Bats cracked, gloves popped and the sun was shining. On a beautiful day in Arizona, the sights and sounds of baseball were back.
Cubs pitchers and catchers don't have to report to spring training until Tuesday, but many were hard at work Monday on the fields in Mesa. Position players don't have to report for another week, but even some of them showed up early filled with excitement.
"It feels great to be back with the Cubs, in Arizona, with my teammates, with new faces," a smiling Willson Contreras said. "Even if I’m going to play until I’m 100 years old, it’s always exciting to be back in spring training."
"You have a lot of the same faces, but it’s a new group," added infielder/outfielder Ian Happ. "It’s a new dynamic to the group, so I think everybody’s going to be very excited to get back, get together, and continue working."
One common reason for everyone's excitement? They're finally about to find out what it's like to play for new Cubs Manager David Ross.
"I think there’s so much respect for him as a person," Happ said. "The way he treats other people, the way he’s able to command a room. You just respect everything he’s done in the game, everything he stood for, the way that he went about his career. So I don’t think there’s any issues with that," the 25 year-old added.
"It will be amazing," Contreras added. "I think he’s going to change the game a little bit. The year before, we were a little bit too much relaxed, but this year, we’re going to be on our toes, and that’s one thing that I like. I’m sure there’s going to be different routines to get into the games, and I’m just excited to be his catcher," said the two-time All-Star.
A long spring of work is ahead of the Cubs. After that, an even longer season. But after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, players are motivated to do everything in their power to get back.
"We have the motivation, we have the confidence in ourselves that we’re going to be back on top in this league, and we’ll hopefully make the playoffs this year," Contreras said.