The energy around the Cubs’ Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona felt different to Kyle Hendricks on Wednesday.
He suspected losings months of last season to the coronavirus pandemic had a lot to do with the level of excitement and urgency on the Cubs’ first day of Spring Training.
“You start to realize things,” Hendricks said, “how much you really love it, how much you enjoy doing it. So, I think everybody that's coming in here, all these new faces, you see guys that are just hungry. Hungry, ready to work, ready to get after it because you never know when this could end.”
The first day of pitcher and catcher workouts was a return to almost normal for the Cubs, after players and staff members cleared intake screening. There were still reminders of the pandemic, with players and coaches spaced out on multiple fields to limit the risk of spread. But they were back in Arizona preparing for a full season.
Twelve pitchers threw bullpens, including new Cubs starters Zach Davies and Trevor Williams. The Cubs officially announced they had agreed to terms with Jake Arrieta. Hendricks and manager David Ross spoke to the media.
Asked what he’s going to do with himself when he finally gets to manage in a non-pandemic season, Ross said: “I hope these Zoom calls will be over with and (we can) get in a room together. … That would be nice. I think they’ll be a little shorter too – won’t have to answer COVID questions.”
In his second season as manager, Ross has been navigating the challenges and anxieties brought on by the pandemic for almost his entire time at the helm. Major League Baseball closed spring training in March last year and re-opened summer camp in clubs’ home cities. The Cubs made it through last season without any players testing positive for COVID-19.
Ross knows how important atmosphere and camaraderie are especially during a pandemic. He’s brought that focus from last season back to spring training, with a pitching staff full of new additions. Having this many teams concentrated in Florida and Arizona during a pandemic is unchartered territory for everyone.
According to Ross, Day 1 went smoothly for the Cubs.
“I think we're all happy to be back here playing baseball,” he said, “and excited to get things started.”