New coaches help bring a new vibe to Cubs camp
MESA, Ariz. -- Even though it's early, there seems to be new vibe in Cubs camp from last year.
One thing is certain: There has been a change in volume.
As players went through baserunning drills Wednesday morning, new third-base coach Brian Butterfield barked out instructions and encouragement.
"Play the game with your eyes," Butterfield shouted as he led baserunning drills.
The Cubs came out emotionally flat last year but righted themselves and advanced to the National League championship series before falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ask around the clubhouse, and players will say that the headache from last year's "World Series hangover" is long gone, and a new, fresh feeling is here.
"Yeah, it's definitely different," said first baseman and team leader Anthony Rizzo. "It's a good feeling. It's a good, hungry feeling. Obviously last year was a little more coming off a major high. This is more like everyone is focused early and shifting our energy to getting off to a really good start and how important that is.
"It's just hard to match that intensity. It really is ... It depends on how you look at it, but we have a lot to prove."
Manager Joe Maddon shook up his staff last fall after initially indicating that staff was welcomed back. Butterfield and hitting coach Chili Davis came from the Boston Red Sox. Maddon said he fired hitting coach John Mallee and third-base coach Gary Jones only when Butterfield and Davis became available last fall.
Butterfield has been a vocal presence on the field in the early days of workouts, and Maddon said that's the idea.
"I kind of alluded to that in the off-season, the changes," Maddon said. "He was with the Yankees as a coach; I think he coached for Buck (Showalter) back in the day. I just had come up. There were certain things that happened in a game, and he and I kind of started talking at that time because I recognized even then how good he was.
"So he goes to Toronto and Boston, and I'm always working against him. He was the one guy, even as a manager, I would always look in the other dugout and (say), 'Where's Butter?' because I knew he was paying attention. Believe me, man, not everybody does. What he does is not only pay attention, but he acts on it."
Some have said the feeling in the early days of spring training is similar to 2016, when the Cubs were coming off a surprise trip to the NLCS, in which they were swept by the Mets. That seemed to fuel a determined approach, one that took the franchise to its first world championship since 1908.
The Cubs partied hard, as they should have, during the off-season of 2016-17. But they looked sluggish at times during the first half of the 2017 season. Rizzo insisted the team wasn't 'dead' or 'flat' on the bench.
"It just wasn't the same intensity," Rizzo said. "We were present every day, giving our best. Everyone was all in. It just wasn't the same. We obviously grinded all year, but that's baseball. We can sit here and say it wasn't the same, but we got beat the first half. We can came out this year, and the same thing can happen. We're prepared for either way."
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