PHOENIX In six seasons on the Milwaukee Brewers' coaching staff, Dale Sveum did it all.
Hired by Ned Yost in 2006 to serve as third base coach, he became the team's bench coach a year later. In 2008, Sveum became the unlikeliest of interim managers, taking the reins after Yost was fired with 12 games to play as the Brewers returned to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
Passed over for the managerial job that winter, Sveum stayed on as the team's hitting coach and remained in that capacity for both of Ken Macha's seasons in Milwaukee and Ron Roenicke's first, before finally landing the top job with the Chicago Cubs over the winter.
With that much time in the organization, it's understandable that Sveum felt a little disoriented Saturday when he brought his team to Maryvale Baseball Park to face the Brewers.
"Honestly, I don't think I've ever been in there," Sveum said, referring to Maryvale's visitors' clubhouse. "It's pretty small."
Sveum faces a challenging task in building the Cubs into a winner. Chicago went 71-91 last season and 75-87 in 2010, having last made the playoffs in 2008 when the Cubs beat out the Brewers for the National League Central crown.
The roster was loaded with overpriced and underperforming talent when Sveum was brought in by new team president Theo Epstein. The Cubs have since parted ways with Carlos Zambrano, who was traded to Miami. Veteran infielders Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez left via free agency -- with Ramirez heading up I-94 and landing in Milwaukee.
Now it's up to Sveum, 48, to turn what's left -- a collection of young talents with a lot of upside surrounding Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd, Geovany Soto and Carlos Marmol -- into something resembling a contender.
He doesn't think the job will be as tough as some have suggested, but admits the Cubs have a lot of things to address before the regular season opens . . .
"Just a few years ago, the Cubs won 96, 97 games," Sveum said of the Cubs' back-to-back division championship teams. "That was a pretty good team. They had a tough time last year. You can't make 130 errors and you can't have a 4.50 earned run average. That's just things you have to tidy up as a whole team as well as personnel and all those kind of things."
One of the biggest reasons Sveum was kept on under the Macha and Roenicke regimes was the relationships he had with the Brewers players -- and across the field, Saturday, his former players wished him well.
"I'll go over and bust his chops a little bit," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "We're happy for him. He deserved the chance to be a manager."
Under Sveum's tutelage, Ryan Braun developed from a top prospect into one of the top offensive talents in the game today and became the first Brewers player since Robin Yount in 1989 to be named Most Valuable Player.
He described Sveum's hiring as "long overdue" and said the Brewers' loss will be the Cubs gain. At the same time, Braun compared the situation to that of Prince Fielder, who left the Brewers as a free agent over the winter and signed with the American League's Detroit Tigers.
"If you were going to see him get a manager job, it would have been nice if it was out of our division and out of our league," Braun said.
The Brewers will see plenty of Sveum this season. The Brewers and Cubs square off 18 times in 2012, with the first meeting coming April 9 in the first of a three-game series at Wrigley Field. With Sveum's first-hand knowledge of the Milwaukee roster, especially the lineup, it's natural to assume that he'll have some sort of distinct advantage when it comes to prepping a game plan.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to Sveum's players executing the game plan.
"There's no question you have knowledge of them," Sveum said. "They have to execute the pitches -- that's the big thing. . . . I have the ins and outs of the personalities and the weaknesses of the hitters and the strengths of them but you still have to execute, you still have to get ahead in the count to execute."
Familiarity and history aside, Sveum said he will have no problems surrendering his allegiance to the Brewers who not only employed him on the coaching staff for six seasons, but drafted him in the first round of the 1982 draft. Sveum played five seasons in Milwaukee.
"No, not when it's your division and you're fighting with them to win the division and the Wild Card," Sveum said. "They have a nice team. They'll be in the thick of things as well."
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