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Remember the mime: It’s put-up, shut-up time for favored Cubs

Anthony Rizzo plans to authenticate some balls for the Bryzzo Souvenir Co., but only one game at a time.

 

ANAHEIM, Calif. – A few Cubs players were asked in recent days what stood out most among the daily skits, animal visits and circus-like sideshows that came to define their spring training camp this year.

No contest.

“I think mimes are hilarious when they do their little box thing,” pitcher Jason Hammel said.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist: “It was hilarious seeing how uncomfortable some of the guys were with the mime, trying to talk to him.”

The freaking mime. The height of the Cubs’ well publicized, often silly, pre-work diversions. And, coincidentally, the only human being who saw the Cubs in the last eight months who hasn’t opened his trap to add to their enormous October expectations.

Now it’s the Cubs’ turn. Put-up and shut-up time starts at 9:05 p.m. Monday with Angels right-hander Garrett Richards’ first pitch to Dexter Fowler in the season opener.

Las Vegas favorites to win the World Series. Heartthrobs once again for a starving international fan base. Sports Illustrated cover boys. And, maybe, every opponent’s favorite team to try to beat this year.

“If you want it to be, it could get to be too much,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of the skyrocketing Cubs hype. “But our group doesn’t let it. I think right now we’re really hungry. If anyone in this clubhouse is thinking about the World Series right now, they’re in the wrong spot. We need to think about [the opener], winning the game and thinking about dominating April, and every day in April, and keeping it in small steps.

“We’re all ready.”

The Cubs have at least a few clear reasons for big-time optimism, including frontline talent (Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, etc.), balance and power in the lineup, added depth since last season, and perhaps the widest, open path to the playoffs they’ve ever had – with five playoff spots available to a mere nine National League teams with any expectation at all of competing (thanks to widespread tanking/rebuilding).

But manager Joe Maddon and other team officials have preached from the start of spring training to beware the ‘A’ games that even the so-called lesser teams will bring every time they face the “embracing-the-target” Cubs.

“In some ways that’s the nature of being a good team,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Players may feel we’re overhyped or got too much attention for a team that hasn’t won a World Series [in 108 years], and that fires them up.”

But don’t call it pressure.

“I don’t believe in pressure in April or May. I’ve been in October about 10 times,” two-time championship pitcher John Lackey scoffed. “And we’ve got too much talent for those things not to just handle themselves.”

But expectations for this team have historically proven to be very different animals than for other teams.

“I don’t think it’s different,” said right fielder Jason Heyward, who debuted under big team expectations in Atlanta in 2010 and faced even bigger expectations with the Cardinals last year.

“Playing for a team like St. Louis, where they expect to go to the playoffs every year, and they expect to win every year, this feels no different,” he said, “other than it hasn’t been done in a while.”

Other than that.

“We’re ready to embark on this journey,” Fowler said. “We’ve got some unfinished business from last year.”

Play ball. Embrace the target.

And if all else fails, remember the mime.