said. “I tried to dissuade people, like, ‘Brother, it’s okay.’ It just turned into such things. But to be there now, every time I have something to do, something to worry about and have my own area, it was amazing. ”
Veteran catcher Ian Gomez and Napoli were Cleveland teammates in 2016 when they eventually lost to the Cubs in the World Series. Gomes describes Napoli as a quiet, intense guy who loves baseball. He is not surprised by Napoli’s transfer to the coaching staff. Even then, six years ago, Gomes believed that Napoli was following this path.
“He’s definitely putting in his work and wants to improve on what has really been his MA throughout his career,” Gomez said. “He did a great job. He just needs to understand a little bit about how to be a teacher and coach, but for me he doesn’t need to change who he was with me in 2016. ”
Napoli generally considers himself a cold, easy-going guy. This may sound strange, given the nickname “Party in Naples”, which attracted attention during Cleveland’s exit to the World Series. In April 2016, a fan created a sign with this phrase, inspired by the style of Napoli celebration after winning the title in 2013. The sign caught the attention of Napoli and the team, which turned into an official T-shirt with revenue of more than $ 200,000 donated to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
Whether it’s a rapprochement behind card games or long days on the football field, Napoli is taking on a role in the Cubs.
“I enjoyed having fun off the field, I think everyone knows that,” Napoli said. “But I think that’s where you meet your teammates, and I always like to bring people together. Sometimes we get a small click in the club house. If it was off the field, you wanted to throw a party or do something else, that was it. But people get closer when you move away from the field.
“In this game, people are tough on themselves, so hopefully this behavior will help people relax a little.”