No mimes, no bounce houses, no problem for Cubs this spring
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MESA, Ariz. — Almost four weeks into spring training, and there hasn’t been a DJ, mime or flamingo to be found.
What in the name of Barnum & Bailey is going on at Cubs camp this year?
‘‘I don’t really like mimes, so I don’t mind those never showing up again,’’ Cubs left-hander Jon Lester said. ‘‘And I’m not a big magic person, so I don’t mind skipping out on the magician or the mime.
‘‘But the zoo was pretty cool.’’
Maybe it’s the new urgency and edge the players are supposed to have since being eliminated so suddenly in the wild-card game of the 2018 playoffs. Maybe this young team is just starting to outgrow the shtick and the sideshows.
‘‘Maybe it’s my fault,’’ said manager Joe Maddon, who one morning in spring training a few years ago drove his pimped-out 1976 Dodge van onto a practice field while wearing a tie-dyed shirt and bandanna. ‘‘I’ve got a lot of [stuff] going on.’’
Maddon swears the absence of sideshows isn’t about the so-called hands-on return to coaching he’s undertaking this year after playoff disappointments the last two seasons.
Certainly, the departures of bench coach Dave Martinez — the Chong to Maddon’s Cheech in the van that morning — and infielder Tommy La Stella in the last 17 months don’t help.
Martinez was hired as the Nationals’ manager and brought camels to his first camp with them last year. La Stella, who was traded to the Angels during the offseason, engaged in a prank war with the front office last year that included having a bouncy house inflated over the adjoining parking spots of president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
But everybody knows it’s the Maddon Show, going back to his days of pythons in the clubhouse and cockatoos on his shoulder while managing the Rays.
‘‘And everybody’s asking me when it’s going to happen,’’ Maddon said.
That included former Reds great Eric Davis, who caught Maddon coming off the field the other day and asked him, ‘‘When are you bringing out the snakes?’’
But don’t mistake the absence of sideshows for some sudden switch to boot camp. One first-time visitor to camp Thursday apparently had read that no magicians had shown up and asked Maddon why camp wasn’t as loose this year.
‘‘That’s your perception,’’ Maddon said.
In fact, players seem as engaged and loose as they have in recent springs, even with a largely new coaching staff for the second consecutive year. New bench coach Mark Loretta already is a favorite, by all accounts, and right-hander Yu Darvish has gone from quiet and standoffish last year to smiling constantly and dropping one-liners this year.
‘‘I feel like our guys are in good places right now,’’ said Lester, who acknowledged a core of players heading into its fifth year together might not need — or want — distractions as much as in past springs. ‘‘Our camp has been really smooth. I think with all the stuff that transpired last year and how it ended, guys are coming in ready and maybe with a little bit different mindset. I think it’s been great.’’
Maybe that goes back to what Lester said the night the Cubs were eliminated, that sometimes it’s good to ‘‘get your [blank] knocked in the dirt.’’
‘‘It’s a good thing; it motivates people,’’ he said. ‘‘You can see some of these younger guys putting it into the next gear of their career. I’m excited to see them take that next step.’’
Meanwhile, he and everybody else are waiting for Maddon’s next step.
‘‘There’s a lot of pressure there, man,’’ Maddon said, laughing. ‘‘A lot of pressure. T-shirts, animals, bouncy things — that’s the real pressure. The game itself, no pressure. But all this ancillary stuff — God dang, I’ve got to think about this stuff.’’