MESA, Ariz. – If you can jump the shark with daily spring training shows and gimmicks, the Cubs may have finally done it 32 days into camp when they invited a mime to join the morning fun Tuesday before stretch time.
Then, again …
“I’m sure he’ll come up with something else that’s going to blow the mime away, too,” pitcher Jason Hammel said.
Hammel was referring, of course, to manager Joe Maddon and the “tornado in his head” that for the past decade has famously resulted in magicians and zoo animals in clubhouses during losing streaks – and that has set the tone this spring for daily sideshows and spectacles that have drawn news and social media attention for the last month.
“I’m sure there’s some people out there who think we’re pretty weird,” Hammel said.
Weird is one thing. But in a Cub’ spring training that has been built around an Embrace the Target theme, are they running the risk of enlarging that target with a steady stream of spring productions that have included DJs, musicians, motivational speakers breaking bricks and 2-by-4s, a ‘70s Day with tricked-out van, clown wigs and pimp suits, and a politically incorrect celebration of Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki that featured karaoke, samurai headbands and “Kung Fu Fighting” blaring from speakers?
And then a mime.
Enough said? Literally?
“I don’t think so,” said Maddon, who has put much of the show planning in the hands of comedically gifted strength coach Tim Buss (who found the mime). “If people misinterpret it, honestly, that’s their fault. Because, really, it’s just about the esprit de corps of the day.
“It has nothing to do with your work except that I think your work could be better, because you get off to a good start.”
The mime questions came on the same day that Sports Illustrated added its own bull’s-eye to the Cubs’ target this year, releasing images of the Cubs on the cover of its regional baseball preview issue. SI predicts the Cubs will reach the World Series, and lose to the Astros.
“Just get us there,” Maddon said with a smile. “SI, please get us there. I’ll be happy with that.”
Maddon and players dismissed the notion of the legendary SI cover jinx.
“It’s great for the organization,” Maddon said. “It’s interesting reading, and beyond the Cubs fans, I think other people are going to like us or hate us even more because of that. That’s how it plays. It’s good. It’s good stuff.”
Maddon has been down this road his entire managing career, with former Red Sox veterans Jon Lester and David Ross admitting last year that from the outside they scratched their heads and looked sideways at their division rival in Tampa Bay with all the offbeat gimmicks and antics.
But he has never been down this road in the Cubs’ market, where the sideshows – however insignificant of message or irrelevant to quality of work – are already being viewed as tempting historically fickle fate.
After a Cardinals beat writer retweeted some of the mime stuff Tuesday, responses on his feed included: “This crap show is getting out of hand,” and “They are a circus.”
And it wasn’t just fans of other teams.
This from the feed of a Cubs beat writer’s account: “As a lifelong Cubs fan, if @CubsJoeMadd doesn’t win the Series, this [s—] won’t feel cute in five years.”
“If [not] everybody’s entertained, so be it. But that’s just our way to start the day,” said Maddon, who said this year’s entertainment is just a different, more public, version of last year’s routine – and an exaggerated version of what he’s seen in other camps with managers such as Mike Scioscia.
Hammel, who spent the early part of his career with Maddon’s Rays, considers himself “very lucky to be a part of, not necessarily a circus, but just [where] it’s a flip of the coin every day [what’s coming next].
“His track record speaks for itself,” Hammel said. “He’s been known for these quirky things, and he wins.”