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Cubs manager, players shave heads for cancer research

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Chicago Cubs players may have expected their new manager to ask them to tinker with their on-field techniques during spring training. On Sunday, Joe Maddon requested that his players make a more drastic change: shaving their heads.

It was not a baseball-related appeal, though. It was part of the Cubs’ “Respect Bald” campaign for pediatric cancer research and support organizations. The team said Sunday’s event raised more than $12,000.

“This is something I’ve been doing for a couple years now going back with Tampa Bay, trying to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer research under the auspice here of ‘Respect Bald,’” Maddon said. “We can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to be that person or even more sometimes the parent or the grandparent. That’s what really impacted me when we did this in Tampa.”

More than 20 Chicago players and coaches donated money and chopped off their locks in the Arizona sun. The team also invited fans to participate for a $100 donation. The money raised went to Cubs Charities, which will work with Maddon to distribute the funds to nonprofit pediatric cancer research and support organizations.

Maddon acknowledged that several players – and the manager himself – take pride in their hair, but the point of the event was to support those who did not have the choice because of much more serious circumstances.

“We’ve got some really nice hair on this team. For some of us, it’s a bit of a sacrifice, but nevertheless it’s worth it,” he said. “I’ve often said in the past when I had a larger soapbox to stand on, I would attempt to use it properly or well. I did that with my last job, and now with the Cubs the soapbox might be even a little taller regarding reaching a fan base.”

Cubs fan Mark Smith, who lost his grandmother to cancer, said he feels fortunate to be able to donate money and support.

“If much is given, much is expected,” Smith said. “What’s $100 to help kids?”

New Cubs reliever Phil Coke and outfielder Ryan Sweeney were the first players to get their hair clipped, seated alongside Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez. Shortstop Starlin Castro and rookie right fielder Jorge Soler also said goodbye to their locks.

Cubs slugger first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a little fun with his hair leading up to Sunday, knowing it was getting buzzed no matter how it looked. He took a seat in the barber’s chair with bleached blond hair, but just on the top.

New Cubs bullpen righty Jason Motte didn’t have much to shave off – he entered Sunday’s event sporting a mohawk. Motte said it’s important to keep baseball in perspective, pointing to his own cancer research charity, the Jason Motte Foundation, which, according to its website, has a mission of comforting and caring for those affected by cancer.

“It’s an awesome game, but there’s stuff like this going on,” Motte said. “It’s bigger than baseball.”

Beyond the goals of increasing awareness and funding research, Maddon said that the event is a good way to bring the Cubs clubhouse closer together. Maddon was known for his efforts in Tampa to cultivate camaraderie among his players, including Woodstock- and James Bond-themed road trips he organized.

“I’m always looking for things to galvanize the group,” he said. “Everything I try to do, all the theme trips during the course of the year, I’m hoping to get that kind of impact where there’s a unity component to the whole thing and also a risk component where you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone.”