MESA, Ariz. - Joe Maddon had an extra month to work out his standard slogan for the new year ahead, but he probably didn't need it.
Maddon's phrase for 2019 - "own it now" - could've been hatched in mid-October and that's not at all critiquing the slogan. It's just that the main narrative around the Cubs hasn't changed since the first hour of the offseason when stunned players hung around at their lockers and talked about the lack of urgency at times throughout the season.
The Cubs' main talking point all winter has been trying to find that "urgency" and "edge" every single day in 2019 and showing up to the ballpark every morning/afternoon with a mission in mind. We saw this team accomplish that feat in 2016 but haven't seen it consistently in the two years since.
That's why Maddon wants to provide a constant reminder to maintaining that approach.
"If you're thinking about owning it now, you can think about ownership as part of the team, you can think about owning the exact moment that you're in - whether it's the at-bat or pitch," Maddon said as the Cubs officially kicked off spring training Tuesday. "A lot of it has to do with the present tense.
"To own it, I think our guys really understand that concept. Just a matter of remphasizing it, putting it out there, giving it a definition and a big part of our success this year is gonna be the fact that we own each moment. So I thought, 'own it now,' take the word 'now' and turn it around, it becomes 'won.' If we get in the habit of owning the moment, we have a pretty good chance of winning it by the end of the year."
Again, Maddon isn't reinventing the wheel here. This is the same stuff we've heard for months - whether from him, Theo Epstein's front office, the rest of the coaching staff or the players.
The Cubs are certainly providing a united front and appear to all be on message, but you can forgive fans if they're sick of hearing about it right now.
The only problem: The Cubs can't do anything but *talk* at this point. Spring training is here, but even the exhibition games don't start for another 10 days and the first meaningful game won't come for more than 6 weeks.
The 2019 Cubs will be judged and analyzed on their on-field production, but they can't rush the clock to March 28 any more than winter-weary fans can.
All they can do is make sure they're all on the same page when the games actually count.
"When you have that extra month to mull things over, you get even more determined to get back, more determined to prove yourself again," Maddon said. "I've had a lot of conversations with different guys during the winter and some even recently and to a man, everybody, we want to make a statement this year, we want to get back on track. Meaning, of course, making the playoffs.
"The goal every year is to play the last game of the season and win it and that's no different again this year. So in order to get to that point, we have to own each moment. There's a real good look about them right now. We're all motivated to get back to play that last game of the year and win it. It's really been an interesting offseason, whether it's texting or calling or actually studying the millennial concept. All this stuff is kinda interesting. But I know our guys are ready to go."
The Cubs don't like the bad taste in their mouth left by last fall's early exit and they've spent all winter trying to channel it into something productive.
"Had we not done anything this winter, we were going to return a highly motivated group of players," Epstein said. "We've tried to really focus it and it started with a process of being really honest about everything that happened and why we fell short. Being accountable - each of us - for our roles in that.
"When you fall one game short, 90 feet short, you have to look in the mirror - I know I have - and say, 'there are a lot of things I could've done better so that we would've won that one extra game.' I think our players - all of us - have gone through that same process. And then the next step is making adjustments and our players have taken that to heart. Each player individually has gone out this winter to work on their weaknesses and really make adjustments and come back as better players.
"And then the last step is coming out and executing with urgency. That starts today, the first day of spring training."