MESA, Arizona -- The first clue that 2015 is not going to be like other Cubs seasons was in the parking lot closest to fields 3-6 at their spring-training complex.
Last year when I arrived there were maybe 20 cars in the parking lot, and maybe 50 or so people scattered around the benches behind the four practice fields.
Today? The lot was almost full and there were probably 300 people watching, along with a full crew from ESPN, set up to do live updates from Cubs camp throughout the morning and early afternoon (and they were also shooting near where I was talking to Tom Ricketts for a while; that tape might be shown later on Baseball Tonight).
So these Cubs are going to be very, very different from the squads we've seen the last three years. You're going to see a lot of national writers and TV crews around the team, both in spring training and starting Opening Night at Wrigley Field, particularly with the first game being the national-TV season opener, the first time the Cubs have been involved in that game and the first-ever nighttime opener at Wrigley Field.
As far as the workouts are concerned, you can see the schedule in photo 9 -- that's the first time the Cubs have done this for fans, which was a thoughtful and helpful thing to do. They're workouts -- you can hear the players talking a bit amongst themselves, but mostly they are just focused on their work. That's a good thing. The camp appears to be run quite professionally, another good thing.
Finally, I wanted to give you all a flavor of how these workouts are organized, so below are 11 short videos showing what sort of drills the players are going through. You can see in one of them, the hitters don't swing much. I'm assuming there's a purpose to not swinging at certain pitches as much as actual swings.
The drill I found most interesting was the catcher popup drill, and how the catchers reacted when their fellow backstops dropped one of them. I also was fascinated by watching bunting practice.
I probably won't go back to the workouts much before the first game a week from tomorrow; after all, how many drills can you watch? They all begin to look the same after a while. I don't yet know if the Cubs will be playing an intrasquad game before the spring opener, as they have done the last few years, but if they do, I'll definitely go back for that one. In the meantime, enjoy the videos and this slice of Cubs spring training.