MESA, Ariz. – There are the World Series baseball ornaments behind the Chicago Cubs’ batting practice cage at Sloan Park.
There are small World Series flags on the dirt path between the clubhouse and their spring-training ballpark.
The only banner signifying their World Series title is hanging high in the rafters of their fitness center, out of public view, with a large mural of fans celebrating in the streets outside Wrigley Field.
And that’s it.
The city of Chicago and its huge legion of fans may be celebrating the Cubs’ glory all season, but despite the historic year, the Cubs are doing everything possible to treat this like the rest of their inglorious 108 previous seasons.
Yes, a slogan will be found soon at Cubs souvenir shops.
“For a century,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said, laughing, “that had a different connotation.’’
Yet, in this golden era of Cubs’ baseball, the slogan represents pride and success.
There will also be plenty of other T-shirt slogans coming this season, and naturally, the morning comedy skits:
Don’t forget the heartbeat.
Sure, they may be gimmicky, but considering the Cubs fed off an array of slogans last year, and those “Try not to suck’’ T-shirts are outdated, why mess with championship tradition?
“It’s going to be the same message, but different,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday in front of 31 reporters and nine camera crews packed at the Cubs’ introductory press conference of the spring. “It’s really important to be uncomfortable. If you become a comfortable person, I think that subtracts growth from the equation.
“I think if you remain somewhat uncomfortable, you continue to grow. You don’t become stagnant. You don’t become set in our ways. On every level, I want us to be uncomfortable.’’
“You want to guard against any complacency in the sense that you just expect it to happen, just because you had done it. That’s a bad assumption to make, and I don’t think our guys will jump there.
“But I think it’s our responsibility to talk about it. Talk about all of the potential pitfalls in advance. Talk about how you attack them, about how you approach them, and eventually, they fall by the wayside.’’
The Cubs, bidding to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champions since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76, barely tinkered with their nucleus. They let center fielder Dexter Fowler leave for the rival St. Louis Cardinals, but picked up Jon Jay to share center field duties with Albert Almora. Jason Hammel will be replaced in the rotation by Mike Montgomery, or possibly Brett Anderson. Aroldis Chapman, who was picked up at the trade deadline, is gone but All-Star Wade Davis is the new closer.
There was no need to mess with this young, talented team. Their biggest off-season pickup simply is the return of Kyle Schwarber, back returns from his reconstructive knee surgery that cost him all but two regular-season games last year, before starring as a DH in the World Series. He would like to return to catching, but the Cubs plan to keep him as their everyday left fielder.
Really, the Cubs are going to look a whole lot like they did last year, only with a little bling on those fingers, and a fan base hungry to be spoiled by a dynasty.
“I don’t think we accomplished what we accomplished last year,’’ Epstein says, “by trying to replicate anything. Or by trying to artificially create something thing that wasn’t there. It was by being authentic, and by being ourselves.
“Everybody’s in a little different place in their life now. The relationships will be a little different. The mix isn’t exactly the same. We look forward to that.
“It’s OK to embrace a little bit of change as long as the important elements remain the same. And we have the important elements in place. Our guys are individually driven.’’
Really, there’s no reason why the Cubs won’t repeat as NL Central champs, after running away with the division a year ago – finishing 17 ½ games ahead of the Cardinals. While the Cardinals were scrambling Tuesday with the prospect that rookie starter Alex Reyes could face Tommy John surgery, the Cubs’ biggest worry is making sure those World Series rings are ready by the April 12 ceremony at Wrigley Field.
If anything gets out of whack, they plan to rely on the same character that got them together during that Game 7 rain delay against Cleveland, with a players-only meeting led by Jason Heyward.
“Our guys got together in a room, void of any kind of statistical, video, or analytical information,’’ Maddon says. “They went in there as human beings, and came out unified. You do that, and it’s kind of antithetical to what’s going on right now. I don’t want us to forget the heartbeat ever.’’
A championship was won.
A tradition was born.
Perhaps even a dynasty.