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Theo’s ‘year of reckoning’ takes on different meaning for Cubs at start of camp

MESA, Ariz. – Some pitchers threw baseballs from practice mounds, and some hitters hit baseballs on a nearby field Saturday.

Now back to your regular programming from Cubs spring training, 2019 edition.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is scheduled to talk to the media Monday, when he’s expected to address the racist and Islamophobic emails hacked from his father’s inbox, potential carriage issues and prices involving the team’s newly announced TV partnership and maybe even the continued employment of Addison Russell since the shortstop’s suspension for domestic violence.

In the meantime, lame-duck manager Joe Maddon said he was “impressed and proud” of how Russell handled Friday’s first media conference since he last played a game more than five months ago.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon and team president Theo Epstein watch from back of the interview room as Addison Russell addresses media Friday.

“I thought he held up really well,” Maddon said of the 25-year-old shortstop, who stuck to a clearly rehearsed script of maybe four stock answers during the 20-minute Q and A. “[I] talked to him again today and gave him a big old hug, because I know that was probably the most difficult thing that he’s ever done publicly, maybe ever done period.

“I thought his answers really addressed the situation well,” Maddon added. “I also believe a moment like that can be a tremendous growth moment for a human being in general.”

Almost a week into spring training, and everybody’s still waiting for baseball.

Said one press box wag: “What’s next? Somebody’s old tweets?”

Maddon admitted the unique and sobering non-baseball start to the spring has been mentally draining.

“I cannot deny that,” he said. “We’re here to play baseball. I know we’re part of the social fabric of this country, and people watch us all the time, and were very popular as baseball players.

“But I would prefer getting back to just talking about baseball.”

Montgomery shoulder

Left-hander Mike Montgomery, a linchpin of the pitching staff, is expected to throw from a mound for the first time in camp early in the week, Maddon said, after shoulder discomfort.

“He had a little bit of a shoulder stiffness that he’s been working through, but he threw long-toss [Saturday], well,” said Maddon, who suggested the swingman won’t fall behind in camp.

Buddy system

As if the free agent market itself wasn’t quiet enough, just listen to Bryce Harper’s and Manny Machado’s pals on the Cubs tell you what they’ve learned from their buddies about where they’re headed.

Last month, it was Kris Bryant saying he and Harper hadn’t talked about baseball or free agency at all while hanging out this winter.

Then Saturday, Albert Almora Jr. summed up what he learned from “cousin” Machado a week earlier when they were together for the baptism of Almora’s son.

“We were with family,” Almora said. “We smoked a cigar, we had a good time. We talked about stories. We talked about fishing. And baseball was not a topic I wanted to talk about, especially [because] I didn’t want to feel in that position, because I knew I was going to be asked these questions.

“I don’t want to know anything,” he added. “I think he’s going to do well. He’s earned that, but I’m playing for the Chicago Cubs. That’s all I know.”