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Van of the hour: Cubs’ Joe Maddon pulls another trick from his bag of surprises

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Sunday he might have something up his sleeve for the team Monday morning.

Giraffes? Koala Bear?

It couldn’t be another outfielder, could it?

No, this time Maddon drove the beast himself – the pimped-out 1976 Dodge van that sometimes goes by the name “Cal State Fullerton” for the rides he used to get there from a friend for workouts as a minor leaguer.

Maddon drove the van onto the wide sidewalk at the Cubs’ workout facility and around to the back of the building, where players in uniform were gathered for morning stretch – Earth, Wind and Fire blaring from the speakers.

When he stopped, a handful of players, coaches and other team personnel jumped out of the van, wearing clown wigs, bandanas, tie-dyed T-shirts and other costumes – new infielder Munenori Kawasaki even dressed like a nightclub cowboy.

“We had to take advantage of the vehicle in some form,” said Maddon, who had been driving it to camp recently. “I did want Kawasaki to be the guest star. …

“You’re just looking for the grand opening. As we move further into the games there’s going to be less time to do this kind of stuff, so it’s kind of fun to do it now.”

Cactus League games start Thursday.

Not that Maddon won’t find a way to break the monotony with something offbeat during the spring grind of games. After all, this is the guy who brought in a magician into the clubhouse in New York last summer, coinciding with the end of a losing streak, and who palled around with flamingos and cheetahs at Wrigley Field near the end of the season.

As Kyle Schwarber said when camp opened, “Nothing’s going to surprise me now. Nothing’s going to surprise me whatever he brings in. Could be anything.”

On Monday, it was hard to tell exactly what it was specifically. At one point, it looked like a Cheech and Chong sequel with Maddon in the driver’s seat and bench coach Davey Martinez riding shotgun, both wearing bandanas, and dreadlocked mental skills coordinator Darnell McDonald leaning between them from the back seat.

Either that or a psychedelic version of Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine.

“It was all of that,” Maddon said. “It was the ‘70s. I wanted disco music. I wanted Shining Star. I was thinking Austin Powers. … Davey went out and got the Cheech and Chong shirts. I chose the peace sign. I thought it was less controversial.

“It’s just one of those moments,” he added. “Whatever it takes to bring the group together, we’ll do it. And then you saw their work after that was spectacular.”