Competitive Garza animated on and off mound

Competitive Garza animated on and off mound

Competitive Garza animated on and off mound
MESA, Ariz. -- You've seen Matt Garza on the top step of the dugout, cheering, clapping and extolling the Cubs on days he's not pitching. All the gyrations and animation don't go unnoticed by his teammates.

"I hear him yelling," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I think it's awesome. I'm sure guys on the other team want to drill him or foul a ball off his forehead if they have that kind of bat control. He's just out there cheering for his teammates and wanting them to do well."

Garza says it just comes naturally.

"I was always taught to do that, to cheer your teammates, pick them up, stuff like that," he said Wednesday. "I've done that since Little League. I go to Little League games now and watch my son, and I don't like how I see kids just chit-chatting. They should be watching the game and rooting for their teammates.

"That's what it's all about -- it's about making a bond, friendship," he said. "When you're in Little League, you're together for three months. Here, we're together for eight, nine [months], so if you can't make a friend and make a bond, you're not going to have a good time.

"For me, it's anything I can do to help to pick somebody's spirit up, help somebody stay down to earth, do whatever I have to do to help the team win. It's fun."

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the Brewers noticed Garza's cheerleading but weren't bothered by it.

"You kind of appreciate a starting pitcher being that involved in the four days he doesn't pitch," Sveum said.

When Garza played for the Twins in 2006-07, he said everyone was into the game and cheering for each other. Backup catcher Mike Redmond also influenced Garza.

"He'd always say he's not a rah-rah guy but he's the first one to make a noise," Garza said of Redmond. "He told me, 'Anything you can do to get the pitcher distracted, anything to get somebody's attention, you've accomplished your goal.'"

Garza doesn't expect his teammates to reciprocate the excitement.

"I do it because I enjoy it," he said. "I love being in the game. Sometimes you'll see the action -- 'Yeah, I got this guy, keep digging, keep going.' Guys out there, they know me, they know I'm not harsh. They know I'm having a good time -- I hope they do -- I'm just having a good time. For me, it's a blast. I'm looking for any edge."

Dempster said he doesn't feel he needs to be on the top step for Garza's starts.

"Not at all," Dempster said, "and he understands that."

Any opposing players who might not like Garza's antics and want him to sit down aren't the first to tell the pitcher to do so.

"I don't think I wasn't told, 'Sit still, stop moving -- what are you doing?'" Garza said. "It's always been like this. It's the way I like to have fun. It's just being into it and being out there."

Bottom line, Garza is incredibly competitive, and he showed that intensity during his first-round match against Carlos Marmol in the bunting tournament. Garza did not do well, and he did not enjoy losing in the team event.

"That wasn't fun," he said, still sounding upset even two days after the event.

The Garza household was always competitive. Matt has a younger brother, Michael, and the two were constantly challenging each other.

"We'd play catch, and we're like, 'My team is better,' 'No, my team is better,'" he said. "It's been like that in my household and my son is the same way. I think it's the way my dad raised us, real competitive against each other and try to one up each other all the time. It was always win, all you have to do is win. Whatever you have to do to win. That's it."

Garza's father, Rudy, is a sergeant major in the Army and has served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He may have influenced that desire to win.

"Maybe it was the determination factor to win and keep fighting," Garza said. "We would drill and drill and drill. It wasn't like he dragged us out there. We made it fun. We both still love the game and made everything fun. If you can't have fun here, then go home."

Garza gets the same vibe from Sveum.

"Our personality is directed off him, and he's a blue-collar guy," Garza said of Sveum. "That's what the Cubs need to be is blue collar -- we're daytime baseball, so we're going to be blue collar. This is the best way to do it -- fight, scratch, win, that's it."

There is a different feeling for the Cubs in spring camp this year.

"It's not as tense," Garza said. "People are able to get a little more comfortable. We're working a little longer, and you see a couple changes, but there's nothing big. There's nothing we need to worry about. We just go out and do our job. It's going to be fun. Camp has been tough and we've done a lot more, but at the same time, we know we need it.

"We weren't where we wanted to be at last year, so we have no room to complain," he said. "If we won the World Series, we'd have a little room here or there, but we're nowhere close. I'm just excited to get to April."

The Cubs open the season April 5 against the Nationals. Garza is coming off a 10-10 season with a 3.32 ERA in his first year on the North Side, striking out 197 in 31 starts. Sveum has yet to name his Opening Day starter, and Garza is a candidate.

"It doesn't matter," Garza said. "Dontrelle Willis said one time, 'I'll be the one on my day,' and that's what I firmly believe. There's a reason I'm throwing my day, so I'm going to be No. 1 that day.

"If it's Opening Day, great; if not, I'll be on the top step for whoever is out there throwing for us," he said. "It doesn't matter. I'm going to pull for my guys, no matter what. It's a huge honor, but if not, congratulate the next guy and be out there trying to help him win the ballgame."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.