MESA, Ariz. – Spring training is a time for players to shake off the winter’s rust and build back up for the marathon season that lies ahead.
For almost two decades, David Ross reported to camp early with the rest of the pitchers and catchers and went to work.
This year, Ross is using spring training to transition into his new role as Cubs manager.
Spotting Tyler Chatwood earlier in the week at Sloan Park, Ross got some practice in.
“I ran over and made him give me the ball,” Ross said.
Making pitching changes, sitting slumping players and exiting the dugout to yell at umpires are difficult parts of the job Ross is going to have to deal with. He is thrilled to get started and ready to fill the big shoes left by Joe Maddon, who took the Cubs to the playoffs four times in five years.
So far, camp basically has been watching pitchers and catchers and having meetings.
“The energy that the players are [showing] is fun to watch and rewarding,” Ross said after Friday’s workout. “I think it seems good. The coaches are giving me good feedback. I think we’ll really know when the full squad gets here and we start on Monday.
“I feel like this pitcher and catcher camp has been going on a lot longer than since we started Wednesday. These guys are in midseason form, it feels like that for most of them. Just start getting into the mix, I’m not looking to press the gas all the way to the floor yet.”
When the entire team is on the field starting Monday, Ross will get started on delivering messages that will be equal parts positive and pointed.
Although the Cubs were in first place for much of the first five months of last season, they were bogged down by poor approaches at the plate, sloppy baserunning and a general lack of cohesiveness.
“There are going to be tough conversations at times,” said Ross, a backup catcher on the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship team. “There are times where I lie awake at night thinking about some the things I want to say to some of the guys that are my friends, from a manager’s standpoint.
“Tough conversations need to occur in a winning environment – it’s normal. I welcome them, and I think it clears the air and lets everyone know where they stand.”
Maddon accused Cubs president Theo Epstein of trying to assume too much control last season, but the fact of the matter is the Cubs missed the playoffs despite having a roster loaded with high-end players.
They also lost the wild-card game in 2018.
Epstein believes changing managers will make a big difference in the performance on the field.
“I’m genuinely optimistic about this group,” Epstein said. “I feel like the talent is getting overlooked a little bit, and that’s our own fault because we haven’t gotten the most out of it. We haven’t turned it into production, which is the most important part.
“But that’s what the changes are about. That’s what Rossy is here to do. We all need to do our jobs this year.”
Ross is ready to do his part.
“I’m trying to create an environment where these guys work together,” the 42-year-old manager said. “Meetings in the morning. Teaching and using videos. Learn from the mistakes we made last year. Work together and create that environment where I know these guys care about each other.”
NEW, OLD FACES
If you’re going to visit spring training, it would be wise to carry around a roster so you can figure out who is who.
There are 16 players in the Cubs’ major-league camp wearing uniforms numbers in the 70s and 80s, and many are difficult to identify.
Every spring training, you see the other side as well.
Former star players always seem to find their way back to camp, and Mark Grace was spotted at Sloan Park on Friday.
A standout player for the Cubs from 1988 to 2000, Grace was mobbed by autograph seekers, and the three-time All-Star was happy to sign.
Earlier this week, the Cubs announced Grace is joining the new Marquee Sports Network as a part-time analyst. The sweet-swinging first baseman will continue filling the same role with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Randy Hundley, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly are among the other former Cubs expected to visit training camp this spring.