By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Joe Maddon school of baseball opened its doors for Cub players the first time in spring training. After a brutal day of fundamental blunders by his squad, Madddon and his coaches had seen enough.
Most managers would have punished the team with a boring practice that they had done hundreds of times in the past. What was Maddon's cure? He created a fun drill in which players could win cash prizes. Maddon made his point by getting everyone on board with better technique work without the bad-teacher attitude on his end.
Such is a part of the genius of the "Mad Professor of Wrigley Field." Maddon can take the most negative moments and turn them into positive reinforcement clinics.
Now with his team basking in the light of a 12-7 start, Maddon appears to have the full attention of this upstart team. His style helped produced five stolen bases and 12 hits in Chicago's 6-2 victory against Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field.
"He's awesome," said shortstop Starlin Castro, who had three hits. "He lets us play without to many things (to think about), except to play baseball. We have fun every day. It's great for a team when people trust you and have confidence (in you)."
Coming from Castro -- who has played for five managers in his six years on the Cubs -- that's a huge compliment.
"You need a guy who trusts your talent," Castro said. "He comes in here and just lets you play every day. That is what Joe does. He trusts in us and knows what we can do. We play hard for him every day."
Maddon has had many mentors in the game, including a former Cubs manager -- the late Don Zimmer. Maddon plans to put pressure on the opposition this season, much like Zimmer did in 1989 when he won a division title with a team out of nowhere.
"A big part of that (running and putting pressure on) is want to," Maddon said. "There is a lot of want to in stealing bases. There is that musketeer attitude that is kind of necessary where you are not afraid to make a mistake. I really wanted to (instill) that into the group and in the minor leagues. Station-to-station baserunning is really awful. You can 't create moments or create runs to win close or real low-scoring games."
Maddon has gone so far as to entertain the idea of bringing back one of the most daring plays out of Zimmer's playbook. In the magical 1989 campaign, Zimmer twice had his team hit-and-run with the bases loaded.
"You are going to see the Zim play sometime this summer," Maddon promised Tuesday. "He and I talked about it. There are different elements involved in that, when you want to do it. Everything has to line up perfectly, and a big part of that is the hitter. It's a unique moment. We have talked about all those things."
Currently, Maddon has his team and the city right where he wants it. At 12-7, the Cubs are off to their best start since the 2008 team began the year 13-6.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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