Spring training is a time for rookies to make a good first impression and for veterans to get into playing form.
And for four young Chicago Cubs fans, it will be an opportunity to make memories to last a lifetime.
On Wednesday, 16-year-old Jonathan Olmos of Des Plaines, 17-year-old Zachary Lum of Sleepy Hollow, 12-year-old Kyle Munch of Montgomery and 14-year-old Izabella Marin of Chicago learned they're going on an all-expenses-paid trip with their families and a best friend to join the Cubs for a day of spring training in Mesa, Arizona.
All four are cancer or heart health patients at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. They were selected because they are huge Cubs fans whose positive attitudes raise the spirits of all around them, according to Cristina Enea, Advocate's sports marketing coordinator.
The teens' parents, who were told about the surprise trip weeks ago, had to concoct another reason for going to the Cubs' front office building next to Wrigley Field on a random Wednesday afternoon.
Donna Potts, Lum's mom, said she told him the Cubs were taking them on a trip to Milwaukee. Lum said as soon as he saw a picture of a cactus in the conference room, he had a strong suspicion they weren't going to Wisconsin.
"There are no cactuses in Milwaukee," he said after the big reveal delivered to the teens in a personalized video message by Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr.
"He kind of pieced it together. He's a smart kid. He loves puzzles," Potts said.
The group will fly to Phoenix on Monday -- American Airlines and Sheraton Hotels join the Cubs and Advocate as sponsors that made the trip possible. Tuesday, they'll hang out with the team and have a lot of one-on-one time with players. And then they'll return home Wednesday.
Olmos said he hopes he has a chance to challenge his favorite player, Javy Baez, to a foot race.
"I know I'm not going to be up there, but it would be a fun thing to do," Olmos said of his chances to beat the speedy second baseman.
In addition to their families, each teen got to choose one friend to come along on the trip. Kelly Jo Golson, the chief marketing officer for Advocate, said that was something new organizers added this year. Golson lost a son to cancer last year and she said he always enjoyed sharing fun family times with his friends.
"It's not all about treatment. It's not all about being in the hospital," Golson said. "It's about laughing and having fun."