MESA, Ariz. — One mime stood on a platform playing air guitar as the classic rock blasted from the sound system at the Sloan Park complex on Tuesday morning, Cubs players going through the motions of their pre-workout stretch.
The other mime performed in the middle of the field. Cubs strength-and-conditioning coach Tim Buss had his face painted white and black and wore white gloves, black yoga pants, a white tank top and a black beret turned backwards.
Joe Maddon Productions has already brought this camp Munenori Kawasaki karaoke, a 70s hippie van and a sledgehammer-swinging, cement-brick breaking motivational speaker.
The Cubs aren’t just “Embracing The Target.” In a game with too many unwritten rules, on the day Sports Illustrated released their baseball preview covers, and the morning after more Donald Trump nonsense, the World Series favorites seemed to be making that target bigger and bigger and bigger.
“If everybody’s (not) entertained, so be it, but that’s just our way to start the day,” Maddon said. “We did that last year without nearly as much attention. When I was with the Angels, ‘Scios’ (manager Mike Scioscia) did his own little gig on a daily basis inside. It’s just the way our venue sets up and the fact that we permit so much access. That’s the way everybody’s able to see it.
“If people misinterpret it, honestly, that’s their fault, because it’s really just about the esprit de corps of the day. It has nothing to do with your work, except that I think your work can be better because you get off to a good start.”
The mime wasn’t actually Maddon’s idea. It was all “Bussy,” who’s wildly popular among players, almost tricking them into doing work with his energy and a sense of humor that has helped him hold onto this job since 2001. (Maddon did endorse the mime’s message to the team: “He was very loquacious with his hands.”)
But the manager almost always gets too much credit or too much blame. The Cubs aren’t an in-between team. It’s World Series or bust. It’s Maddon’s easy-going personality and laissez-faire attitude that sets the mood here.
“Who knows what’s going on in that mind storm?” pitcher Jason Hammel said. “(With) that tornado in his head, who knows what’s going on? So I’m sure he’ll come up with something else that’s going to blow the mime away, too.”
With all the extracurricular stuff going on, this Cactus League game felt even more like background noise than normal. But Hammel again looked sharp during a 9-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds, allowing one run across five innings at Goodyear Ballpark. For a team that has as much talent on paper as anyone in baseball, the optics don’t matter nearly as much as staying healthy and staying focused.
Hammel expects the gimmicks after being part of Maddon’s worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays team that made it to the 2008 World Series.
“It takes a certain group of guys to be able to — not necessarily pull this off — but to have that type of environment,” Hammel said. “It starts with character. And that’s what these guys and this organization have prided themselves on — bringing in guys with good character that know how to understand this is just a different way of getting through a kind of mundane and sometimes boring part of the season.
“Obviously, I’m sure there’s some people out there that think we’re pretty weird. It doesn’t look like a normal spring training. But everybody’s allowed an opinion, right? We see it as fun.”