To understand what makes Chicago Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman great on the diamond requires understanding his mindset.
There is his conventional vision of success: making at least 30 starts, something he has accomplished four times in his Major League Baseball career. Stroman takes pride in that figure because it requires staying healthy and typically means pitching deep into games.
But he never puts too much emphasis on each start — it’s more about the totality of the journey, and it goes beyond what happens on the field.
Before and after every start Stroman, 30, reads “The Seven Spiritual Laws and Success” and “The Four Agreements,” keeping a copy of each in his backpack. They help Stroman clear and calm his mind, something just as important as the physical side of the game.
Stroman believes the type of energy a person puts out into the universe returns tenfold. He’s a deep thinker searching for enlightenment, and what fuels him goes beyond his pitching line and personal accolades. He loves taking care of his family and a trusted small circle of people. His son, Kai Zen, born in the offseason, gives him a new perspective.
Since a young age, Stroman prepared for challenges he might face. He credits his father, Earl, for raising him to be thick-skinned and telling him he had to have a chip on his shoulder, that whatever room he walked into Stroman needed to think he was the man.
“I took that to heart every single day after that,” Stroman told the Tribune. “I’m African American-Puerto Rican, I’m fully tatted, I have a Duke degree — I understand the perception of how people look at me and judge me before I even open my mouth. I understand society. I understand how I’m going to be viewed.
“I realize if I say the sky is blue, someone’s going to have a problem with it, so I’m at the point where I don’t care. I’m truly happy, my family’s healthy. I’m doing everything that I’ve imagined in my life so that’s always my priority.”
Stroman’s demeanor and attitude has resonated in the Cubs clubhouse despite having just four weeks to get to know his new teammates. Coaches and players were impressed by his work ethic during camp. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks raved about Stroman’s mental approach and attitude.
“It is really remarkable to see him come in and you can just sense he’s the same guy, in the same place, he’s very present, knows where he is. It’s just really cool to watch,” Hendricks told the Tribune. “And you can just see it or not in a guy, he’s not ever rushed. He’s not ever in the wrong spot. You can tell mentally, very secure. It’s something he works on a lot.”
Beyond leading by example, Stroman isn’t afraid to share what’s on his mind. Hendricks cited the importance of needing representation of a variety of personalities in a clubhouse.
“You can’t just have everybody fill in the same role so absolutely it’s going to be huge, he’ll bring that out of other guys by just being willing and comfortable in that way,” Hendricks said. “He’ll bring more truth and more honesty out of everybody, and I think that just breeds cohesiveness and chemistry on the team.”
Individuality is generally not promoted in baseball. Stroman acknowledged there is a perception he isn’t a team player because he pushes his brand.
“Truly, if you look at it, in order to be the best teammate, you need to be your best self first,” Stroman said. “I don’t think people understand that. In order for me to be the best teammate, I need to be my best self mentally, emotionally and physically. That allows me to bring the most value to my teammates, that allows me to go out there and perform at the highest degree. That’s something that I’ve always put a priority on.”
Stroman’s interests are extensive and wide-ranging.
His foundation, Height Doesn’t Measure Heart (HDMH), is a saying the 5-foot-7 Stroman repeated to himself to infuse confidence when he wasan undersized kid. Stroman, who also released an HDMH apparel line, is in the process of launching Shugo in mid-summer, describing it as a high-end luxury brand.
He started a YouTube channel last month and is on TikTok, both avenues to give people insight into his life and the work he puts in behind the scenes.
Stroman wants to connect with young people in a sport that desperately needs it.
“I’m an authentic soul who always will chase my dreams and I won’t let anything stop that,” Stroman said. “I protect my people at all costs, and I provide for my people. That’s why I work as much as I do.”
Stroman is always chasing his passions, including music. He has been featured on tracks with former Duke teammate and rapper Mike Seander. Stroman is also in the process of writing a children’s book.
“People are always like, ‘Oh, he’s doing too much,’ but it’s actually the opposite because I can promise you that there’s no one who works harder than me,” Stroman said. “It’s just that I also have interests that allow me to clear my mind. And when my mind is clear, that allows me to be the best on the field.
“I don’t allow baseball to become overwhelming because when you allow baseball to become overwhelming, it can be very draining and toxic.”
Over the course of his eight seasons in the big leagues, Stroman has learned to prioritize mental health. He works with a mental coach and mental strategist. He wants to be well-balanced and believes happiness comes from within, allowing it to flourish into all other areas. Baseball does not define his life.
None of this means Stroman doesn’t care about winning or isn’t a fierce competitor. But athletes are human, too, and there is more than what happens between the white lines.
“I’m someone who wakes up ready to live and I want to enjoy every single day,” Stroman said. “Obviously there’s going to be rough patches. My rough patches now are much smaller than they used to be, which is a great feeling.”
That philosophy would seemingly be at odds with social media and the toxicity that can arise from Twitter, on which Stroman is regularly present with nearly 515,000 followers. He typically tweets daily and liberally mutes and blocks people who bring negative energy.
At times Stroman responds and dishes it back, explaining that “sometimes you’ve got to check people” and move on.
“They wear blocks as badges of honor. It’s so comical to me,” Stroman said. “If you get to a point in your life where you’re wearing a block as a badge of honor, you need to recalculate, you need to go back to the drawing board because I guarantee you’re not living a truly happy life.”
Stroman admits in the earlier part of his career things he read in his mentions might have gotten to him. He used to pitch angry on the mound. Now Stroman says he is calm. He sees negative comments telling him he’s terrible and can laugh them off because of his peace of mind. Living out his dream puts everything in perspective “so nobody can take away from that. Nobody.”
Finding a way to let go and not care about what others think of him was not easy. Stroman said it was a journey that began after he tore the ACL in his left knee in 2015. It was then he first began working with a mental coach and became interested in books. He came to understand what life means to him and learned to appreciate what makes him happy.
Stroman is still working on himself and expects it will be a constant, ongoing process. When he feels off, he might schedule a call with his mental coach or a therapist to re-center.
“I think a lot of people neglect that, and that’s why you have a lot of people on Twitter yelling at me,” Stroman said. “If they did a better job at focusing on themselves and clearing their mind and focusing on their deeper self and finding their true happiness in life, they’re not going to have that animosity or they’re not going to want to project all those insecurities on others. Because when you do, you’re taking away from yourself.”
When Stroman takes the mound Sunday for his Cubs debut, it will coincide with his first time pitching at Wrigley. The historic venue is the lone ballpark he has not yet pitched in. He already has felt the love and appreciation from fans before throwing a pitch. Stroman started getting chills as he envisioned the energy he will experience walking onto the field Sunday.
“Everywhere I’ve went no matter what I feel like, people show up to watch me pitch and I love that,” Stroman said. “I love the energy. I love pressure. I’m someone who’s always performed pretty well under pressure. It’s something that takes me to the next level.”
Plenty of Cubs fans will be wearing Stroman’s jersey Sunday for his debut. He switched to No. 0 last season with the New York Mets and stuck with it after signing a three-year, $71 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason that includes an opt-out after 2023. The number choice was purposeful and is a rarity. Stroman is one of only 31 players to wear the number in major-league history and is the first Cub to don it.
His connection to No. 0 is less about the number itself, rather what the shape represents — a continuous flow of life.
Or, as Stroman put it: “I like having that vibe on my back.”