Remember the countdown to Spring Training in the 2000’s? I’m not talking about the daily tweets of jersey numbers to let us know how close we were to the day when pitchers and catchers would finally break the baseball moratorium that had vexed us all since October. No, I mean the watch we kept while waiting to see if and when Sammy Sosa would finally show up to the Cubs’ Arizona facility to join the rest of his teammates. Sosa wasn’t alone in trying to tailor the fashion of his lateness, but he continues to shine as an exemplar of the need for superstars to avoid tainting their bespoke finery with too much exposure to the prêt-à-porter threads of the coffee-shop denizens with whom they were forced to mingle in March.
Man, those were the days. I mean, looking back now it seems a little weird. I’m sure others have a different view of it, but what I once saw as this quirky little character trait, I now see as a very calculated strategy by Sosa to remind the Cubs and the rest of us exactly where he sat on the totem pole. He was Yertle the Turtle, looking out in majesty as the ruler of all he beheld. But as long as he kept sprinting out to right and hitting those homers, we quickly forgave him. I didn’t mean for this to turn into the Sammy-bashing that it has, but I did want to set the stage a bit for what many of us remember about the opening of Spring Training.
Here we are, three days out from the date by which pitchers and catchers must mandatorily report, and images of Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber, among others, already down in Arizona are streaming in. Much of these have come courtesy of the intrepid and imitable John Arguello, whose move to Mesa has given him great access* to what’s going on at Sloan Park. I have one of his pics as the featured image above and there’s a video of J-Hey below, but you can find more pictures here and even more BP videos here. Oooh, so nice. And not just because it’s good to have baseball back. I mean, yeah, it’s great to have the spring thaw upon us, but I’m looking at some more intrinsic stuff.
None of the big stars have to be at camp yet, especially guys like Rizzo and Heyward who have nothing to prove and who also have millions of dollars to spend on umbrella drinks in tropical locations. Yet, there they are, some well over a week before they’re required to be. This says two very important things to me: 1) none of these guys are satisfied with maintaining the status quo, performance-wise; 2) the players on this team genuinely like being around one another.
The first of those two points is pretty self-evident and doesn’t require a great deal of explication. The second also be pretty clear to a lot of us, but I do want to spend a little more time on it nonetheless. Seeing the Cubs hanging out together around the cage watching each other take BP tells me as much about the success of the front office’s plan as the success they experienced in 2015. This is not a disparate group of mercenaries who come together only out of some professional obligation.
Sure, many of these guys are highly paid, but how many times have we seen that as an excuse for a player to work out on his own with personal trainers and specialized coaches? Rather than sitting on a beach somewhere or even working out a facility closer to home, nearly all of the Cubs’ stars have gathered in Mesa to get a head start on the season. I don’t think either Baseball Prospectus or FanGraphs has developed a metric to illustrate the level of chemistry a team has, but I’m thinking the Cubs would earn high marks if such measurements existed.
I can understand if you’re dismissive or skeptical of that though. After all, I think we’ve all seen plenty of teams that didn’t necessarily jell emotionally but that won just the same. But over the grind of a 162-game season, particularly one played inside a giant fishbowl that itself resides inside another fishbowl, having a close-knit group will be important. Not only will Cubs fans be pressing their faces close to monitor their team, but expectations of greatness will have those from around the baseball world tapping their fingers against the glass.
Camaraderie and competent leadership can go a long way toward defraying the psychological toll that will surely be levied upon this young team. But rather than circling the wagons and assuming a rigid us-against-the-world mentality, this team seems loose and relaxed. They’re very serious about winning, but they aren’t about to take themselves too seriously. That’s just the way I like it, and I think it’s going to serve them quite well in the months to come.
*I’m certainly not the arbiter of what is right and proper when it comes to blogging etiquette, but I do feel the need to comment a bit on some of the issues that have come up regarding John and his photos. You’ll notice that he’s watermarked his photos, a practice that he took up after seeing at least one of his pictures on another website (I think it might have been CBS Chicago) with attribution given to another person who had shared the photo without giving credit to John. Now, I believe this was an innocent mistake, but John had every right to be upset about it. After all, we bloggers aren’t necessarily backed by a phalanx of lawyers and various other handlers who see to it that our reputation and credibility remains solid. I suppose John could afford better counsel if his wealth wasn’t tied up in a private jet, a fleet of supercars, and an armada of go-fast boats, but to each his own.
In the end, our content is our currency, which means that the theft of intellectual property is really no different from taking what very little actual money we make right out of our pockets. I don’t expect everyone to understand or appreciate that, but I’d think folks can avoid some of what I saw yesterday, which was at least one person jumping all over John for his insistence on getting credit for work he’d done. I have neither the time nor the energy to crawl the web to find out whether any of my work has been plagiarized to some degree, though I’m not sure what I’m putting out is really worthy of that. I have, however, found at least one person who has used the Cubs/Wu-Tang W flag as a Twitter avatar and another who had actually used a picture of one of my tattoos as their background image. The latter was a little weird, but whatever.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I want to make sure to provide ample attribution and to maybe give a bit more insight into what I do and how I think when it comes to this blog. Just because it’s not a cash cow doesn’t mean what’s here isn’t very valuable to me. So when you’re sharing an image or a quote or a theory generated by someone else, it’s a good idea to give them some credit. Just my pair of pennies.