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Jon Lester on Cubs’ 2018 focus: ‘It’s good sometimes to get your butt kicked’

MESA, Ariz. — On a day the last man on the bench raised the stakes in his prank battle with the front office, the Cubs shrugged off Javy Baez’s hamstring cramp as a minor issue, Kyle Schwarber hit another home run and opening-day starter Jon Lester pitched like he could start a playoff opener in five days.

Just another Friday in Mesa, or what most Cubs seem to consider the happiest place on earth.

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Happy? Tommy La Stella, who has been alternately parking in the assigned spots of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer for the last week or so, took up both spots Friday morning, when he rented a full-scale kids’ bounce house and had it inflated over the adjoining spots.

The happiest place on earth? Look what showed up in Theo's and Jed's parking spots Friday morning.

“I’m trying to do a nice thing for the kids,” said a smirking La Stella, who has no children of his own.

Several kids of players and team staff — including Hoyer’s son — made the most of the instant playground.

“I love it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m certain it’s there for the family and kids. Although Tommy may be into that kind of thing. And he easily fits in there.”

More laughter in the sea of joy that has been a Cubs camp with nary a hiccup, their roster set from Day 1, their high expectations fed daily by energy and practices that many say remind them of 2016.

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What could possibly stop this team this year?

“No,” said Lester, a three-time World Series champion. “You don’t go there, no.

“It’s too long of a season. I’ve been part of teams that were supposed to win the World Series before we even took the field and didn’t make the playoffs.”

Nobody has to tell the 12-year veteran how cruel a 162-game season can be to bodies, minds and expectations.

Even more significant, he doesn’t think anybody has to tell it to the Cubs’ young core players as they head into a fourth season together. Not after they responded to the ’16 title by sleepwalking to a bad first half and eventually falling short in the postseason.

“It was guys going through that for the first time and not knowing how to deal with it,” Lester said. “We were feeling good about ourselves. We just broke a 108-year-old curse. I’m sure when we all came into camp, there was that feeling of, ‘Well, we’ll just show up and do it again.’

“I don’t know if that’s true or how you want to word it. But I think it’s good sometimes to get your butt kicked and get knocked down, especially after you’ve tasted success.

“I think we’re in a good place.”

NOTE: After feeling tightness in his left hamstring Thursday and leaving the game, second baseman Javy Baez still had some soreness Friday morning. “It’s still bothering him a bit, so we’re still trying to figure out what we’ve got going on,” said Maddon, who said Baez “probably” wouldn’t make his next scheduled start Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com