A persistent father leaned into the Cubs dugout Tuesday at Hohokam Stadium to get Theo Epstein's attention.
For several minutes in excruciating detail, the man asked Epstein's advice in dealing with a son struggling to make his baseball team. Practicing what he preaches to fans, Epstein patiently listened to someone out there who still thought the Cubs president had all the answers.

"I'd like to help but I don't know the situation,'' Epstein said politely.

Refreshingly, Epstein knows what he doesn't know. As Epstein closes in on 40 next December and distances himself from his rock-star persona in baseball, self-awareness remains the self-deprecating executive's biggest strength. So Epstein didn't dare predict how a 2013 season he framed as a playoffs-or-sell-off proposition will unfold — but interestingly did share his pragmatic plan in case it unravels.
"What I want to avoid is the middle ground,'' Epstein said. "It'd be nice to make the playoffs or get a protected draft pick (awarded the bottom nine teams). We're not hiding that. There's no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?
"We're going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot's not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We'll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.''
Consider yourself warned, Wrigleyville. If you thought last September was bad, this could look worse. This could result in a month ugly enough to make rooftop owners want to block their own views.
"Those are the type of things we have to be tough enough to withstand,'' Epstein said. "I hope we surprise some people. There is definitely more talent here than people give us credit for.''
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